As fires raged in Southern Oregon this summer, some hope arrived in the form of a half dozen firefighters arriving at the Medford Airport ready to help. They were coming, like my grandmother did almost 100 years ago, from Mexico, who’s symbiotic and complicated relationship with its Northern Neighbor is as important as ever.
In the weeks and fires that followed, more Mexican firefighters would arrive, with around 100 of the 'bomberos' battling wildfires in California. And in Texas, the famed Mexican firefighting crew “Los Diablos” have long crossed the Rio Grande to battle wildfires on the American side.
These acts of North American solidarity makes clear: When Mexico sends its people, they are sending their best.
Though the southern border has long been demonized as a source of insecurity, crime, and even terrorism, there is in fact a long tradition of Mexicans crossing the border to contribute to American national security.
Migrants from Mexico have served in uniform, serving with distincion despite discrimination in both World War I and World War II. During WWII, Braceros helped feed America’s people and armies, while Mexican oil fueled the allied war effort. More recently, Mexican troops deployed to U.S. soil to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Today, in addition to wildfires, these same patterns of migration and supply chains are helping America in the fight against COVID-19. Just like it once supplied fuel for American tanks, today Mexico supplies medical equipment for American hospitals. And just like the Bracero program kept America fed, today farmworkers from Mexico are among the most essential of workers in the midst of this pandemic. This flow of workers has been crucial for Mexico too; in the midst of unprecedented economic disruption, remittances to Mexico have actually increased during the pandemic.
America’s Mexican immigrant workers are holding up the economies of two countries - as they continue to pay more in income taxes than Donald Trump did the year he took the White House. This has come at no small price, as Latinos continue to face disproportionate effects from COVID-19.
Yet despite Mexicans’ sacrifices for Americans’ benefit, President Trump’s entire political brand has been built on demonizing and scapegoating Mexicans. He pledged to build a useless wall as a monument to his racism, and it is Latino border communities that have paid the price. Trump has allowed heartless and cruel treatment of Mexican and other migrants in U.S. custody - with the Mexican government currently investigating reports of forced hysterectomies and other unwanted medical procedures in an ICE detention center in Georgia. And it was the words of this president that inspired a terrorist attack on El Paso, which killed both U.S. and Mexican citizens alike.
This xenophobic approach has worsened both nations’ COVID-19 outbreaks. Mexico and the United States are both among the hardest hit countries on the planet, with the U.S.-Mexico border region suffering in particular. In a recent conversation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Dr. Anthony Fauci pledged to propose a binational strategy for dealing with COVID-19 along the border to the White House COVID-19 task force. Yet as long as Donald Trump is in charge, the odds of any productive international cooperation against the virus actually happening are slim.
Instead, we’ve seen the U.S. withdraw from the World Health Organization and, perhaps most damagingly, from the COVAX program which would ensure equitable global distribution of any COVID-19 vaccine, which is necessary to truly keep Americans safe from this virus. Latin American nations are therefore understandably worried about their ability to access any U.S.-developed vaccine. The absence of U.S. leadership has created an opportunity for China and Russia right on our doorstep. Mexico has already expressed clear interest in purchasing doses of a Russian vaccine of dubious scientific value. If the United States is to lead in the Western Hemisphere once more, we must offer our neighbors something other than rank xenophobia.
A Biden-Harris Administration would do things differently, beginning with restoring our relationship with the World Health Organization and the Panamerican Health Organization and increasing the CDC’s capacities to detect diseases abroad. Joe Biden knows from decades of experience that international cooperation is how we solve problems of a global nature, from COVID-19 to irregular migration to climate change. The Mexican firefighters helping in the United States represent Joe Biden’s vision of cooperation and collaboration.
President Biden would end the cruel Remain in Mexico policy that created a humanitarian crisis at our border, rebuild our asylum system, and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in the Latino community, including with key protections for all farmworkers in America, regardless of their nationality.
This is the leadership North America requires to foster health, prosperity, and security for all its peoples and it would provide a foundation for North America to engage effectively with the rest of the world as a unified front.
When Mexico sends its people, they are sending their best. That’s why we need to elect the best of our own in return.