I’ve a friend jumping through immigration hoops right now, so I’ve been thinking about immigration issues more than usual.
I’ve lived in border states where people bemoan that the “illegals” are using all the resources that are supposed to be for just the “legals”, whether they have evidence of this occurring or not. I’ve got a friend who is in prison because his parents fled the El Salvadorean civil war when he was 2, and sneaked into the U.S. They had to sneak in because, despite the death squads of the El Salvadorean police, the U.S. refused to grant refugees from El Salvador refugee status. He was deported 25 years later from what he considered his home, and where his family is, including 2 young sons. So much for family values of this administration – he is a hard-working family man who was not sponging off the state. He just happened to be born in a different country in a bad time, and is now serving a prison sentence for that crime.
Every story I hear, it makes me think “why do we care so much about arbitrary lines in the dirt? Why do we have borders?” That’s right – I’m one of those people. I think that borders are a useful tool of oppression for those in power, and little else.
All this reminds me of the attitude of humans to non-native animal species. We seem to believe we have the right and the ability to deport them if we decide they don’t belong. Nevermind that birds and other animals migrate every year. I grew up along a migration route for Canadian geese. We never thought to ask to see their visas. I wonder if that makes us retrospectively complicit in harboring illegal aliens. Except, wait, for animals what matters is not where they are flying from or to, but whether they are “native” species.
There is a lot of fuss about this as well. Again, people talk about it in terms of resources. The non-native species are “intrusive” and they are using up the resources of the native species. They are, perhaps, pushing the native species out of some of the low-paying jobs.
I have been thinking about this a lot in the past few weeks, and I keep coming back to entropy and equilibrium. Chemistry, biology, physics…take a science course, and you’re going to run smack into these terms. Entropy is the chemical equivalent of chaos. And there is this tension – all systems go towards equilibrium (if you’ve taken any science, that should be engraved in your brain), yet it doesn’t take much to throw systems out of equilibrium and towards entropy. In fact, the universe itself seems to lean towards entropy. At least that’s what I remember from chemistry and physics. We didn’t look at such a large scale in biology, and that’s where most of my classes were.
So, to make it really simple – things throw “systems” out of whack, but nature always finds its way back to equilibrium, until the next thing throws a monkey wrench. What so many people fail to understand is that “equilibrium” is relative. It is relative to the existing conditions, the players in the game, the million things that make an ecosystem impossible to model. Equilibrium is not a dot on a map that the system will find its way back to, as if it has a homing device.
Humans get upset when things change, even though we’re busy destroying our world as best we can. Yet we somehow get upset when we introduce kudzu and it grows unstoppably. We get upset when we introduce starlings, and they become the dominant bird in much of North America. We get upset when we introduce mute swans and their population grows to a whopping 4,000 individuals. The ridiculous thing about this is that nature is just doing its thing. Even if these species had never been introduced, it is guaranteed that the ecosystems equilibrium point from one year to the next would not be exactly the same. Maybe it wouldn’t be as visibly different to us, but we can guarantee that it would not be the same.
No, the worry about the mute swans is about something else. It is about power, and a desire for (and therefore justification for) trophy hunting. The lines we, humans, draw are about power. Whether it is a line in the sand that we call a Border or a line in the sand that we call Native Species, it is about humans trying to control the environment and protect their positions of privilege. Trying to tell one person that they don’t have the right to live in a certain space, to tell a species that they don’t have the right to exist in a certain space, is about power not environmental concern or budget worries. If these humans in power were that worried about the introduction of non-native species, Monsanto would be an outlaw company, not one with the full support of our corporate government.
This year there has been a lot of talk about building more huge walls between the U.S. and Mexico. The designed impact is against Mexican people. The reality is that these walls will affect migration patterns, water flow, pollination of plants, and a whole cascading list of environmental and social and psychological factors. The border we really need to build is between our government and the corporations that run it. As individuals, we should be building community, not walls.
From a moral standpoint, we do not have the right to limit someone’s access to what they need to survive. It simply doesn’t matter if they are human or not, from the U.S. or from some other country. We have a moral obligation to not interfere in another’s right to live, and the resources needed to sustain it.
The reality is quite different, of course, and while many people confuse “legal” with “moral”, animal rights activists are in a unique position. We spend our time thinking about and arguing about moral rights, knowing full well that the government grants the legal right to immoral acts when it comes to the exploitation of non-human animals. We just need to make sure that we think just as hard about the similar legal-but-immoral issues with regards to human animals. The government is concerned only with power, and corporations with money. They are the ones running the show, but we can’t let them dictate our moral compass.