As is well-documented, President Trump has declared a national emergency to fund his wall on the U.S. southern border. Whether or not he achieves his ambition, he has certainly raised a firm wall of resistance to his declaration in various sectors of our society (Refer here, here and here, for example). While the debate rages to this day over the merits of building the wall, I don’t hear enough discussion about our own role in refugee migration toward our southern border. Perhaps other nations should debate the merits of building a wall on their borders to keep us out. After all, the U.S. has been crossing other nations’ borders across the region and globe in various ways for generations without permission.
Here I call to mind a January 28, 2019 TIME Magazine article focusing on Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Beyond Vietnam” sermon delivered April 4, 1967. The author of the article, Viet Thanh Nguyen, writes:
What made King truly radical was his desire to act on this empathy for people not like himself, neither black nor American. For him, there was “no meaningful solution” to the war without taking into account Vietnamese people, who were “the voiceless ones.” Recognizing their suffering from far away, King connected it with the intimate suffering of African Americans at home. The African-American struggle to liberate black people found a corollary in the struggle of Vietnamese people against foreign domination. It was therefore a bitter irony that African Americans might be used to suppress the freedom of others, to participate in, as King put it, “the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.”
Here’s what King wrote about this subject in his Vietnam War address:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
King was not alone in calling into question our country’s exploitation of other countries. Naomi Klein addressed this subject in her 2007 New York Times bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007). According to Klein, Milton Friedman and his associates destabilized Chile’s infrastructure in traumatic terms to bring about a free market economic system when Pinochet came to power in Chile through a U.S. sponsored coup.
One is left to wonder how often what King declared and Klein argues has come about in various global and regional settings involving U.S. government and business enterprises. We must account for these and other stories of international interference. We must also change the dominant narrative that makes it difficult to account for these stories.Here I call to mind Tisha M. Rajendra’s recent work Migrants and Citizens: Justice and Responsibility in the Ethics of Immigration, with a foreword by Daniel G. Groody, CSC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017). In an interview at this blog that same year, Rajendra stated, “The central thesis of my book is that we need a new account of justice that can respond to relationships that cross international borders. I call this account of justice ‘justice as responsibility to relationships.’” Rajendra goes on to claim,
The dominant narrative of migration is that immigrants come “here”—or to wealthy liberal democracies seeking “a better life.” While this is true in some ways, migration theorists posit that mass migration always occurs in the context of pre-existing relationships initiated by host countries. Most often, these relationships are not morally neutral. Colonialism, guest worker programs and economic interventions are asymmetrical relationships that benefit host countries at the expense of citizens of receiving countries. Often, these interventions start “migration flows” into host countries. But citizens of host countries often think that migrants are strangers—poor people who arrive unbidden, clamoring for a share in our social goods. Nothing could be further from the truth! If we knew our own history—of colonialism in the Philippines, of military intervention in Central America, of the ways that economic intervention didn’t just take jobs away from our factory workers—it destabilized parts of rural Mexico—we would not consider migrants strangers.
As we continue to debate the merits of a wall on our southern border, we as a nation should account for our intrusions not as refugees, but as capitalists “investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries,” to quote King again. In this light, we need to take a deeper look at the mass migration patterns regionally and globally and cure ourselves of our amnesia concerning our nation’s relational role in this crisis. If we do not account for our own unwanted economic and political migrations in other countries and what we need to do at this hour to bring stability and rebuild infrastructure that helps these countries flourish, perhaps we should be building a wall to keep us locked inside our borders rather than to keep others out.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, “King’s Other Legacy,” TIME Magzine, January 28, 2019, pages 20-21.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” in A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, with an introduction by Andrew Young (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 2001), page 158.
Naomi Klein offers a window into her book in her account of Milton Friedman and his “Chicago Boys” and what transpired in Chile under Pinochet: “Milton Friedman did not save Chile,” The Guardian, March 3, 2010. The subtitle reads, “To say the late economist deserves credit for the country’s building codes shows a lack of knowledge of pre-coup Chile.” Here is another article addressing similar dynamics and concerns: Orlando Letelier, “The ‘Chicago Boys’ in Chile: Economic Freedom’s Awful Toll.” The article was published in The Nation, September 21, 2016. The subtitle reads: “Repression for the majorities and ‘economic freedom’ for small privileged groups are two sides of the same coin.”