Given What the U.S. Has Done to the World, It Should Be Letting All Refugees In

The U.S. is slamming the door on people forcibly displaced by American interventions.

Khury Peterson-Smith July 18, 2018

Asylum seekers walk along Roxham Road near Champlain, New York on August 6, 2017. (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

Peo­ple across the Unit­ed States and around the world have been right­ly out­raged by U.S. fed­er­al agen­cies’ deten­tion of migrants and sep­a­ra­tion of their fam­i­lies at the U.S.-Mexico bor­der. Short­ly after, the Supreme Court’s ruled to uphold the Trump administration’s racist trav­el ban on sev­er­al Mus­lim-major­i­ty coun­tries, reviv­ing anoth­er fierce reac­tion to the admin­is­tra­tion’s pol­i­cy toward immi­grants, trav­el­ers and asy­lum seekers.

As with Central America, the United States is committing crimes in Yemen that force millions into desperate circumstances.

In mid­dle school, chil­dren in the Unit­ed States learn that the three branch­es of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment are arranged with a sys­tem of checks and bal­ances,” so that no one branch over­steps its pow­er and vio­lates the rights of indi­vid­u­als. But now, the whole world can see that the only thing checked” by the White House and the Supreme Court is the human right to free­dom of movement.

The cas­es are unit­ed by more than one admin­is­tra­tion’s xeno­pho­bia. Much of Latin Amer­i­ca and the Mus­lim world share a lega­cy of U.S. inter­ven­tions dri­ving the very migra­tion now being cru­el­ly restricted.

Lat­inx migrants at the south­ern bor­der have been in the nation­al spot­light. But too rarely has the ques­tion been asked: What sit­u­a­tion would com­pel so many peo­ple to leave their homes and take the per­ilous jour­ney north in the first place?

An hon­est answer requires an exam­i­na­tion of U.S. pol­i­cy in Latin Amer­i­ca, par­tic­u­lar­ly Cen­tral America.

While the Trump admin­is­tra­tion talks inces­sant­ly about its favorite vil­lain, the gang MS-13, it says noth­ing about the ori­gins of the gang. MS-13 was actu­al­ly incu­bat­ed on the streets and in the pris­ons of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where so many Sal­vado­ran migrants were incar­cer­at­ed in the 1990s. Wash­ing­ton’s depor­ta­tion of for­mer pris­on­ers — among oth­er Sal­vado­rans — back to El Sal­vador was the con­text for the devel­op­ment of the MS-13.

The Sal­vado­ran com­mu­ni­ty that devel­oped in the Unit­ed States in the 1980s and 1990s itself emerged as Sal­vado­rans fled a night­mar­ish civ­il war. The Unit­ed States was deeply involved in that con­flict, arm­ing and sup­port­ing the Sal­vado­ran gov­ern­ment and right-wing para­mil­i­tary forces through­out Cen­tral America.

These death squads com­mit­ted acts of unspeak­able vio­lence that still rever­ber­ate through­out the region today. Sim­i­lar pat­terns have played out in Guatemala and Hon­duras, which are also coun­tries of ori­gin for refugees where the Unit­ed States has a lega­cy of back­ing right-wing lead­ers past and present.

On the oth­er side of the world is Yemen, one of the sev­en coun­tries whose peo­ple are tar­get­ed by the trav­el ban — and the site of a cat­a­stroph­ic U.S.-backed war. We may not hear the cries of Yemeni chil­dren the way we heard those of chil­dren detained at the bor­der. But many of them are also sep­a­rat­ed from their fam­i­lies here in the Unit­ed States because of the trav­el ban.

As with Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, the Unit­ed States is com­mit­ting crimes in Yemen that force mil­lions into des­per­ate circumstances.

Accord­ing to the Unit­ed Nations, the worst human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis in the world today exists in Yemen — a strik­ing dis­tinc­tion, giv­en that there’s no short­age of oth­er dis­as­ters around the globe. There is a civ­il war in Yemen, in which com­bat­ants on both sides have tak­en actions that have had severe con­se­quences for civil­ians. But the over­whelm­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for the destruc­tion lies with a coali­tion led by Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, which has bombed Yemen mer­ci­less­ly in sup­port of the Sau­di-friend­ly Abdrab­buh Man­sour Hadi, whom the Gulf States seek to install as the president.

Their cam­paign has tar­get­ed civil­ian infra­struc­ture, wed­dings, funer­als and even med­ical facil­i­ties. As a result, tens of thou­sands have been killed and mil­lions have been dis­placed. Mil­lions face star­va­tion as well as sick­ness and death from entire­ly pre­ventable dis­eases like cholera. Accord­ing to UNICEF, 11 mil­lion chil­dren, or near­ly every child in Yemen,” is in need of human­i­tar­i­an assistance.

A dropped bomb or explod­ed mis­sile leaves so much in its wake. But there is a par­tic­u­lar and pecu­liar rem­nant of the blasts that have wound­ed Yemen. Yeme­nis find, again and again, labels on bomb frag­ments that indi­cate they are made and sold by the Unit­ed States.

Indeed, last sum­mer, Trump nego­ti­at­ed with Sau­di Ara­bia to sell the king­dom $110 bil­lion in weapons. The Unit­ed States also approved $2 bil­lion in arms sales to the U.A.E. last year. The Unit­ed States is also sup­ply­ing intel­li­gence to the Saudi/​Emirati coali­tion, as well as mid-air refu­el­ing for coali­tion aircraft.

The Unit­ed States, there­fore, is doing every­thing but drop­ping the bombs itself. But even that dis­tinc­tion dis­solves when one remem­bers that the Unit­ed States did bomb Yemen repeat­ed­ly using drone strikes and cruise mis­sile attacks through­out the Oba­ma administration.

The Unit­ed States has bombed Yeme­nis. It is sup­ply­ing the weapons for oth­er coun­tries to bomb Yeme­nis now. And, as it’s doing toward Cen­tral Amer­i­cans in the most cal­lous way, it is deny­ing Yeme­nis the right to enter the Unit­ed States.

The begin­ning of account­abil­i­ty for those actions is let­ting these — and all — refugees in. But that can­not be the end. Let this time of anguish and out­rage be one of a deep reck­on­ing — with what the Unit­ed States does at its bor­ders, with­in them, and beyond them.

This arti­cle was pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with For­eign Pol­i­cy In Focus.

Khury Peter­son-Smith is the Michael Rat­ner Mid­dle East Fel­low at the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Studies.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH