Last week, the Biden Administration announced immigration policies that would make it virtually impossible for migrants at the southern border to seek asylum in the United States. Among the new — and unlawful — policies is the requirement that asylum-seekers show they have applied for asylum in one of the countries they have traveled through. But, according to international law, applying for asylum in one country disqualifies a refugee from seeking asylum in a second country, such as the United States. Places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are not safe for refugees, and processing asylum claims can take years. The Administration’s cruel Catch 22 will cost many lives and require Central America and Mexico to assume even more responsibility for problems created by the United States itself.
I’ve heard it so many times. “At least he’s not Trump.” It’s true that President Biden has better manners and more experience. But his presidency so far has relied on the kind of governance and economic assumptions that are the source of many of our worst problems. In nine months, Biden has made inexplicable foreign policy blunders, watered down or abandoned his commitments to social justice and the planet, and retained many of Trump’s worst policies. For example….
Today, Americans observe the terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of 2,996 Americans on September 11, 2001. We will read news articles. Politicians will give speeches. Everyone has an opinion and a story. In a very American way of doing things, we’ve even created a marketing term for this tragedy. It’s “9/11.”
I left Clarksdale lacking the enthusiasm I’d felt traveling through the Southwest and the Ozarks. Driving south toward Jackson, the expanse of farmland was like my mood — flat. I’m getting less exercise and eating for entertainment. My mind keeps returning to issues of race and justice. I’m not sure whether all of this is a little bit of road trip burn-out or just feeling lonely, but it’s happened before and I know it will pass. So I focus on ignoring it. There were still places I wanted to see, free from the fog of my transient feelings.
On Easter morning, I regrettably left Carol at the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport in Little Rock, and headed east out of the Ozarks. From Little Rock, the highway transects flat farmland, occasionally taking a wide turn around more flat farmland, maybe to recognize property lines or county borders or someone’s sense of whimsy. I’ve driven this road before, about a dozen years ago. Even though I don’t remember much about it, I notice one way it’s changed. Low-end corporate franchises now dominate highway stops and the perimeters of small towns — mostly junk food, Walmarts, and Dollar Stores.
After leaving the friendly, well-heeled, art patrons of Bentonville, we drove east through the glorious Ozarks. The Ozarks aren’t mountains by California standards, more like large hills, and spread out over 47,000 square miles, mostly in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Spring is a great time in the Ozarks. The red bud trees are blooming in the understory, and the white oaks and sycamores are starting to get tiny leaves. On our hikes, we saw a lot of wildflowers and evidence that lots more are on the way in the coming weeks.
A lot of America is subject to cultural stereotypes, good and bad. Southern hospitality. Hot tubs in Marin County. Rude New Yorkers. Traveling through Oklahoma and Arkansas, I am reminded that people from these states have been type cast as “backward.” The stereotype can probably be traced to the Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s, when thousands of “Okies” and “Arkies” migrated to California to find work. Many had been farmers and ranchers who found themselves powerless during an economic depression that left many homeless or barely getting by in a strange new place. Maybe people who are feeling that vulnerable could seem a little “backward” to their more fortunate, and sometimes disdainful, new neighbors.
Yesterday, I arrived in Amarillo, Texas, to visit an amazing state park called Palo Duro. The park is a giant crack in the flattest land I’ve ever seen and looks a lot like the Grand Canyon. I went to the park with a plan to hike the trail to Lighthouse Rock until I learned in real time that getting to the trailhead requires driving down a very scary road into the canyon. One of my best driving skills is finding a way to turn around on a narrow mountain road with no pull outs while I am feeling terror. As I was finding a way, several large RVs towing jeeps went by on the other side of the road, which was annoying. Anyway, even though I never got down into the canyon, I’m sharing this information because Palo Duro is beautiful from the rim, and you might not think the road to the trailhead is scary. So. Highly recommended!