THE BLOG
07/09/2014 02:54 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2014

Is America to Blame for the Crisis on the Border?

Although I was raised Catholic, I'm not a religious person. I'm more of a quasi-secular humanist, borderline atheist with Buddhist tendencies and Judeo-Christian influences (I mean, as long as we're labeling here).

About the only supernatural concept I believe in is the idea of karma. Even that comes with a qualifier, because I think karma is more the result of our human decisions, good or bad, and less of a vague, mystical force.

I've been thinking a lot about karma since reading Susanne Ramirez de Arellano's article on the Murrieta protests. She covered the war in El Salvador in the 1980s, and she theorizes that the legacy of that war "is sitting on buses in Murrieta. The violent street gangs that now plague Central America, especially El Salvador, were conceived during this dark period."

For those who don't remember, 30 years ago, the Salvadoran military (funded by the Reagan administration) fought a horrific civil war against left-wing guerrillas. Right-wing death squads were also involved, but let's not get too mired in the miserable details.

The point is that homicidal gangs like MS-13 may not have come into being, at least not in their murderous incarnation, if not for the devastation wrought by our policies from the decade of parachute pants and Def Leppard. And then maybe some of the people on those busses in Murrieta wouldn't have embarked on their treacherous journey, running for their lives only to be greeted by a bizarrely jingoist display in California.

Now, I've mentioned before that my family is from El Salvador. My uncle and aunt were among the 40,000 people killed in the war, and several of my cousins came to America as children rather than grow up in that bullet-infested hellhole.

My mom has stated -- with bitterness of course -- that her taxes helped pay for the slugs that the Reagan-funded military junta pumped into her siblings.

Ramirez de Arellano implies that America garnered bad karma for our Central American misadventures in the 1980s. And this bad karma supplies "the reasons why we need to let those on those buses in" and take care of the undocumented immigrants who are fleeing poverty and death in their homelands.

This makes sense to me. And we're not even getting into the humanitarian and political reasons why these people should be helped.

In essence, the border crush is not something that just sprang up because Guatemalans suddenly wanted to challenge death to come here, or because Obama has a plot to overrun America with Latinos.

The roots of this crisis go back decades, to a time when the American government thought it was more important to frustrate the Russians than to end a bloodbath.

As such, Americans cannot just sit back and bark, "What the hell is wrong with these people?" We cannot pretend that dark-skinned interlopers simply want to skip the line, or that their countries have gone to shit out of some conflux of coincidence free from our intervention.

Once again, Americans are not the innocent victims that we portray ourselves to be, forever being targeted by swarthy people who want to steal our jobs or kill us because they hate freedom.

This may strike some individuals as more treason talk from the blame-America crowd. I would turn that allegation around and ask if America is blameless and perfect, and if acknowledging mistakes is just so disturbing that it's better to pretend that the USA has never done anything untoward?

Did we become the most powerful nation on Earth without indulging in a single unsavory act? It's hardly ludicrous to argue that some problems -- such as the current disaster at the border -- are at least partially due to us.

A natural question is, how long are we responsible for the sins and errors of the past?

We see this same question in discussions about Iraq, with many Americans insisting that because we invaded, botched the occupation, and propped up a weak government, it is our fault that ISIS is taking over the country. Ergo, we have to go back in and finish the job (whatever that means).

But if there is some debate over our idiotic actions a decade ago, how tenuous is the connection to our misguided policies from the distant 1980s?

If we are indeed witnessing the delayed chaos of the Reagan era, what is our obligation to the undocumented who are fleeing their devastated lands? After all, many of them are children whose parents weren't even alive when this bad mojo got going.

And of course, an even bigger question is the exact nature of this help. Do we take them in and quickly deport them? Do we let them stay after paying a huge fine? Do we just turn the other way and let them drift into the shadows of American life?

These are all excellent questions. But before we even begin to answer any of them, we have to acknowledge that we helped nurture this mess.

We have to admit that we have built up some bad karma.