The New Year has arrived with the same old problems. Undocumented immigrants already rooted in this country for decades, and those who arrive at the border seeking asylum, are between a rock and a hard place: still the favorite target of a Republican Party that refuses to solve a immigration issue it exploits politically; and Democrats whose promises have withered on the vine, despite claiming to be on the side of immigrants.
It’s an undeniable reality of immigration that thousands of human beings hold out the expectation that something in their favor will happen, for the first time in a long time. But politicking has taken over the entire national scene, so much so that it has ended up displacing even the most minimum compassion and U.S. moral sense.
Because if anything was clear in the three-ring circus that was the election of California Republican Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker of the House, it’s that Republican extremism will dominate in that legislative body, at least for the next two years. It’s fantasy, therefore, to think that the body could advance real immigration reform that tackles all of the problems the system has accumulated, in the thirty-six years since the 1986 amnesty was enacted by a Republican president, Ronald Reagan.
After almost four decades of vain attempts, it seems to be time to accept that what the rest of the world is witnessing is that the United States is not capable of resolving the migration question at this moment; a country that traditionally solves problems for other people, for better or for worse. In the face of this scenario, all hope loses meaning, even in the discourse where migrants are beseeched to “resist,” which they have done.
For example, President Biden finally went to the southern border, a topic he should already know inside and out since he was the vice-president to Barack Obama, who promised an immigration reform that never materialized. And before that, today’s president was a U.S. senator from the state of Delaware for thirty-six solid years, seeing proposals for immigration reform come and go without yielding anything. At this point and in that sense, he and the Democrats should already have had an abundance of options, from those that have not worked to those that have the potential to bear fruit, and selected the best in order to concretize a real plan that not even the most anti-immigrant members of the Republican Party or the fringe of the MAGA movement could refute, much less destroy.
However, it would have been even more real and convincing for the leader to see first-hand the human drama that thousands of migrants who fill the streets of El Paso and other border cities are living, with the hope of applying for asylum. Biden, it’s true, has taken measures to reduce unauthorized immigration at the border, issuing 30,000 “parole” entries per month to immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, so that they can apply from their countries of origin and come to the United States with authorization to seek asylum, as long as they come on a plane, have a sponsor, and pass the background check.
But those who present themselves at the border or attempt to cross without authorization will be expelled under the authority of Title 42, a program originally tied to public health, which has been revived and applied since one of the most anti-immigrant administrations of our time, that of Donald Trump.
The Biden administration has been criticized for maintaining the policies of its predecessor, like the aforementioned Title 42, and has been put on the defensive, indicating that it is simply implementing what has been ordered by the courts. But that is a legal explanation that leaves aside the human element. Moreover, applying a discriminatory policy that, in reality, is trying to undermine asylum laws, because a court allegedly orders it, does not erase the damage that said policy has caused to thousands of refugees.
Because who replaces a life, a hope, a chance at leaving the quagmire of violence, persecution, and lack of opportunities in very specific regions of the world—regions that have historically been pummeled so that development can flourish in other zones?
Moreover, it never stops being surprising that a nation as rich and powerful as the United States does not designate enough resources to deal with the flow of migrants at the border in a more orderly, humane, and healthy manner. If it has billions of dollars to send to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, one would think it could handle the arrival of thousands at its borders in a more dignified way.
But that is where the real interest of the U.S. political class lies, since dedicating resources to agitating a bellicose conflict, instead of repairing—once and for all—a decomposed migration system equates to the most visible ethical failing of this historical moment in which we live.
This is not about criticizing Democrats for the sake of criticizing. But now that a new session of Congress has begun, those of us who have spent decades covering politics, elections, and immigration debates have heard the same promises and the same excuses for not having achieved it repeatedly, ad nauseam.
The dilemma for this country and its authorities, then, is to decide if they want to continue being a nation of welcome, based on their own migration tradition and humanitarian laws, or pass the torch to some other country that can absorb the quantity of human beings who are just looking for refuge and protection, and in that way the United States will lose the image of being a beacon of hope that it was once, and is beginning to extinguish.
That does not exempt from responsibility a Republican Party now controlled by extremists, who have torpedoed every opportunity to advance reform because they think it’s more profitable to exploit the false idea of an uncontrolled crisis. It could be controlled with the same immigration reform they are opposing.
But Democrats must go beyond criticizing Republicans and demonstrating their indignation, because for both sides of this equation, that song is over.