Post 400.

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis has provoked local debate about what constitutes humane state and social policy toward refugees and migrants. It was inhumane to put human beings, including children, to sea in a pirogue. It’s inhumane to deport those who are in the process of resolving refugee claims. It’s inhumane to separate children from parents.

However, the nitty-gritty of a human rights approach across state agencies, the labour market and our communities is much more complex and propels us, a migrant society, to reckon with the contradictory mix of stereotypes, exploitation and sexual violence as well as compassion and opportunity that Venezuelan and other migrants encounter here.

Venezuelans were already migrating to and from Trinidad when First Peoples still called the island Kairi. Indeed, we are a broken fragment from the Venezuelan mainland. We also have a long and embedded history of Spanish-speaking communities.

It’s clear that contemporary capital and elites move across borders with an ease and invisibility that the most poor and vulnerable are inequitably and visibly denied, whether because of their nationality, race, gender, sexuality or disability, or limited formal schooling. Yet, migrants always contribute to economies and societies, particularly when there are legal options for them to integrate, and should never be maligned simply as burden or criminal threat.

There has been and will always be migration, within and across national borders. It is increasing as a result of growing economic inequality and climate change, both of which are linked to political instability. The question is how we choose to understand and manage it. And, we should keep in mind, we may be in the same position one day.

There is Minister Young’s commitment to upholding immigration law combined with the porous reality of our borders, which makes such commitment operate through highly unsystematic policing, often accompanied by an extra-legal male threat, extortion and violence to those entering under the shadows of state oversight.

There is an informal economy that can absorb both documented and undocumented migrants because they can be paid lower wages and their labour can be more greatly exploited, particularly women working in feminised roles as domestics, carers, low-waged employees in supermarkets and factories, and in service jobs in restaurants and bars.

Unclear policy direction has also meant that Venezuelan migrants, especially women and girls, are vulnerable to violence of various kinds, from partners, employers, landlords, immigration officials, and traffickers, and are at risk of deportation if they report any of these crimes. Children of parents without asylum or citizenship status also become stateless, living in countries in which they have no right to education, livelihoods and health. This will certainly become a challenge. Given the numbers of migrant children out of school, it already is.

I’ve been listening a lot. Hearing both heart and help from so many on the ground, and also fear and condemnation, not only of Venezuelans, but migrants overall. As young migration scholar Tivia Collins wrote in her letter to the editor of August 28, “Despite our personal opinions on the circumstances of Venezuelans’ arrival to Trinidad and Tobago, or on the ways we think they live, we have a right to be kind and show empathy to others in need” In their article documenting interviews with Venezuelan migrant women, Collins and Richie Ann Daly recommend that “the Government of Trinidad and Tobago implement a migration policy that guarantees the rights of migrants in vulnerable situations within the country.” They call for “local legislation on asylum seekers and refugees, which would provide a formal system for Venezuelan migrants to legally live and work in Trinidad and Tobago.” Third, they emphasise training for immigration officers and public education to promote empathy.

R4V (Response for Venezuelans), a co-ordination platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, additionally calls on Caribbean states to ensure that “returns to Venezuela are not forced.” In its own words, “It is important to note that returning to one’s home country is a human right, and often the most desirable durable solution for many refugees. However…the current conditions in Venezuela remain problematic and not conducive for a dignified and safe return. At this point, returns should continue to be only for those who truly wish to voluntarily return and are not forced…since this would amount to…a serious human right violation”.

Such discrimination and violation are happening here, with tragic impunity. I reflect on this reading the newspapers, reminding myself about justice and kindness, and a nation of migrants yet again struggling to recognise our common humanity.

Post 289.

US government inhumanity is being broadcast as globally as World Cup soccer. Yet, few are tuned in.

Maybe you’ve seen the anguished images. The US Department of Homeland Security reports that close to 2000 children were separated from their parents in just the six weeks between April 19 and May 31. More than a hundred children separated under this policy were under four years old.

One Honduran woman reported US agents taking away her breast-feeding baby and handcuffing her when she tried to resist. It would be unimaginable if it wasn’t being broadcast as real. The United Nations has called for an end to the deep violation in current Trump policy toward illegal migrants. Humanitarian organisations have called it “willing cruelty”. The American Civil Liberties Union alleged that border patrol agents were kicking, beating and threatening children with sexual abuse.

The words on the Statue of Liberty say, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Yet, this about-face from a country whose majority population are immigrants, and which is ruled by white supremist power established through a history of illegal, violent and genocidal entry, is the height of hypocrisy.

Only those seeking a better future from difficult lives try to irregularly cross borders. From El Salvador and Honduras, migrants are escaping forced recruitment by gangs, extortion of their small businesses, rape of women, and kidnapping of children for the sex industry plus straight-up poverty.

People with wealth, power and opportunity in their own countries don’t experience such desperation and have the resources to legally negotiate migration. Vast class inequality in migrants’ home countries, at the hands of their own governments, cannot be ignored here.

Inequalities among countries are also key. Countries such as Mexico were impoverished by the North American Free Trade Agreement which created higher levels of unemployment, lowered labor rights and reduced environmental rules. Subsidized US corn flooded Mexico’s market leading to some two million being forced to leave their farms. These and other effects of NAFTA have had a direct effect on Mexican migration to the US.

Finally, the facts are that immigrants produce net benefits to the US economy by slowing an aging workforce, slowing the declining birthrate, contributing disproportionately to innovation, filling workforce gaps, and enabling high-skilled Americans, such as working mothers, to maximize employment.

However, more powerful is a language of immigrant-blame which fed Trump’s campaign, his insane call for a border wall, and his ability to rally supporters around zenophobia or hatred of foreigners, as a distraction to his undermining of labour, environmental, health, gender and equitable tax policies.

Once just an administrative process, the new ratched up response is that any migrant family entering the U.S. without a border inspection will be prosecuted for this minor misdemeanor. Parents get incarcerated and children sent to a detention centre or foster care. Parents are having difficulties reuniting with children, and may be deported alone.

Even credible asylum seekers are at risk in this new policy effort. Families are broken up because children cannot be kept in the jail-like immigration detention centres which house parents, but the decision to jail such people who haven’t violated any laws is a choice, not a mandatory or long-established practice.

The Trump regime is now playing politics about an approach that leaves children deeply traumatised. One legitimate, woman asylum seeker in particular, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was separated from her seven year-old daughter for months. Children have been reported to be at risk of running away, self-harm and suicide, and arrive at over-crowded centres thinking their parents are lost or dead.

Commentator Dan Savage’s tweet got it absolutely right: “Reminder that the people currently justifying tearing children away from their parents spend the last twenty years insisting “every child deserves a mother and a father”.”

One on the one hand, “family values” are touted as the basis for Republican undermining of women’s right to safe and legal termination of pregnancies, and undermining of challenges to homophobic laws regarding marriage, adoption and inheritance.

On the other hand, this is a vastly anti-family practice, enacted by almost no other country in the “free world” experiencing such migration. The world should also remember that, despite being a signatory, the USA has never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, undermining its global accountability for violation of children’s rights.

Even illegally migrating children should not be treated this way. In between football games, join a world closely watching Trump’s border policy foul play.