Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Children In Cages At The Border: A Feature, Not A Bug.

I rarely write about certain topics*, even when they are of great importance, even when I worry about them every single day.  That's because often I have nothing useful to contribute to what is already being said, or I have no special expertise in the area.  Just joining in the general lamentations about the atrocities that the Trump administration perpetuates doesn't seem particularly worthwhile.   The Greek chorus is loud enough, but the White House is sound-insulated.

What is taking place at the US southern border is one of those topics where my voice is unnecessary, in general, though I do worry about the lack of debate on the left side of the political aisle on what ideal immigration policies would look like, what the US should have done to prevent the current perfect storm from taking place to begin with,** and how to prepare better for similar future events.

Children in cages.  People with any empathy are aghast at the news that some three hundred children were held in cages, many, if not most, separated from their parents or guardians at the border, left without proper basic care and adult supervision.

We can thank the Trump administration policies for a large part*** of that problem, and especially Stephen "Dead Eyes" Miller, the architect of the current immigration policies, the so-called "zero tolerance" among them.   As McKay Coppins writes in an Atlantic Monthly article,

But while Miller’s influence on this issue is a matter of documented fact, his motives remain somewhat murkier. Why exactly is he using his perch to champion a measure that’s so unpopular that it’s opposed by fully two-thirds of Americans? Theories abound, of course—ranging from ideology to incompetence to xenophobia—but they are almost all products of distant speculation.
Coppins believes that Miller wants to "agitate," to create "constructive controversies", because he trusts that they will ultimately resolve to Trump's advantage in the next elections:

But for Miller, it seems, all is going according to plan—another “constructive controversy” unfolding with great potential for enlightenment. His bet appears to be that voters will witness this showdown between Trump and his angry antagonists, and ultimately side with the president. It’s a theory that will be put to the test in November. In the meantime, the heartrending orchestra on the border will play on.
 But why would the voters side with the president here? 

This is where the "feature, not a bug" arguments comes out to play:  Miller wants the news about children in cages to leak out, because he wants those news to be seen and discussed in the source countries of the current migrants and asylum seekers. 

It's as if he is whispering in the ears of those planning to come to the US about what might happen to their children if they do make the journey, suggesting that whatever the reasons they contemplate leaving might be, the likely treatment they would face at the US border is even worse.  And for that approach to work (i.e. to noticeably reduce the number of migrants seeking entry into the US), the news must be cruel enough.

That all-whip-no-carrot approach is, of course, the way this administration carries out almost all its foreign policy, except toward countries led by strong-men dictators whom Trump admires.


*  Climate change is the most important one of those.  I do what I can in my own life and try to be well-informed, but I'm not a scientist in that area. 

** The reverse of what Trump did.  Give more support to the source countries of the recent migrants in ways which would improve their security safety and economic position.  People don't usually want to leave their countries if they have a safe choice to stay.  And the US, for historical reasons,  owes some real help to that area.

Such aid is not only good for people who live there but also for peace, the control of migration and even for creating new markets for US products, through greater affluence.  And if properly thought out, it's also good for human rights.

Fighting climate change is another central part of the longer-run solution to global migrations and the problems they cause.

For more about some of the problems in the current asylum-based system, see this Time article from last November.

*** Though the sudden increase in the numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants and the lack of resources and preparedness at the border also contributed.