Drug War Violence in Latin America Contributed to Humanitarian Crisis

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June 19, 2014 - By Jeronimo Saldaña

It’s pretty simple. Over 20 million Americans used illicit drugs recreationally in the past year and American drug prohibition has only served to create an unregulated black market whose collateral consequences include unprecedented violence, mass incarceration, and mass migration.

In other words, the war on drugs has turned into a war on people.

While the arrest of a drug lord or corrupt government officials may catch our attention, we fail to sufficiently consider those throughout Latin America who have fallen victim to drug war related violence and have been murdered, disappeared, or forced to leave their homes in search of refuge. It is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the photos recently released by the Houston Chronicle of immigrants, many of whom were revealed to be unaccompanied minors, crammed into federal government detention centers - sleeping on concrete floors and benches without private restrooms or showers - who were being detained after crossing the border into Texas, which is incredibly dangerous given the eruption of drug war related violence there.

In response to the images, Rep. Matt Salmon (R. Ariz) in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this week declared that “they love their countries…they’re leaving because they’re frightened or they can’t put food on the table, or both” and Sarah Palin was quoted as saying “as a mother – a bleeding-heart compassionate woman and mother. I say, how dare anyone turn a blind eye and further harden your horrid heart when you see these pictures snuck out of the innocent children’s holding pens.”

And I have to agree with both of them.

With more than $51,000,000,000 spent annually just in the U.S. on the war on drugs, 1.55 Million arrested on nonviolent drug charges, and over 70,000 people killed in drug war related violence, not to mention the countless disappeared, it is time that we ended the failed war on drugs and start enacting sensible solutions rooted in compassion and human rights that will allow us to focus on securing our communities so that no child will not have to make the thousand mile trek from their home in search of safety from the violence reaped by American prohibition and drug war.

Jeronimo Saldana is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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