In another week of contrasts, two issues—the New York Times story about child labor exploitation, and the criticism about President Joe Biden’s announcement of a new asylum restriction—are a sad reminder of the failure of the political class to approve broad-scale immigration reform.
In its place, Republicans—who now control the House of Representatives—opt for dedicating time to hearings that only promote conspiracy theories of white nationalists, who live in a separate reality with anachronistic ideas that are not adjusted to the United States that exists today.
In a sense, the nearness of the next presidential elections in 2024 has made the Republicans accelerate the pace of their tired, old anti-immigrant and racist strategy in order to gain ground with their base, without caring that their political venom shows they do not want to solve a problem, but rather continuing exploiting it for political ends.
On the other hand, the Democrats continue without overcoming a mistake they repeat each time they confront complicated immigration topics. They usually yield to Republican pressure with the belief that they can silence their critics, when in reality the Republican attacks only increase. That is, on the issue of asylum, instead of fearing Republican rants about the anticipated increase in border crossings with the end of Title 42, the administration and Democratic legislators should show that this country is capable of handling the situation, as it has the resources and capacity to do so.
Instead they opt to restrict asylum even more. And although the White House would like to justify its actions, it becomes even more difficult to defend their positions. Recall when Bill Clinton in the ‘90s signed into law measures that affected even documented immigrants; or Barack Obama, who increased deportations to try to attract Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform, something that clearly never happened.
But instead of continuing to try to placate a Republican Party that, on immigration matters, will never act in good faith, Democrats should listen to the demands of those who have supported them, election after election, despite their failures. We are referring to those huge immigration powers that keep the country strong, economically and demographically speaking but who, through their vulnerability, become the bait for promises, on the one hand, and anti-immigrant attacks on the other.
Every time the House Republicans convene a hearing to talk about the situation at the border, they give a platform to individuals who defend conspiracy theories of white nationalists, who just repeat lies, like that the fentanyl crisis is the responsibility of immigrants, when this has been proven false.
According to the Cato Institute, 86% of the people convicted for fentanyl trafficking in 2021 were U.S. citizens, ten times more than the convictions of undocumented people. Moreover, 90% of fentanyl confiscations occur at ports of entry or vehicle inspection points inside the country, not along the routes that undocumented people cross.
The data, however, don’t prevent Republicans from continuing to vilify immigrants using the fentanyl crisis. And that shows how perverse their strategy to try to return to the White House, at any cost, has become.
But it goes even further, because white nativists—once limited to the margins of the Republican Party—now figure prominently in its collective discourse . They are invited to testify in congressional hearings, which makes the lies they repeat legitimate. Those voices have been echoed by white domestic terrorists who perpetrated massacres in spaces with a high concentration of minorities, as in El Paso in 2019 and Buffalo in 2022.
In fact, many are Trumpist deniers who still continue to repeat the crude lie that Donald Trump was “robbed” of the 2020 election. They are the same ones who justified the attempted coup d’état on January 6, 2021, and who condemn the violence as an electoral strategy without understanding or accepting the underpinnings of a democracy, especially the most complete one on the planet to this day. In other words, they are anti-democratic agents because they only cry fraud if they lose elections; but if they win, the system seems to be functioning fine to them.
To that we add the deceit that those characters promote, that has already been normalized in the platforms of politicians like the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, and his affinity to ban books that detail the history of this country, including its most nefarious chapters, like slavery and discrimination. Or his new series of proposals to basically turn Florida into a death trap for undocumented immigrants. One of his most damaging and offensive ideas is to impose 15 years in prison for mothers who transport their undocumented children to school. How repulsive.
It never stops to surprise that in a state like Florida, which has taken in refugees fleeing dictators, violence, and persecution, the same people support politicians like DeSantis who promote the same things they fled from in the first place. But that’s a topic for another column.
However, what we can state is that what characters like DeSantis are looking for is to rack up political points among one of the darkest, most extreme segments, not only in Florida but the entire country. They want to sinisterly politicize the immigration issue, accusing undocumented people for all the ills, when even DeSantis knows how important they are for the economy of his own state and the whole nation.