We could be heading toward teeming refugee camps in North America


It seems the usual suspects have mostly dropped their war drums and quieted their war chants about re-occupying Iraq. Also known as trying to injure the White House. Maybe a better, more genuine discussion would be what the US and the rest of the world is willing to do about improving the dire situation in Central America. As things stand now, thousands of mothers and children are being duped and intimidated into a death defying run for safety in the US. Here’s some of what is motivating them:

NBC News — Honduras’ homicide rate was 90 slayings per 100,000 people in 2012, the worst in the world and six times the global average. The U.S. State Department warns that a corrupt and toothless police force means “criminals operate with a high-degree of impunity throughout Honduras.” Crushing poverty underlies the violence. Nearly two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line, according to UNICEF. One in three infants is malnourished, and children in rural areas get an average of four years of schooling.

For many families, the only escape is over the porous border with Guatemala. There are only 22 police officers — with a single vehicle at their disposal — to patrol 43 miles of the border, which they say is full of “blind spots.” The children are hustled over the line and then into Mexico, and finally to the U.S., which has been struggling to cope with the surge in unaccompanied minors since October.

Honduras and its neighbors are completely collapsing in the face of widespread corruption and narco-terrorism. One result here in the US is refuge-style camps are springing up, some full of young children and young mothers. They will grow in number if we don’t change the way we deal with this influx. We could join many parts of the world, where relatively well off and utterly destitute families live in close proximity, with the latter in large concentrations of refugee camps, managed outdoor tent-prisons basically, without any of the rights or dwindling resources dedicated to the very poor and most vulnerable legal citizens in the US. If war refugees can’t stay here and have no home to go back to, they end up in no man’s land, with no legal status subsisting in tents and barracks, at best. Imagine how that would work years in the future, with no political representation for a group already scape-goated and hated by a wide, ugly swath of Americans.

If a case can be made to occupy a country, maybe Honduras is a good place to start making it. I’m not saying we should do that. I’d have to be sold, big time, on why it might improve the situation and not turn into a disaster falling squarely on US shoulders. But on the plus side, it would be an actual humanitarian effort with potential benefits for all concerned, the country/population is smaller than Iraq and much closer, Honduras and its neighbors are ecological and archeological treasure troves; the nation could easily descend into a state of mass genocide if we do not act soon, it’s not far away from total chaos now. If it wasn’t just the US, if other nations were willing to shoulder a share of the cost and risks, that would certainly sweeten the formidable prospect of a US-led occupation and reconstruction of a foreign country.

Obviously that would be a Herculean political lift and it won’t be seriously proposed by anyone with influence. Unless and until the crisis on the border reaches a sustained fever pitch of suffering or violence.


  1. Pen says

    If a case can be made to occupy a country, maybe Honduras is a good place to start making it.

    It’s good you’re not saying you’re sure of that because you would need to really think about whether the US has anything to offer, even if it wasn’t a disaster. There’s a reason why neither the US (nor Europe) can manage an big influx of refugees right now: inequity across the board including justice, education and health; deregulation in the face of poor labour market; dismantling or non-existence of social support systems, weak communities – why would you have a system to support and integrate refugees when you can’t even do it for your own poor? So, you wanted to export what, exactly?

  2. says

    I’m worried more that Honduras or El Salvador etc., or some combo turn into Somalia or Rwanda. Something that would cause the influx to skyrocket. Not sure if we could help by moving in and trying to run a state, even with other countries or the UN pitching in. But if mass murder is being regularly broadcast on Youtube and refugees are streaming out in all directions in droves, we might feel we have to try. It sounds like it’s starting to go that way in Honduras.

  3. Kevin Kehres says

    Not just “no”, but “hell no”.

    Not without a 100% commitment from the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and an equal commitment of resources and personnel from other countries.

    When are we going to learn that our military is not the solution to the world’s problems? Apparently, never.

    And yes, our military is the biggest swinging dick in the pool. Doesn’t mean we need to be stupid about where we swing it. I seem to recall us using the military as a solution to a humanitarian crisis in Somalia. Didn’t work out so well.


  4. Dunc says

    why would you have a system to support and integrate refugees when you can’t even do it for your own poor?

    We can do it for our own poor, we just choose not to.

    As for why… Basic human decency? Sorry, crazy talk, I know… Let’s just build a big fucking wall with machine guns on top to make sure that none of those starving children trouble us. I’m sure that’s cheaper than feeding them.

  5. Jeff Engel says

    What Dunc said. Judging what the U.S. can do with its military by what it has done with it is too pessimistic an assumption. If any state can set up a fair and adequate police and judicial system, in a nation that can sustain it after the intervening troops go home, then it’s worth considering as a mission.

    I wouldn’t want to err on the optimistic side either and just assume that the U.S. would do a fine job of it. It’d be ridiculous to count on that either. If I had to guess at one extreme or the other, I’d guess on the pessimistic one myself, but we’re not forced with that kind of either/or anyway.

    It’d come down to what conditions it would take for an intervention to have that result – effectively as a part of successful nation re-building, something that’s another political hard sell these days – and whether or not and under what terms the U.S. military could be entrusted to take a part of that mission. When the U.S. government and electorate will not get behind that kind of effort here at home, it’s hard to believe that they would for another country. But if you can’t adopt that kind of hope as a basis for political action and actually work toward it, you may not have anything useful to offer.

  6. Friendly says

    Any time the U.S. thinks it can use its military to “help” a poorer and smaller nation facing a humanitarian crisis, seven or eight shady American firms show up for every aspect of the crisis saying, “Tough problem, huh? Award us the contract for it and we’ll solve it for you.” The two or three firms with the best connections and the most well-placed money will land those contracts and all of the U.S. government’s “infrastructure investments” in the crisis-hit country proceed to vanish (for which read, flow in a well-concealed manner back to wealthy corporate owners), leaving the U.S. government and the country being assisted and its people poorer than they were before. I mean, how many times has the U.S. reenacted that same scenario in Haiti alone in the last 200 years?

  7. busterggi says

    “Honduras and its neighbors are completely collapsing in the face of widespread corruption and narco-terrorism.”

    This is what happens when the CIA isn’t allowed to install pet dictators on their payroll.

  8. lorn says

    A sore point, and one unlikely to be received well here, but nonetheless a point that I feel should be made: Why do we speak of the South Americans as if they were children and incapable of running their own countries, solving their own problems, reforming their own nations, and the systems within those nations? Why is this automatically our problem to wade in and solve, or even have a strong opinion on?

    Certainly other nations have had a high birth rate, poor economy, poor distribution of wealth, and a high crime rate hat moderated, if not entirely corrected, those problems.

    Yes, the US has likely had a hand in creating those issues but other nations have cut ties, moderated influence and taken charge of their destiny even as other nations and corporations sought to hold them back. Revolution, both hard and soft, bloody and relatively bloodless, are not unknown events.

    A classic example is Cuba. Yes, they are poor. Most of the economic issues would be over if there was no embargo. They do pretty well for their citizens in terms of health and welfare considering the imposed economical and political stresses. A few years back Cuba had far fewer casualties than the US even though the hurricane hit Cuba square and only grazed the US.

    Cuba is not paradise, particularly in areas of political freedoms, but it may have benefited in some ways from its isolation. When things go bad in a nation the citizens can either flee and seek greener pastures, or stay and work to make things better. The people of Cuba were forced to struggle using only the resources they have at hand and those they could scrounge to work toward solving problems instead of running from them.

    Mexico struggled against the Spanish and French empires and social domination. In some ways they still are. Corporate and religious empires can be just as economically and socially debilitating but generally, in the modern era, they can be overthrown if people are willing to stay and struggle.

    It has been pointed out that how we, the US, treats the poor in this country, handles the economy, allows run away economic and political inequality, are a matter of choice. Taxing the rich less and burden the poor more comes down to a series of value judgments and choices. Protecting the property,and now religious, rights of corporations while neglecting the rights of workers and the national infrastructure are choices we, as a nation, either make or allow to be made on our behalf.

    Likewise, Honduras, as a nation and a citizenry, has made choices that have allowed rampant crime and destitution. If the best, brightest, most motivated Honduran citizens flee the nation are they draining away the motivation and will necessary for a revolution? A revolution that might reform the nation and transform the nation into a place where the citizens are served by the state. Where there is hope and at least relative prosperity.

    As with so many things it is a choice between a very certain sharp, short pain and a much longer dull ache that slowly builds to unbearable. It is as true of toothaches as it is of the suffering of citizens within a disjointed society. Reform and revolution is messy, painful and destructive. But the slow suffering of a nation sliding into deep dysfunction is also messy, painful and destructive. It is a question of the area under the curve. Is a decade of struggle worse than a hundred years of degradation?

    One thing is certain, while taking in refugees may help relative few, perhaps save some lives, it isn’t going to solve the wider and deeper problems of Honduras. There is also the chance that allowing in refugees may alleviate the pressures within Honduras that might motivate permanent reform. Are we enabling the dysfunctional behaviors of the Honduran state by taking refugees? Would the resources spent handling refugees be better spent promoting political, economic, social, religious reform within Honduras? I don’t know.

    Asking around I find no easy answers. There is a reflexive desire to comfort the suffering even when we need to figure out what is best, for the most, over the longer term. There are north of 8 million Hondurans. Keeping a few thousand alive is a worthy enough goal but we need to ask the question of how a nation of over 8 million willful and independent agents can’t self-organize and work toward solving its own problems and are we assisting or hindering them in that cause.

  9. Kevin Kehres says


    Or, to quote HL Menken: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

  10. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Why not send in drones or drop bombs? Well, you’re doing your part by writing some lines about it.


    I know you mean well, but I’d have been embarrassed for a co-worker saying something like that during a coffee break.

  11. says

    Think of the political dimensions of this deal. We’d think, living in a world of facts and reality, this would underscore that a rigid, conservative dominated, unchanging immigration policy isn’t serving the public interest. And that may yet happen. But it also presents the Tea party with a great backseat driver opportunity. They can stir up anger by demanding Obama provide an immediate, unspecified solution in the media and block any specific ideas proposed by the WH or in congress. Prolonging the political pain for the WH comes at the price of prolonging the very real suffering of refugees. Does anyone think the Tea party will blink at either prospect?

    It also presents the WH with an opportunity, but the WH would have to go big. I’d say if this gets worse, if it doesn’t turn into last week’s news quickly and has legs, they don’t have much of a choice. I wouldn’t put it past Obama to preside over an effective response, he has good judgment when he has a free hand, he’s shown himself willing to gauge and take a risk if it makes sense, if mostly overseas. But in domestic policy he has been almost meek in some ways when it comes to risk. If the WH could demonstrate decisive, effective action of some kind, not necessarily an occupation, just a serious national address with photogenic refugees and follow up to give him the public’s trust to try something, that would be a good start to going big.

    Occupation would be the last resort. Work with the UN to relieve the root problem, peacekeeper troops would be worth discussing, plus better support here for refugees, and politically, hit the GOP hard and publicly for an increase in fed funding to set up a the bigger federal government INS and social services republicans are suddenly demanding.

    The dynamics here are not too hard to understand: chaos in a couple of nearby countries is producing thousands of feeling refugee families and kids into over crowded shitholes in our country. The GOP doesn’t like refugees, get the rest of the country sympathetic to refugees and you get the rest of the country against the GOP. It shouldn’t be too hard to find families and young refugees who engender sympathy, they’re in terrible shape in no man’s land. Any decent red blooded human being is gonna feel a natural desire to help them.

  12. dfarmer1584 says

    On the “crisis” of “refugee camps” forming in the US largely due to the arrival of large numbers of unaccompanied children fleeing from failing Central American states. It is, in my opinion, only a “crisis” because we choose to let it be. These unfortunate people need not live in “refugee camps.” We could treat them far better. They are, after all, human.

    They are, after all, “tired, weak, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” Are they not exactly who we have asked to come here? It seems that many of our fellow citizens believe that that famous invitation, inscribed on the world’s greatest symbol of freedom, extends only to a very particular variety of white human. Not to the brown masses for sure.

    I understand that many US Americans express the notion that the problems of these young immigrants is not “our,” US Americans, problem. Fine. That is a valid opinion, given a certain world-view–a tribal, xenophobic, and largely racist, world-view. What frustrates me, however, about those who hold that world-view is that they deny it. They claim all sorts of other, also silly, factors are motivating their strong opposition to helping these suffering humans–they might carry disease; they might take our jobs; etc; but they never own their obvious motivation: they are simply xenophobic, tribal, racists. If there is any doubt that their real opposition is tribal racism, try this thought experiment. Would the same opposition exist if these “refugees” were, say, Anglo Canadians? Make them the same in every respect except they are white Brits. Still the same manic opposition? German? Of course not. We’d roll out the welcome mat and do all we could to help those favored humans. But not the browns.
    And that is what shames me about this current “crisis.” We ought to simply roll out the welcome mat and do all we can to help. No qualifications. Just help them. We certainly have the ability. Our recourses could handle this “crisis” without strain, if we only chose to use them. I need not suffer, and you need not suffer, as a consequence of helping ease the suffering of these young people.

    Why not? Because we are largely a nation of pigs.

  13. konrad_arflane says

    This has got to be one of the worst ideas I’ve read in a long time*.

    Given the history of USian involvement in South and Central America, there is no way in hell this will not be percieved as just another attempt to advance US corporate interests, both by the local population and by everybody in the international community who isn’t Tony Blair.

    And frankly, given the state of US politics and governance ATM, there’s every chance it would turn into just that, even if the people who set it in motion didn’t intend it that way.

    *From someone in the reality-based community, anyway.

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