I recently finished reading the book “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave the other day. A story, in part, of the character Little Bee, a Nigerian asylum seeker who stows away to the UK. A 266-page story short, Little Bee is wrongly released after two years in a British immigration detention center where she journeys to find and live with other characters in the book. However, through an incident involving the police, Little Bee is again detained and deported back to Nigeria.
A few lines in the story that stayed with me was Little Bee’s bewilderment at the London police not carrying pistols and Little Bee soon understanding in her own way of why this is:
If this policeman began to suspect me, he could call the immigration people. Then one of them would click a button on their computer and mark a check box on my file and I would be deported. I would be dead, but no one would have fired any bullets. I realized, this is why the police do not carry guns. In a civilized country, they kill you with a click. The killing is done far away, at the heart of the kingdom in a building full of computers and coffee cups.
I read this a day before the Associated Press released an article about migrants being sent back by the United States and bused to the Mexican city of Monterrey. Around 450 migrants from Central America were turned away by US immigration and “told that going to Mexico or continued detention were the only options.”
Once back in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico with nothing more than a paper containing a US court date, the migrants met with Mexican immigration officials and were loaded onto buses bound for Monterrey, albeit not forcibly. However, considering the current gang violence, kidnappings and murders in the Tamaulipas region, the article explained, they saw little choice in staying. Once reaching Monterrey, the migrants were dropped off and left “on a street across from sleazy nightclubs and cabarets”.
So let’s break this down. The migrants were moved from Nuevo Laredo “for their own safety”, but were literally dropped off on a random street in the city. Without anything, mind you – no help, no supplies, no directions. Just unloaded there in an unknown city. I also find it curious that the migrants would be moved from Nuevo Laredo for their “safety”, but were abandoned in Monterrey, a city that the US Overseas Security Advisory Council describes as having serious risks of violent crimes like murder, robbery, kidnapping, sexual assault and gun battles.
Gun battles – yea, let’s send people there.
I kept thinking about Little Bee while reading this whole article and about her point of view being an immigrant constantly fearing being sent back to the place she escaped from. I also thought about if the immigration officials ever considered the end journey of where they were sending Little Bee or any other migrant. Or how many politicians ever thought of it in their campaign speeches calling to “send ‘em back”.
It’s easy to turn people away when they’re at our doorstep, especially when we never even have to look at them, but something we always need to consider is what will happen when we turn them away. As migrants come to our Southern border and are held by US immigration, they’re under our care and our responsibility for whatever amount of time. What happens to them after that is also our responsibility.
Plenty wish to say it’s not though, and that what happens to them after that is out of our control and not our concern. But I don’t think we can look at it that way. Imagine a person giving a friend a ride to the rougher side of town, where they know there’s a greater risk of violent crime. This person drops their friend off, tosses them a “see ya”, and squeals tires getting out of there. Their friend is now alone and left without a clue of where they are. If a minute later, the friend gets beaten and robbed, I wouldn’t be blaming them.
Like the story’s immigration officers saw Little Bee, it’s easy to see immigrants as inconvenient numbers on a screen that can be discarded with a few check-boxes and keyboard presses. It’s easy to see migrants as faceless numbers on a newspaper column, and their journey here is a couple of weeks in a detention center, a few forms and some computer entries. But we can never forget about the human side of immigration, no matter which side of the aisle you fall on.
Migrants are fleeing Central American cities due to violence and political unrest – the same cities we easily, and sometimes eagerly, send them back to with a few forms and clicks. They come here for help, and regardless of their legality, sending them straight back into that danger is cruel and irresponsible.
While we detain these migrants, their safety and future is in our hands. We have power over their life or death, their safety or vulnerability. It’s our responsibility to recognize that power, but when we send them back to places like Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey, we aren’t. Choosing to migrate legally or illegally was their decision. Sending them back into a world of violence and harm is ours. And the consequences of what happens to them after that are ours as well.
If we send someone back to a place where we know their lives will be endangered, and they get hurt or killed, we may as well be doing that to them here and save them the trip. But we wouldn’t think of doing that, because we’re a civilized country. So we won’t use guns – we’ll keep on using clicks.