No One Is Illegal on Wyoming’s Stolen Land

Barrasso and Gordon lied about Wyomingites’ immigration concerns. That covered up an even bigger lie about the U.S. settler state.

by Derek Jolley on May 17, 2021

Amid the numerous and varied political issues faced by Wyomingites in 2021, much of which we try to dissect and analyze through an anti-capitalist lens in our media here at Solidarity Collective, two of the most influential figureheads in Wyoming politics have recently used their platforms to “fan the flames of discontent,” as it were, specifically at what the media often refers to as the “immigration issue” or “border crisis”.  Both Governor Mark Gordon and U.S. Senator John Barrasso have, as of late, made incendiary and dehumanizing statements regarding Wyoming’s role in prolonging the hardship of those who have already been subjected to unimaginable trauma, often a very traceable result of U.S. imperialism and economic warfare.

On March 31, Senator Barrasso spoke to students and faculty at Laramie’s Slade Elementary School.  After congratulating the school for a recent achievement, Barrasso recounted his recent experience of traveling to the Donna Soft-Sided Processing Facility, a detention center near the Texas-Mexico border, with 17 other Republican senators.  He spoke of how the border patrol agents’ jobs became much more difficult as the number of detained immigrants skyrocketed after the commencement of the Biden presidency, how, while on a midnight patrol, he witnessed “traffickers and smugglers” on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande shouting and taunting the U.S. agents, saying “You can’t stop us now!” (implying the glee that these dangerous criminals feel regarding the new lax immigration policies), and how the thousands more detainees who now occupy this detention center are in these squalid conditions due to Biden’s compassionate rhetoric.

Barrasso further amplified this story on the Senate floor on April 12, elaborating that he does indeed see the overcrowded detention centers as a humanitarian crisis, while also referring to the trafficking and smuggling issue as a “national security crisis.”  While voicing the need for immigration reform, Barrasso fundamentally views the entire issue as an aberration completely manufactured and owned by the Democratic Party, and uses this framework as a means to score legitimacy points for his own particular brand of right-wing populism.

Governor Gordon’s notorious series of tweets from April 16 read in full:

“I share the concerns of many Wyoming residents about illegal immigration issues currently facing the country and how they may be impacting Wyoming.

“I want to state clearly and unequivocally that the State of Wyoming will not participate in relocation or housing efforts of illegal immigrants or unaccompanied minors, and I have made our position clear to Federal officials.

“The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security has advised our office that they are not aware of any Federal immigration plans that include Wyoming. Along with other Republican governors, I will continue to actively monitor the situation and will respond as forcefully as needed.”

While both Barrasso and Gordon have received pushback for their unsubstantiated claims that immigration ranks among the most pressing of issues in the opinion of their constituents, the discourse often lacks discussion of the right’s propensity to use sensationalized anecdotes and half-truths to maintain institutional hegemony.  It isn’t my intention to deny the existence of the international drug trade and the violence that surrounds it, nor the likely link between Biden’s “back to normal” rhetoric and a surge of desperate migrants believing that the new administration is dismantling barriers to entry.

I think it would be a meaningful exercise to take a step back and examine the tenets of the geopolitical narrative that dominates right-wing discussions of what is commonly called the “border crisis”.  Subsequently, I will present the leftist framework for understanding why so many people feel the need to leave their homelands in the first place.

The Right’s Immigration Narrative

  • The United States was founded on the principles of equality and universal rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and therefore the right to private property.
  • Minimal government interference in the markets allows for the greatest amount of prosperity among the citizens.
  • The pro-capitalist government of the U.S. has fostered the country into becoming the richest and freest in the world.
  • The destitution of other nations is primarily the result of government intervention in those nations’ markets; many people of these countries would rather come to the U.S. and reap the benefits of a wealthy, free nation that accrued its wealth honestly than stay and use these principles to make their own countries prosperous.

Obviously, a great diversity of opinion exists among people who identify with “the right” or are otherwise subservient to U.S. imperialism.  Many incorporate this narrative with a reactionary variant of Christianity, believing the rise of the United States to not only be God’s will but God’s personal project to prepare for a fuller expression of Christian rule.  Many others will acknowledge the evils behind the founding of the United States, but contend that the reformations that have been made have already brought justice to the descendants of those who were wronged.

Thus, I will juxtapose this narrative with a leftist interpretation of American history.  Again, leftists are no strangers to disagreeing with each other about the details and what the best course of remediatory action is.  Volumes of books have been written on the subject, but in the best way I can summarize my interpretation:

An Anti-Imperialist Leftist Framework

  • The United States is a settler-colonialist power that was founded on the assumption that indigenous land claims are inherently invalid.
  • Through the continued theft of indigenous land, forced labor by enslaved Africans, and rampant exploitation of the working class, the United States emerged as a powerful player in world politics.
  • Voluntary participation in these systems of oppression is cultivated by the propagandistic image of the American system of government being one of maximum personal liberty, as well as materially rewarding those who contribute to the growth of U.S. imperialism.
  • The United States continues to engage in corporate imperialism as a means of channeling the wealth of other countries into its own economy, and militantly undermines and overthrows foreign governments that do not bow down to its will.
  • People from destabilized nations seeking to immigrate to the United States are by no means looking for free handouts, but rather hoping to reclaim some of the wealth that was looted from their homelands.  They do not owe anything to the U.S. government or economy.

To all who may say that this framework is hyperbolic or essentializing, I highly recommend diving into the history of the United States’ conquest of North America from scores of indigenous nations, as well as the more modern and ongoing history of maligning other nations’ rights to self-determination.  While listing every regime change the U.S. has been involved in would be a Herculean task, some of the most notable examples include:

  • the CIA-supported overthrow of Allende’s socialist republic in Chile and installation of the brutal Pinochet regime in 1973
  • the Guatemalan coup of 1954, wherein the United States, in an effort to protect the banana profits of the United Fruit Company from the social democratic Árbenz government, instigated the Guatemalan Civil War which resulted in a genocide against indigenous Maya people
  • the US-backed 1964 Brazilian coup, where a social-democratic government was overthrown, causing Brazil to be ruled by a series of authoritarian dictatorships with favorable policies toward the U.S. for decades to follow.

The simple maxim “Actions speak louder than words” demonstrates that the United States does not value democracy as it claims to, as our nation, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republic sits in the Oval Office, will readily align itself with any dictatorship that is willing to support U.S. corporate interests.  As destabilized nations are far easier to exploit than nations that have the power to work toward their own interests, the words of Michael Parenti ring clear and true: “These countries aren’t poor.  These countries are rich!  Only the people are poor!  They’re not underdeveloped, they’re overexploited!”

My hope is that the people of Wyoming and elsewhere throughout the exploitative nations of the world will be able to see past the fear mongering and institutionalized colonialist racism being pushed on us by those in the halls of power, and recognize the role they play in global imperialism.  Only when the “workers of the world unite” can we hope to save humanity from impending climate disaster and the system causing it.

Derek Jolley is a member of Solidarity Collective and a co-producer on the Solidarity House Cooperative media team.

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