Peñaloza: Mr. Trump, You're Wrong (Again)

This is an international emergency.

by Mariana Peñaloza | 3/1/19 2:15am

It’s been two weeks since U.S. President Trump felt the need to declare that his signature border wall’s construction qualified as a national emergency. Anger still consumes me. He lives under a veil of ignorance, which he is never forced to take off. His ignorance is a privilege that goes unchecked, and it’s one that many don’t have. I know I don’t. 

I’m not just Mariana Peñaloza. I don’t have the luxury of expressing ignorance because many of my peers just see me as an amalgam of my communities. I carry the weight and represent Latinx, womxn and poor communities, and I can’t give people excuses to call us ignorant. So yes, I’m not the President of the United States. I don’t represent the entire United States population, but the actions of Donald Trump don’t either. His position removes him from having to understand the cruelty behind his words and actions. 

I remember the first time I saw a dead body. I remember the second time just as clearly. They were in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Honduras, respectively. I was visiting my sister, who was stationed there for two years working for the U.S. Air Force. It was one of my last chances to see my sister in person before she would be deployed to Turkey, after which I wouldn’t see her for a year. When I visited Honduras, I saw years of U.S. intervention and imperialism manifest as death and violence that people rightfully want to escape. I saw that in the men who died — whose stories I have no right to tell. But every time someone mentions the border wall, I can’t help but think about their blood and their faces. I wonder about the other people risking their life to endure a dangerous journey for a mere opportunity that’ll be taken away from them at the border when this government deems them unworthy. Anger is the only proper response.

President Trump’s national emergency declaration followed a sycophantic speech aimed toward the People’s Republic of China and its leader, President Xi Jinping. He chose his words strategically, reminding his audience that he believes humans can, in fact, be illegal. Walls work in Israel, he said, ignoring that the people of Palestine are victims of apartheid. Even when isolated incidents of immigrants killing are touted, people care only because those who died were white and a wall seems far more plausible than gun control legislation. Undocumented immigrants are ostensibly an “invasion of people,” coming to escape inhumane conditions the United States created that no human being should be subjected to. They’re seeking a liveable world, but President Trump maliciously wants to build a wall around it.

The United States is guilty of recrimination. Its leaders call immigrants “bad hombres” and “murderers.” How long is the government going to feed people the lie that the U.S. is the “good guy” and “savior”? Considering the recent actions of federal law enforcement at the nation’s southwest border, I would hesitate to call these actions anything short of evil. The government prosecutes and convicts immigrants, often circumventing international law. The United Nations’ 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees explicitly states the right to not be expelled and the right to not be punished for coming into any host country. As the architect of the treaty, it is the nation’s duty to abide by it. 

On Nov. 25, 2018, U.S. Border Patrol agents used tear gas at the border against people desperate for a chance at a safe life. Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old migrant from Guatemala, died in Border Patrol custody after  not receiving immediate medical assistance. There is no excuse for decimating immigrants. How is it, then, that the President of the United States can embrace nativism without consequence? How can he stand behind the gates of the White House — built by slaves and on the land of indigenous peoples, guarded by Secret Service and privilege — and call “illegal” immigration a national crisis? Immigrants looking for a new home is not a national crisis. Building a wall to stop them is an international one.