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Podcast: What’s Missing in Discussions About Crisis with Child Refugees at US-Mexico Border

Fifty-two thousand children have fled their homes in countries in Central America and journeyed to the United States. Some of them came with their families and the vast majority of them are now being put through a deportation regime, which President Barack Obama’s administration is committing resources to expediting so they will be sent back to the countries they fled.

Lacking in all of the attention to this crisis is the role of the US. To fully understand the crisis with immigrants or, more accurately, refugees seeking asylum in the US, there must be a focus on the history which has led to this moment.

Todd Miller, a journalist who has covered US-Mexico border issues for over 15 years, joins the show to provide some of this critical context. He is the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. 

In addition to the interview with Miller, the show introduces two new regular features to the show: a featured campaign or action of the week and a featured political case of the week.

This week we highlight efforts to get water to Detroit residents, who have had their water shut off by the city. We highlight Wiley Gill, a victim of an American domestic surveillance system known as the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.

Co-host Rania Khalek provides an update on Israel’s assault on Gaza, and I comment on the NSA’s spying on American Muslims, as reported by The Intercept last week.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a direct link (and direct download), go here. And, below is a player for listening to the podcast without getting it from iTunes:

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”500″ height=”360″ align=”none” !}

During the interview, Miller suggests, “There’s this idea out there that it’s the children’s parents’ faults because they’re telling their children to come to the United States.”

“It’s being presented as if what’s going on in Central America is coming out of a complete vacuum,” but, Miller adds, “If you look at the United States policies in Central America, you can go back almost 200 years” to explain why things are the way they are in Central America.

Miller mentions one of his favorite earliest examples: William Walker, who was from the United States, went to Nicaragua in the 19th Century and declared himself president of Nicaragua. He ruled the country for two years.

There was tacit support from the US government for dictatorships in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras throughout the 20th Century. A CIA coup in 1954 in Guatemala led to the ousting of President Jacobo Árbenz, “who dared to challenge the United Fruit Company and their dominance over land in Guatemala. The military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas was installed and that subsequently unleashed a civil war, which lasted until 1996.

Miller says the Guatemalans refer to the civil war as the “Mayan holocaust” because over 150,000 people were killed.

There is a similar history in El Salvador and, of course, in Honduras, the US helped facilitate a coup in 2009. Manuel Zelaya and replaced him with Roberto Micheletti.

Miller notes that the “War on Drugs” has to be part of the conversation. Hundreds of millions of dollars from the US are going to fund security forces in Central American countries through the Central American Regional Security Initiative.

“What this does is give money to security forces, the very same security forces that were implicated in the violence of the civil wars before, this very same security forces that target activism, that target people who are pushing back in all these countries against these neoliberal economic reforms,” Miller asserts.

And what does it really mean that the children are fleeing violence?

“This idea that is just thrown [around] that there is rogue gangs roaming around that have no historical context to them,  this whole idea that these just come out of nowhere is incorrect,” Miller argues. “And the whole idea that the security forces are not still repressive , are not a part of this and are not involved in some of the organized crime networks in Central America is also something that’s really overlooked.”

Miller wholly rejects this notion that the US-Mexico border is porous.

“Never in the history of the United States have we seen a more massive border enforcement apparatus, which is also connected also to the most massive deportation and incarceration regime around immigration,” Miller contends. In the 1990s, there were about 4,000 Border Patrol agents. Now there are about 23,000 agents. The Border Patrol is part of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection, which has an air and marine division as well as special forces units.

“We have formed a Department of Homeland Security standing army on US soil,” Miller declares.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."