The urgent humanitarian situation caused by Central American immigrants flooding the United States’ southern border may be a result of “the drug war we’ve created,” according to former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
“Most [unaccompanied minors] are refugees of the drug war we’ve created,” Reich said in a note to his more than 400,000 followers on Facebook.
“I’m not suggesting we allow in anyone who wants to come here, but these are desperate children,” said Reich, who served under former president Bill Clinton.
The surge in unaccompanied children is unprecedented; the number has spiked from a previous annual average of 6,000 – 8,000 to a projected 90,000 children this year. The three top municipalities of origin for the immigrant children are all in Honduras.
Many U.S. media reports have traced the situation back to Central American poverty, gang violence and misinformation about how the United States handles unaccompanied children once they get across the border. But very little attention has been given to how U.S. foreign policies —especially the U.S.-led drug war and the government’s handling of the 2009 coup in Honduras— may be to blame for the exodus.
“If U.S. drug policy had been less militaristic and less focused on law enforcement it’s quite likely that we would see significantly less problems now with kids fleeing to the U.S. from places like Honduras,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that promotes alternatives to the war on drugs.
Nadelmann criticizes the U.S. for foisting its drug-war policy on smaller countries. He says the situation in Central America today would be different if more money were spent on public health, rather than pursuing prohibitionist policies.
“Many of these countries criminalized drugs that they had never heard of because of pressure from the United States,” Nadelmann said in a telephone interview Monday.
Nadelmann pointed out the United States has deported large numbers of gang members to Central America, many of whom returned to the countries they were born in to transform the criminal and gang culture. Roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug-law violations every year since 2008, according to an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University
Reich on Sunday also noted that the “haters” speaking out against child migrants are the same critics going after other marginalized groups in the United States, including gays, African-Americans and Muslims.
“The haters direct their venom not just at child refugees seeking asylum from the drug war we created, but also at gays who want to marry, African-Americans who want to vote and exercise their other rights of citizenship, women who seek abortions, or even women in general,” Reich wrote on Facebook.
“Why are we now allowing the hateful side of America to take center stage,” Reich demanded.
Reich's note, posted on Saturday, had been shared close to 19,000 times times at press time.