Ted Cruz and John Cornyn

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), joined by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), speaks on Title 42 immigration policy on May 03, 2023 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Right-Wing Policy Is the Cause of the Crisis at the Border

We need to push back on the GOP narrative that immigration is a bad thing, and that the militarized approach on immigration is helpful.

I recently came across a tweet from Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s architect of the absolutely unconscionable family separation policy at the border. The tweet reads, “Joe Biden is the trafficker-in-chief. No one on earth is responsible for more child trafficking than Joe Biden.”

This tweet is absurd on its face because Joe Biden is not actively engaging in human trafficking, unlike Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, who have utilized public funds and fraud to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and Vice President Kamala Harris’ home, using people who have fled from desperate situations as human props. Even though this tweet is ridiculous, it is useful because it perfectly encapsulates the conservative narrative on immigration. As immigrant advocates and progressives, we need to understand their narrative and have a clear recognition that it is completely backward. They will tell you that some fictitious “open border” policy is the cause of the crisis at the border, but the reality is that right wing policies in different areas overlap to create the perfect storm where people are desperately fleeing their home countries, only to be turned away by the U.S. and forced to cross the border in a dangerous manner.

Miller’s narrative essentially boils down to this: Joe Biden’s “open border” policies make it too easy for people to come to the U.S., which causes human trafficking. This is illogical on its face because people would not resort to using “coyotes” to get themselves and their loved ones into the U.S. if they had a practical and legal method to immigrate, and they wouldn’t be so desperate to escape in the first place if there weren’t so many dangerous situations at home. The many disruptions in their home countries caused by right-wing U.S. policy, coupled with the lack of a legal option for immigrating to the U.S., are the principal causes of the crisis at the border.

The 1-2 Punch Causing the Border Crisis: Disruption at Home and Militarized U.S. Border Policy

A useful thought experiment would be to ask yourself this question: What kind of situation would you have to be in that would cause you to flee from your home country through dangerous conditions, only to arrive in a foreign country that may or may not take you in? It is helpful to keep this in mind because it counters the traditional right wing thinking that people arriving at the southern border are “bad hombres” as Donald Trump famously put it. I would argue that most people would only leave their lives behind and embark on this journey if they felt like they had no other option.

President Biden’s record on immigration has been mixed at best, but there is one policy he is pursuing that has the potential to help alleviate the crisis at the border.

Why do citizens of countries like El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, and many others, feel like they have to leave their home countries? U.S. policies have disrupted the affairs of these countries for years in numerous ways. For example, the right wing U.S. Supreme Court effectively gave the green light to unlimited gun sales through its decision in D.C. v. Heller. Many of these guns flow south to our neighboring countries, where criminals and gangs use them to commit violence against the citizenry. This “iron river” has created a situation where nearly 70% of the guns recovered from crimes in Mexico are U.S. sourced. That number is a staggering 80% in the Caribbean. Organized crime and gang violence are a significant cause of people fleeing their home countries. They are made much deadlier by U.S. weapons manufactured and sold under the current, conservative interpretation of the 2nd amendment.

Another example of right-wing U.S. policy causing people to flee their home countries is climate change induced drought and hurricanes. The U.S. is the biggest historical emitter of greenhouse gasses, meaning that most of the extra global warming causing gas in the atmosphere came from the U.S. Instead of embracing a Green New Deal that would transition us off fossil fuels and create good jobs, the U.S. has continuously ignored the urgency of climate change and doubled down on fossil fuel production. Climate change intensifies weather patterns like droughts and hurricanes, causing crop failure, property damage, and extreme poverty. Relentless droughts and hurricanes in Central America drove large numbers of people to flee their home countries recently. This will only continue to get worse until the U.S. adopts a progressive climate change policy and begins to reverse the damage already being done.

A final example of right-wing U.S. policy causing people to flee their home countries is political interference. The U.S. has a long history of manipulating the political processes of Latin American countries in order to install leaders that are friendly to the U.S. and U.S. business interests. In the infamous “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine, Theodore Roosevelt asserted that the U.S. had the right to intervene in the affairs of our neighbors to the south. This concept has never disappeared from U.S. policy.

In El Salvador, the U.S. propped up a repressive government that took power through a coup in 1979. This government killed its own citizens, causing a mass exodus to the U.S. Many of these refugees were later deported back to El Salvador, where they brought the U.S. gang culture with them back home, leading to the explosion of gang violence by MS-13. In Honduras, former President Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tacitly allowed and refused to condemn the coup of reformist President Manuel Zelaya, which paved the way for a repressive government that was actively involved in drug trafficking, most notably under former President Juan Orlando Hernández. Finally, U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have crippled that country’s economy, while U.S. attempts to overthrow its leftist government, most notably when former President Trump and John Bolton attempted to install Juan Guaidó as the leader by officially recognizing him as President in 2019, have created long term political and social instability.

There are many more examples I could give, but the point should be clear that many of the policies championed by conservatives create the destabilizing conditions that cause people to flee their home countries and seek refuge at the southern border. “America first” is essentially a euphemism for, “We don’t care what happens to our neighbors to the south.”

“Tougher” Immigration Laws create more illegal Immigration

The second part of the problem is that migrants at the southern border do not have a better way to come to the U.S. because of our militarized border and immigration policy. If they had a legal, safe, and humane way to come to the U.S., I am certain they would prefer to use that method instead of crossing the southern deserts, hoping not to die of thirst and heat exhaustion, or fall prey to kidnappers, cartels, and gangs. This is where Miller’s narrative falls apart. Human trafficking happens because our immigration policies make it essentially impossible for people seeking refuge to come to the U.S. in a normalized manner. Migrants at the border without a practical way to enter the U.S. hire “coyotes” or other smugglers to help get them or their loved ones across the border safely. This creates a human rights catastrophe that could be avoided if we stopped treating migrants like an invading army and started treating them like people who need help.

If the situation in their home country is desperate enough, people are going to try to seek refuge however they can. Let’s think back to the thought experiment above. If there was a gang menacing your family, and your options were to stay at home and wait to be killed, or cross the U.S. border without documentation to ask for asylum, what would you do? Now ask yourself this, if you were fleeing for your life, would you rather come to the U.S. by showing up at a port of entry at the border and being lawfully admitted into the country, or would you rather cross the desert and hope to get caught by Border Patrol so you can be detained and ask for asylum? Clearly, anyone in this situation would rather come to the U.S. in a lawful, orderly fashion if they could, but absent such a way to come to the U.S., they are going to choose crossing the border any way they can instead of staying at home and facing death.

President Biden’s record on immigration has been mixed at best, but there is one policy he is pursuing that has the potential to help alleviate the crisis at the border. He has begun using his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 212(d)(5)(A) to allow migrants at the southern border into the U.S. under “humanitarian parole”. Congress unambiguously gave the President the authority to “parole,” i.e., to allow people to enter the U.S., for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. President Biden has directed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to begin allowing migrants into the U.S. using this authority as they seek refuge from dangerous situations back home.

As the Center for American Progress details, this parole program has already been shown to reduce the number of encounters with people crossing the border illegally. The data clearly shows that if you give people a way to come to the U.S. legally, they will do so, which will improve the lives of migrants at the border and reduce human trafficking. Unfortunately, President Biden is coupling this parole program with restrictions on asylum. It seems that Democratic administrations can never fully embrace immigration and always try to have it both ways by opening new avenues to help immigrants on the one hand, while simultaneously shutting down others. The Biden Administration should keep access to asylum open while also implementing new ways for people to apply for humanitarian parole instead of opening one door while closing another.

Miller’s implied argument that “weak” immigration laws cause human trafficking is false. In fact, the “tough” approach that conservatives support is largely to blame. We need to push back on the conservative narrative that immigration is a bad thing, and that the militarized approach of the GOP on immigration is helpful. The next time you engage with someone who uses this narrative, ask them why they support policies that cause people to flee their home countries, and why they support policies that force them to cross the border without documentation instead of giving them a safe way to seek refuge.

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