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The human cost of America's immigration policy

W. Kamau Bell sees where Mexican deportees are first sent when they're forced out of the United States. Watch "United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell" on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Posted: May 26, 2018 10:51 AM
Updated: May 26, 2018 10:53 AM

It's time for season three of "United Shades of America." Get ready for something a little different.

In the premiere episode of the first season of "United Shades of America," I famously had a conversation with members of the Ku Klux Klan. In the first episode of the second season, I interviewed formerly famous white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Well, I hate to disappoint you with some bad news, but the premiere episode of season three is this Sunday at 10:15 p.m. ET on CNN, and it's free of white supremacists.

Well that's probably not entirely true. I didn't have everybody I talked to sign affidavits. But as we all know, white supremacy exists throughout this country, whether its representatives show up or not.

What's true is that I'm not sitting down to talk to a specific white supremacist. There's no Ku Klux Klan. There are no "alt-whites." There's not one moment where I think I'm in danger of dying or even creeped out by smiling people who want me dead. There's no money shot of a white person telling me how little respect they have for me or my people and me glaring back in disapproval. Sorry not sorry. I'm just over it. It's time for a change.

So while this episode isn't a "scary premiere" like we have done in the last two seasons, it is maybe one of the most important episodes we have ever done. And within it are the three questions that hover over every episode of season three: Who are we? Who do we want to be? Can't we do better? My answers are: We are the United States of America. We want to be a shining example to the globe of how tremendous wealth, tremendous opportunity, and tremendous freedom can benefit all those who want to participate in this grand experiment — regardless of whether they were born here. And yes, we can do much better.

And there is no better place to see how that all plays out than in this episode, because I'm taking you to the US/Mexico border.

Specifically, I'm taking you to Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico -- one city divided into two by an imaginary line that we think is real because we are taught in schools it is called a border. And on that border is a wall, or a fence, or a barrier, or whatever you want to call it (depending on what you are trying to prove in your conversation). And the people I meet in this episode -- people who live on each side of the border -- seem like they are always the last ones considered in that conversation.

Among all the many discussions I had in this episode (and we packed a lot of them in), there was one that pointed out the ludicrous nature of the whole border debate our President and the GOP have forced us to take part in. I sat down with Edward D. Manuel and Verlon M. Jose, respectively the chairman and the vice chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The Tohono O'odham are the indigenous people of the Nogales area. Their land extends into both countries, the United States and Mexico. But (and it's a big "but"), the Tohono O'odham lived in this area way before there was a United States or a Mexico. Their land existed for generations, and then an imaginary line split it in two. The border makes it incredibly challenging for their people to just live on their land. As Manuel succinctly put it to me, "We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us." Damn.

It is this kind of illogical nonsense that totally characterizes the border debate in this country. Everywhere you turn in the border debate, there are things that many of our politicians (and their followers) say they want that are completely antithetical to what makes sense or is productive for both countries.

When you hear President Donald Trump talk about the border, he talks about crime of all types. He makes the US/Mexico border sound like a Mad Max movie. I'm not trying to claim there isn't crime in Mexico (or the United States, for that matter), but from my time spent down there, I can say it is nothing like what Trump has ginned up his base to believe it is: a place where he needs to send the National Guard to stop the barbarians at the gate, wall, barrier, whatever.

But that is what is happening. All the border states -- California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas -- have agreed to send National Guard troops to the border. Having been to both sides of Nogales, I have no idea what the National Guard will do there. On the American side there is very little of anything going on, very few people, very few jobs, and little commerce. On the Mexican side, streets are bustling with people and energy everywhere you turn. The difference is how hard it is to move across the border, even legally. Believe me, people on the Mexican side would love to give us some of their money, but the border security is so "secure" that in addition to keeping criminals out, it is keeping the money out, too. No one I talked to on either side seemed in fear for their lives the way the GOP wants us to believe they are.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not here to tell you everything is going great down there. I learned from a number of people I met for this episode how America's border policies have been making life harder for a lot longer than just the 18 months President Trump has been in office. From the first border patrol under President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 to the first mass deportation under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 (called "Operation Wetback" -- yes really) to the first barrier on the border under President Bill Clinton in 1994, many US presidents, on both sides of the aisle, have mistaken having more border security as being better for America.

Even President Barack Obama, who looks better every day to many on the left, earned the nickname the "Deporter in Chief" for the record-setting number of people he deported during his time in office. I learned in the episode that more border security just makes lives harder on the people who live there -- no matter which side they live on.

And I talked to a lot of people on both sides of the border and all sides of the issue. I met with people on the streets of both Nogales-es: border patrol agents; an engineer who talked about the ethics of building Trump's wall; a white woman named Betty who lives right up against the border in Bisbee, Arizona; my friend, the artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez; The Kino Border Initiative (where I met recent deportees); the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner; and the Colibri Center for Human Rights. The last two places are where I saw the real human cost of our border policy: the many unidentified dead who don't make it across and whose bodies are never claimed.

I even randomly met a woman who lives in a house that was known as "El Chapo's Tunnel House." Yup, that El Chapo.

And none of the people who live near the border seemed to be living in fear. And no one who was asked seemed to think that a bigger, bolder, Trump-ier wall was going to solve anything. In fact, the fear was that it would make a hard situation (people who cross the border in the United States are seeking jobs or safety) much worse. And as the people at the morgue showed me, it is already horrifically bad.

So again, I didn't interview obvious enemies this season, because at this point I think we know who the enemies are. The system is the enemy. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Well, if you've read the news,there is injustice EVERYWHERE! And we all have to work harder to turn the tide against it. If we aren't doing that actively and continually then we are the enemy we have been looking for. Collectively, we -- everyone in America -- are the enemy. But we don't have to be. Welcome to season three of United Shades of America.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 46387

Reported Deaths: 2662
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11434680
Lake4985241
Elkhart313343
Allen2695117
St. Joseph185766
Cass16369
Hamilton1502100
Hendricks1371100
Johnson1244118
Porter69037
Tippecanoe6598
Madison64363
Clark62744
Bartholomew58044
Howard55057
LaPorte54125
Kosciusko5003
LaGrange4646
Jackson4583
Vanderburgh4576
Noble45128
Delaware42949
Boone42743
Hancock42535
Marshall4183
Shelby41825
Floyd37044
Morgan32331
Montgomery29020
Grant28726
Clinton2812
Monroe26328
Dubois2616
White25910
Decatur24732
Henry23615
Lawrence23624
Vigo2278
Harrison20822
Warrick20729
Dearborn20622
Greene18432
Miami1802
Jennings16911
Putnam1658
DeKalb1594
Scott1557
Daviess13916
Orange13323
Wayne1296
Franklin1248
Steuben1242
Perry1239
Ripley1148
Jasper1132
Carroll1092
Wabash1092
Fayette967
Newton9610
Whitley814
Randolph774
Starke773
Huntington702
Wells681
Jay670
Fulton661
Jefferson661
Washington651
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay594
Rush563
Benton480
Adams471
Gibson462
Owen451
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer331
Tipton301
Crawford290
Fountain292
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike80
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52865

Reported Deaths: 2876
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin9338407
Cuyahoga7013366
Hamilton5224198
Marion273138
Lucas2628302
Pickaway217641
Summit1969206
Montgomery178426
Mahoning1752228
Butler144844
Columbiana120960
Stark1052112
Lorain96267
Trumbull86362
Warren75721
Clark7399
Belmont53421
Delaware51815
Tuscarawas51510
Fairfield50316
Medina49132
Lake44316
Miami44231
Ashtabula42144
Portage41858
Licking41611
Geauga39042
Wood38451
Clermont3566
Wayne35452
Richland3185
Allen29740
Mercer2728
Darke23625
Erie22922
Greene2229
Holmes2043
Madison1888
Huron1772
Crawford1357
Ottawa13023
Washington12720
Sandusky12213
Morrow1151
Putnam11516
Hardin11312
Ross1092
Auglaize993
Monroe8617
Coshocton811
Jefferson802
Union801
Hancock761
Hocking767
Muskingum731
Preble661
Lawrence650
Williams652
Clinton620
Guernsey603
Shelby594
Logan581
Wyandot584
Fulton570
Ashland551
Brown531
Carroll513
Defiance483
Fayette460
Highland431
Knox391
Champaign381
Athens371
Scioto360
Seneca332
Perry301
Henry290
Van Wert270
Paulding230
Vinton222
Adams211
Pike200
Jackson170
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Noble110
Morgan90
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