In My Own Words: Mexico and Central America

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

Mexico recently announced that it would spend up to $10.6 billion from funds already received from the United States to create government initiatives, which will help those living in poverty in Mexico and Central America. While it is unfortunate that it took President Donald Trump threatening to cut aid if the caravans traveling to the U.S. to seek refuge don’t stop, it makes sense to improve the lives of Mexicans and Central Americans so they won’t feel the need to leave their countries. These efforts are long, long overdue.
Before people say my support of this initiative makes me anti-immigration and asylum, let me be clear: I fully support allowing people to immigrate or seek asylum in our country. I will always be grateful that my ancestors were allowed to enter the U.S. In addition, I appreciate the regular influx of hard working people – of all nationalities, skin colors, ethnicities and religions – who have made our nation a better place to live. However, wouldn’t it also be wonderful if people didn’t feel forced to leave their homes due to oppression, poverty, natural disasters or war?
Most immigrants enter the U.S. for economic or safety reasons. This is not an easy choice. Underlying their decision usually is a sense of desperation that’s difficult for those of us living in safety in a land of plenty to understand. Just think of what they leave behind – their families, language and culture – to start fresh in a new place. These are the people who come to the United States willing to take hard and back-breaking work, and to risk being treated as second class citizens – because they know no English or speak with an accent – in order to have a better life.
The newspaper article I recently read about this topic quoted analysts who said this initiative wouldn’t work, at least in the short term, because there is an enormous amount of governmental reform that needs to take place. But, just because the problem isn’t easily solved, does that mean we shouldn’t try to make a difference? The caravans are a symptom of a greater problem, whether it’s corruption in the Central American and Mexican governments, the need for greater knowledge and technology in those countries, or the financial resources to recover from disasters and violence.
The subject puts me in mind of a quote from Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) that has appeared in this column before: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” So my answer is, “Allow people to immigrate to our country. Give asylum to those who need it now. But also help make it possible for people to remain in their homelands by helping make those homelands as safe and economically solvent as our own.”