The clarion heard from sea to shining sea. We saw her, aged two, wailing as a border agent searched her mother. The viral image set off a firestorm of criticism, including from famously private former First Lady Laura Bush, condemning the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance border policy. The death of Alan Kurdi three years prior catapulted the Mediterranean migrant crisis of Africa, Europe, and West Asia to the global stage. Three and six years on respectively, both crises dominate the lives of border officials, policy makers, and government treaties. The consciousness of which they’re absent is the general public.
As of March 2021, the Biden Administration apprehended 171,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexican Border, approximately 18,000 of which were unaccompanied minors. Though many are teenagers, some are as young as age five. There may be no Pulitzer Prize winning photo, but there are children being held in detention facilities, desperately trying to reach their families in the United States, only to be deported to Central America. Just recently migrants traveled in a Ford Expedition built for six passengers but carried twenty-five, and crashed in the California desert. Twelve passengers died at the scene, another at the hospital, the rest sustaining moderate to debilitating injuries. The victims strewn across the road for hundreds of feet; the local fire chief said it was the most gruesome accident he’d seen in his twenty-nine year career.
The result of failed foreign policy in Central America, perennial wars in the Middle East, and natural disasters in the Caribbean and beyond have created a steadily increasing community of asylum-seekers and refugees worldwide. But they’ve stopped making headlines, and when they do, they’re treated as political fodder for campaign slogans, not vulnerable human beings in the most precarious circumstance.
“Collectively we need a re-examination of what “shocks the conscious” and why we seem to no longer be as shocked.”
Despite the somber images of activists holding a vigil and wake for the deceased migrants in California, it hasn’t captured the national consciousness. Our emotional bandwidth ostensibly depleted. Our attention span worn. So many of us are tired, yet not fleeing chemical bombs, famine, and economic despair. This does not detract from the challenging year of the United States: the world’s highest COVID19 death toll, an economic shock comparable to the Great Depression, and a desperately needed stimulus that surpassed the bailouts of the 2008 Financial Crisis. All that said, people still journey here: which tells us something of their countries, and ours.
Collectively we need a re-examination of what “shocks the conscious” and why we seem to no longer be as shocked. Are we desensitized to war so greatly that those displaced no longer garner sympathy? Are we so accustomed to the unending immigration debate that we forget why many are fleeing their home countries, and the lengths of which are taken to arrive on our shores? A ten-year-old Nicaraguan boy was thankfully found by a Border Patrol agent this week after being abandoned by a group of which he traveled. It wasn’t as viral, it’s still painful.
Compounding with the Trump Administration’s “Last In, First Out” policy, the asylum backlog in United States courts has reached an unprecedented level. We’re all tired from elected officials who seem to exacerbate problems more than solve them. But living in limbo, desperately seeking assistance on foreign land, and daily fear of persecution cause far greater fatigue.
Throughout human history, we’ve never been a species without a refugee and asylum seeking population. For we have always had wars that created them. We can strive to be a world of which displacement and asylum are no longer commonplace. We’re not there — but we never will be if empathy and understanding don’t sustain us in the interim.
This article is written in conjunction with Migrant Matters, a MIRR Alliance publication creating an an ecosystem of dialogue and positive discussion. In this article, the author discusses the desensitization to refugees and asylum-seekers.