By Amy Bacigalupo
Recent revelations that at least 2,300 migrant children have been separated from their parents under U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy highlights an ugly fact: this country’s immigration policies are inhumane, divisive and unsustainable, and they have been for a very long time. The atrocity of tearing young children from their parents is a further step in the wrong direction, a step that must be stopped and never repeated.
The Land Stewardship Project’s mission is to foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, promote sustainable agriculture and develop healthy communities. We care about people and the land. We are striving to build communities where farmers care for the land and water and produce food that is healthy and available to everyone. We want a future where families and children are valued and where immigrant families trying to build a better future for themselves and their families are not threatened by racist and inhumane policy that divides families, communities and the country. A broken, inhumane immigration system that allows children to be separated from their families is not only unjust, it is highly immoral.
LSP recently released “A Vision for Rural Minnesota.” This document was developed from input given by hundreds of rural Land Stewardship Project members during the fall of 2017. One core value included in A Vision for Rural Minnesota is: “Every person has value that can’t be earned or taken away.” A “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their families and isolates them in detention centers does not value human life.
Although President Trump has signed an executive order ending, for now, the separation of families at the border, this situation highlights the fact that migrants are treated as expendable “inputs” that help keep corporations wealthy and powerful enough to control all aspects of our society, including rural communities. For example, our current immigration policy enables large-scale corporate-backed factory farms to suppress large portions of the migrant workforce, driving down wages not only for them, but for others living and working in rural communities. Factory farm owners think they are above the law, in some cases stealing wages owed to workers, all while threatening these workers with deportation if they complain. Because of their ability to exploit a vulnerable workforce, factory farms are profitable and powerful enough to consolidate land, dominate markets and influence public policy—all to the detriment of small- and medium-sized farms and the communities that rely on them.
In a sense, the current debate over migrant families is one more example of how corporate control over our economy, politics and government undermines the financial, social and environmental fabric of rural communities, all while promising short-term “economic gains.” It’s not just factory farms that benefit. As a result of documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, it was recently revealed that several rural communities are being targeted for establishment of Wall Street backed for-profit immigration detention centers. At least two of those communities are in Minnesota—Pine Island in the southeastern part of the state and Appleton in western Minnesota.
Private companies that operate such facilities earn big money and benefit from Wall Street investors. The business of housing, transporting and watching over migrant children detained at the southwest border is a billion-dollar business. Because of the President’s “zero tolerance” policy, that business has the potential to get a whole lot bigger. The vast profits from these businesses don’t go to rural communities but rather to the shareholders, fitting with the overall corporate model of extracting wealth from rural areas at the expense of the environment, human health and community well-being.
Our rural communities need to be revitalized with the kind of economic activity—farms, small businesses, public institutions—that generate long-term wealth while maintaining the integrity of those people who are doing the real work of producing goods and services. Utilizing the misery of migrants, and their children, as sources of income, whether through cheap labor or as detainees, is not part of the vision for rural Minnesota the Land Stewardship Project’s members hold in high regard.
We must call on our public officials to put in place policies that not only protect rural communities from the damage caused by corporate-controlled “economic development,” but support the kind of sustainable business development that can inoculate these communities against opening the door to activities that rely on treating land and people as cheap, throw-away commodities. With that in mind, LSP will continue to work for the kinds of policies that, whether it be on the local, state or national level, treat every person with value and dignity.
Land Stewardship Project organizer Amy Bacigalupo farms in western Minnesota.