Immigrants: Feel Free to Die

The migration debate ignores the barriers and concrete policies that produce the desperate situation of immigrants.
The migration debate ignores the barriers and concrete policies that produce the desperate situation of immigrants. (Flickr)

EspañolWhen I first published my opinion column about walls, border barriers, and the immigrant deaths they cause, I received several comments from readers who argued that immigrants themselves were responsible for their own misfortune. After all, they decided to undergo the dangerous journey knowing full well the risks, the walls, the obstacles, and the armed guards they faced.

These readers aren’t completely wrong: yes, immigrants make a decision which we may consider, ultimately, to a be a free one, even though they do so when afflicted by poverty, violence, and other dangers that cause them to abandon their homes.

These same arguments are frequently heard in certain forums of public opinion. Saskia Sassen observes that this is currently the predominant logic behind migration policies that attribute exclusive responsibility for migration to the action of individuals, outside of any context, thus converting immigrants into objects subject to the direct control of authority and state power.

Within this trend we can also analyze the decision of Great Britain to no longer form part of the search and rescue teams for shipwrecked immigrants in the Mediterranean, especially off the Italian coast, where 2,500 have died since the beginning of the year. According to Britain’s peculiar logic, knowing that there exists the chance of rescue on the high seas incentivizes potential immigrants to undertake the arduous journey.

This undeniably cynical posture fails to take into account that among the immigrants are Libyans, for example, whose country NATO attacked and now finds itself torn apart by internal conflict; or Syrians, suffering the twin evils of civil war and the fanaticism of the Islamic State (IS).

Would I not jump from the top of a building in flames, even though I might hurt myself or die? Well, I’d take the risk without a second thought. The role played by desperation cannot be underestimated.

The situation is analogous to all those borders worldwide that have been strengthened. In the case of the wall between the United States and Mexico, the border fence scarcely discourages would-be migrants. Those who have some idea of what motivates people to leave Honduras and take the “train of death” will hardly be surprised.

These immigrants are forced — or decide “freely,” some will say — to purchase the services of  “coyotes,” or cross the border by longer and more dangerous routes. Even before arriving at the wall that physically marks the border, the desert claims the lives of many through sunstroke, dehydration, murder, or drowning.

But those who defend the course of an increasingly harsh migration policy, and demand the construction of even higher walls, are untroubled in their consciences, because they fail to link the deaths taking place in the desert with the existence of the wall and concrete political decisions which impact migrant’s lives. The immigrants who die, drowned in Mediterranean waters, or burned by the sun in arid lands, simply suffer the consequences of their decisions. After all, they decided to take the risk.

The migration debate and those political arguments that attribute immigration solely to the decisions of migrants won’t cease in their clumsy attempts to find a kind of moral cover: soothing our conscience that these deaths have nothing to do with us, or anything to do with the wall.

Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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