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U.S. intervention is at root of immigration crisis

Just when I thought I might finally be free from having to read hypocritical neoliberal bullshit from former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, it managed to drag itself back into view. Last week, her comments on immigration in an interview with The Guardian drew relatively widespread attention: specifically, that “Europe needs to get a handle on immigration, because that is what lit the flame.” The flame she was referring to was right-wing populism, and her advice was for European countries to stop offering refuge and support. 

Many were surprised, pointing to Clinton’s 2016 platform, which boasted: “We embrace immigrants, not denigrate them.” The New York Times, bastion of centrist-liberal media, ran an article stating that Clinton has “a track record seemingly at odds with her recent remarks” and quoting figures who said they were “shocked.” While there absolutely is deep contradiction in her statements, it’s not in relation to her track record — and none of us should be surprised. 

Yes, maybe she tweeted a picture of brutalized migrants in Tijuana captioned “This is wrong” on Monday,  and yes, Democrats are certainly taking more humane stances in relation to the asylum-seekers arriving and the immigrants already here. But a fatal shortcoming of center-left liberals and even progressives in current immigration discourse is the failure to critically interrogate the U.S’. long-term role — nearly equally on both sides of the aisle — in creating the circumstances that asylum-seekers are now fleeing, not just in handling its consequences today. 

Why are thousands of people risking their lives to endure an incredibly dangerous, thousands-of-miles-long trek to an immigrant-hating nation that will teargas them at the border? Are their countries just inferior? Inherently poor and violent? No. Our country racked them politically and economically for our own gain, leaving millions destitute in the process.

Let’s take a look at Clinton herself. Just to list a fraction of available examples, we can look at her role in the 2009 coup in Honduras, or supporting billions of dollars to increase military presence and protect corporate interests in Colombia in 2000, or pushing Mexico to privatize the petroleum industry, or withholding development aid to El Salvador until they passed a major privatization law, or, of course, her role in North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), whose regulations spurred the collapse of the agricultural sectors in Mexico and other countries. The resulting displaced people are the ones Clinton now blames for the rise of figures like Trump who perpetuate their oppression — a fitting embodiment of neoliberal contradiction. 

But don’t think that I’m simply scorching Clinton: she’s not some rogue agent out of step with America. The very problem is rather that she’s the continuation of more than a century of ruthless U.S. intervention in Latin America: strangling Latin American countries with neoliberal economic policies, enforcing military coups and imperialistically plundering resources. 

What supporters of asylum seekers in the caravan must understand now is that is these policies have varied almost inconsequentially for several decades: across Republicans and Democrats alike. When we hear conservatives say, “well, Obama did it too,” we should listen: not to validate or become complacent with the racist, inhumane demonization of immigrants, but rather to reflect on the fact that our nation’s heartlessness may go back further than we thought. 

When Democrats load their rhetoric on immigration with language centering on compassion, generosity and benevolence, they sway the issue to a framing of American exceptionalism: the story that the U.S. is a global leader and protector. But by doing so, they obscure the fact that violence and oppression are and always have been our values, absolving themselves of complicity in the process. Admitting an asylum seeker is hardly an act of generosity when we manifested the horrors they’re fleeing. As Mark Tseng-Putterman wrote in an article for Medium, accepting Central American migrants “might be better described as a matter of reparations.”

While this kind of information isn’t readily supplied to us (read  Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent re: influence of corporate money on mass media political coverage), it’s extraordinarily well-documented and easy to find if we look. The only difficult part is reconciling reality with the narrative of America we’ve always been told. 

Robyn Newcomb, a Viewpoints Editor for the Voice, can be reached for comment at

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