Escaping from Capitalism, or First Class Migrants vs. Second Class Migrants

By Adrienne Pine  –  Jun 17, 2021

On May 10, Fox News carried a report from the Texas-Mexico border in which it promulgated several contradictory narratives.[1] The article was about the crossing, through the Rio Bravo, of more than 50 Venezuelan migrants, supposedly victims of the “dictatorship” of President Nicolás Maduro. The same Fox cameras, as well as their interviews with the newcomers, revealed the enormous difference between this group and the vast majority of immigrants, mainly from the Northern Triangle of Central America, and Mexico, who try to cross the border between Mexico and the United States of America. Unlike the majority of immigrants who pass through Texas, for example, who have usually walked for days with the same clothes and without any type of luggage other than water (hopefully) or a dirty backpack from the trip, this group arrived well showered and groomed, with clean clothes and suitcases, and apparently well fed. The reporter related that members of the group first traveled to Colombia, then hired a plane to take them to Mexico, and then took a bus to the border. Perhaps they even hired a private plane, an unimaginable expense for the vast majority of migrants with fewer resources. Likewise, their almost warm reception by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents stands in stark contrast to the violence suffered by most migrants from countries friendly to the United States, at the hands of immigration agents.

Two weeks later, the Daily Caller, a far-right-leaning media outlet founded by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, published a video of an elderly Venezuelan woman walking with the help of an immigration agent, speaking respectfully, after arriving on the US side of the Rio Grande.[2] An image of a young Venezuelan carrying the same old woman crossing the river moments before went viral on the networks. The young man was described in the press as another Venezuelan escaping through this dangerous route from violence in his country of birth, but on the same day the photo was published he was identified for his classmates as a certain César Padrón, who according to his social media accounts has already traveled by plane several times to Miami, where he boasts of living a life of luxury.[3][4][5]

The media events, which arrived as a prelude to the International Conference of Donors in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants (promoted here by the “embassy” in Canada affiliated with the self-proclaimed but powerless “president” of Venezuela Juan Guaidó) to take place in Canada on June 17, were used by Fox and other outlets to vindicate two theories.[6] Firstly, they allege that President Biden (“Open Borders Biden” according to various media) has an open borders policy, an ironic complaint when taking into account that he has defended the use of Title 42, using the pandemic as a pretext to deport migrants who try to exercise their right to request asylum (deporting more Haitians in the first month of his presidency than during the entire year of 2020, for instance)[7]. Similarly, following Trump’s line, Biden only sent 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca to AMLO with the promise that the Mexican government would support the policy of deportation to the north of their country of migrants who tried to exercise their right to request asylum in the US.[8] The second argument of mainstream media is that Venezuelan migrants who arrive at the Rio Grande are fleeing socialism, which is presented as a synonym for dictatorship.

When analyzing the news about migration to the United States, we find that it is necessary to address the serious problems in the hegemonic theoretical framework that is used to talk about migrants, and the supposed difference between refugees and economic migrants. This rhetorical distinction is very important within the current framework, because it may or may not legitimize the migrant, or a class of migrants, when seeking asylum. But it can also be used in the mass media, in the speeches of politicians, in asylum courts and in NGO and humanitarian spaces to support or demonize the national governments from the countries of origin of migrants.[9] The problem with this framework, as highlighted by Dr. Siobhán McGuirk in our recently published book Asilo a la Venta, is that it is a false distinction. Contemporary migration waves are not mainly due to repressive states—although many states are repressive—nor to the lack of jobs or economic resources at the level of the country of origin—although jobs and resources are lacking in the global South—but to capitalist imperialism based in Washington.[10]

Among other things, Hondurans have survived the violence of the “zero tolerance” and “strong hand” policies exported by Rudy Giuliani as an international consultant (before becoming Trump’s right-hand man).[11] They have faced neoliberal privatization before and after the 2009 coup, and they have suffered the violence of the Honduran police and army, both financed by the United States government, repressing their people at the service of three governments (Micheletti, Lobo and Hernández) endorsed and imposed four times by the US Department of State without having legitimately won a presidential election.[12]

RELATED CONTENT: Venezuela Labels Migrants Donor Conference in Canada as a Media Farce: Where is the Money?

Despite the fact, verified in the federal courts of the United States, that the current president of the country, Juan Orlando Hernández, is a narco-dictator, it is very difficult for Hondurans fleeing his dictatorship to obtain asylum in the USA. [13][14] According to a study conducted by Syracuse University researchers in 2020, only 12.7% of asylum petitions (including positive cases of withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture) from Hondurans were approved nationally in the US federal courts for immigration, less than any other country.[15] That same year, in comparison, 54.3% of Venezuelans who applied for it in federal courts were granted asylum, so the probability of receiving asylum was more than four times higher for a Venezuelan than for a Honduran , and almost twice the average of applicants from all countries in the world combined (28.4%). In addition, in 2019, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Venezuelan applicants won more cases of affirmative asylum than applicants from any other country in the world, 22.9% of all approved cases, while Hondurans barely reached 1.9%.[16]  Affirmative asylum is a process presided over by Asylum Officers, not by immigration court judges while the applicant is threatened by deportation. Compared to defensive asylum, it is much more accessible for people who enter the country with a US visa and money to hire a good attorney.

Two different discourses exist about the origin of the Honduran exodus of the last decade: one, of the Republicans, is about the cultural criminalization of the population. The other, from the Democrats, focuses the problem on the alleged “corruption” of the Honduran government. It would be more honest to call it a coup or neoliberal fascism but the United States government prefers to describe it as corruption because it is supposed to be solved with liberal reforms (financed  by the US government itself).[17][18] However, in the end, while the government of Honduras is imposed by the US government, and while the entire country functions as a huge military base for the US Southern Command, the leaders of both political parties within the US agree that the solution is some version of the Alliance for Prosperity, implemented by Biden as vice president (taking Plan Colombia as a model), which requires further strengthening the Hernández government with massive investments of US public funds in privatized militarization—misnamed “security—in outsourcing the US border, and in massive extractivist projects—misnamed “development”—managed by foreign corporations who profit from these projects that in turn displace and assassinate residents of local communities.[i][19][20]

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with the phrase “he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch,” in reference to Anastasio Somoza. Whether or not this is the origin of the saying, it is clear that Juan Orlando Hernández is our son of a bitch, protecting the interests of the empire in Honduras. Hondurans fleeing the Hernández dictatorship are really fleeing the gringo empire that has impoverished the population and created unbearable conditions of daily violence, particularly since the Obama administration and its State Department headed by Hillary Clinton supported the June 28, 2009 coup against the last democratically elected president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, after Zelaya bought oil from Petrocaribe and maintained friendly bilateral relations with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez.[21

Similarly, if we depart from the myopic thesis that the ideal framework to analyze migration is within the state of origin, we recognize that the vast majority of Venezuelans who emigrate do so for the same reason as Hondurans: they are expelled from their communities, their homes and their lands by the savage violence of imperialist capitalism. In the case of Venezuela, the mechanism for the expulsion of citizens is different. Washington (and here the Organization of American States is included), since it does not have a president who takes orders from his embassy (which currently promotes regime change virtually), has promoted a hybrid war in order to deal a blow to the Bolivarian government.[22]

According to Alena Douhan, special rapporteur for the United Nations on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, the blockade has left the Venezuelan government with only 1% of its budget compared to the budget it had prior to the implementation of the coercive measures.[23] The US government and its powerful allies have not only taken away billions of dollars belonging to the Venezuelan people, but have also financed the extremely violent neoliberal opposition, causing vulnerability and precariousness for the citizens of Venezuela, who still enjoy, on average, conditions much better than Hondurans.

But in Washington, that reality is denied. According to both political parties, it is not the coercive measures, nor the attempted coup coordinated by the State Department, nor the drones, nor the guarimbas of racists and murderers, nor the mercenaries, but the democratically elected national government of Venezuela that is to blame for the crisis. And since the hegemonic logic of migration tells us that people flee from the nations in question, and not from the violence of the empire, few oppose this narrative.[24][25][26][27][28]

How is this conception reflected in immigration policy towards countries that are friends and enemies of Washington? It has already been noted that, in asylum courts, the percentage of Venezuelan asylum cases that are approved is more than double that for applicants from the rest of the world, and four times higher than the percentage of approved cases for Hondurans, who are fleeing a state militarily occupied by the United States. The asylum policy that favors Venezuelans is very similar to the preferential policy of “dry feet, wet feet” implemented by President Bill Clinton, which for many years was applied to grant residency to any Cuban who came to the beaches of Miami.

RELATED CONTENT: US Government Expels Eighty Venezuelan Migrants – Some of Them Part of a Group that Entered a Few Weeks Ago with Great Media Coverage

It should be noted that Venezuelans who emigrate as a result of this capitalist violence and who have the resources to do so (including money, passports and guarantees) hire private flights to the Rio Grande to be welcomed by CBP and their relatives in Miami or Texas, while Venezuelans with fewer resources who have been forced to leave their country have stayed mainly in neighboring countries, where they suffer discrimination and violence.[29] In the US, Venezuelans who oppose interventionist policy are not welcome by the logic of the preferential policies that benefit their compatriots in the asylum courts. Asylum cannot be claimed in the US on the grounds of the need to escape US imperialist violence in Venezuela.[30]

Another important example of the implementation of pro-imperialist migration policies and regime change is Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The TPS is designated at the federal level in exceptional cases to certain classes of immigrants from particular countries, where it is estimated that a crisis is occurring. These immigrants, in turn, have to apply every so often (it depends on the country and the year) to renew their status, and they are only eligible under restricted conditions, for example, if they have no criminal record, and if they have continuously lived in the country that grants TPS from the date designated by each country of origin. The TPS, for those who receive it, gives permission to stay and to work in the country that grants it, while the TPS remains in effect.

President Trump tried to end the TPS that had been in place for many countries, including Honduras, but his effort was stalled in the courts, so TPS is still in effect today for Hondurans.[31] However, this is misleading. The TPS that exists for Hondurans is not aimed at those who fled the coup or those who fled the violence of the current dictatorship, not even those who fled the death squads implemented by the policies of Rudy Giuliani imported early in the millennium. In order to receive TPS as a Honduran in the United States, the applicant must have entered the country before December 31, 1998, that is, after Hurricane Mitch.[32]

A different case is the one granted for Venezuela on March 9, 2021, where the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) justified this policy by means of the following argument:[33]

Venezuela is currently facing a serious humanitarian emergency. Under the influence of Nicolás Maduro, the country “has been in the midst of a severe economic and political crisis for several years.” Venezuela’s crisis has been marked by a wide range of factors, including: economic contraction, inflation and hyperinflation, stark poverty, high levels of unemployment, reduced access and scarcity to food and medicine, a weakened medical system, the return or increase in the incidence of certain contagious diseases, a collapse in basic services; water, electricity, and fuel shortages; political polarization, institutional and political tensions, human rights abuses and repression, violence and crime, corruption, an increase in human mobility and displacement, including internal migration, emigration, and returned migrants; and the impact of COVID-19, among other factors.

Not everything that is alleged in the ICE statement on the granting of TPS for Venezuelans is due to hybrid warfare. However, most items are related to it. A study published in April 2019 by the renowned Center for Economic and Political Research (CEPR), reveals that the coercive measures had caused more than 40,000 excess deaths in the Venezuelan population between 2017 and 2018 and that they had also radically aggravated morbidity and poverty. And despite the economic war against it, thanks to the priority that the Venezuelan government gives to public health throughout the pandemic, infection and mortality rates have been much lower than in neighboring countries, not to mention the United States. This was precisely one of the reasons why many Venezuelans who were living abroad returned to the country during the pandemic. Nor is it coherent to present as a justification for the TPS the alleged violations of human rights in Venezuela, since with this argument a TPS should have been granted, for example, to neighboring countries such as Colombia and Brazil, where human rights violations have been systematic. However, neither of these countries has been designated for TPS in the US for this reason. Of course, when the country that most violates human rights, even towards its own citizens, is positioned as judge and savior of enemy countries, its hypocrisy is not incidental, but is used as an ideological tool to justify its foreign policy.[34][35][36]

When the argumentative basis on which the granting of TPS for citizens of countries considered by the US government as enemies of the empire are analyzed, together with the fact that no TPS is granted to citizens from countries who are allies—even when they are in the midst of a crisis caused by the empire itself, shows that this policy is nothing more than another strategy that seeks regime change. This is precisely why the Biden government has advocated so much for other South American countries to also grant TPS to Venezuelan migrants, despite the fact that many of these same countries suffer considerably more serious crises than Venezuela.[37]

The TPS is one of the few forms that at the moment allows mobility to many people, and the right to mobility, as well as the right not to emigrate, which must be universal. Some emigrants, for example Venezuelans who have economic resources, even in their moments of crisis and suffering, enjoy more mobility options (and less danger) compared to their more humble compatriots or immigrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America, or Mexico. However, the US media, with little honesty, dramatizes the suffering of former migrants while making the latter invisible, to strengthen the logic of the same capitalist policies from Washington that force people to emigrate.

Finally, if we fall into the logic that distinguishes migrants on the one hand as refugees and forced migrants—if they come from countries whose governments are identified as enemies of the capitalist empireand on the other hand, when they come from friendly countries, as economic migrants and victims of defective cultures in search of the “American dream,” providing few credible asylum requests, we strengthen the same imperialist violence that expels all those migrants who leave their communities, sadly, due to a lack of options.



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Featured image: Young Venezuelan (César Padrón) helping and older woman to cross the Rio Grande, a photo used to magnify Venezuela’s migration issue. File photo.


Translation: Orinoco Tribune


Adrienne Pine
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Adrienne Pine is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University. She is the author of the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

Adrienne Pine

Adrienne Pine is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University. She is the author of the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras