When it comes to the “border crisis” that is often brought up by Republicans and much ballyhooed on Fox News, there appears to be a variety of problems but not many solutions. Vice President Kamala Harris has been much-criticized for her lack of veracity on the southern border crisis. It seems like the there his another “caravan of immigrants” coming to the border around every election to scare people that the country is about to be flooded by folks from Central and South America. So, what is really going on at the border? Are we in a crisis? Does it matter? Let’s explore.
Stay In Mexico
One of the most significant changes that the Trump administration made to immigration was the “stay in Mexico” policy. Rather than letting asylum seekers stay in the US while awaiting adjudication of their cases, the Trump administration got Mexico to agree to keep the migrants on their side of the border. This has led to a humanitarian crisis with people from all over the world, but most Venezuela and Haiti, living in squalid camps near Matamoros and other places along the southern border. In December, temperatures plunged in Brownsville and the mayor of El Paso declared an emergency because there was nowhere to house all the migrants that were living on the streets of the city.
The story has gone mostly unnoticed by the main stream media, but the Texas Tribune has extensive coverage of the crisis and the breakdown of America’s immigration system. More people are crossing the border than ever before. Pew reports that after a major cessation of immigration during the Trump years, more people are going to the border and crossing it than ever before. The Border Patrol is encountering more migrants than ever and that’s just the ones that they catch, even more are getting through without CBP interaction. In a recent story, children were found to be cleaning a meat-packing plant, which has triggered an investigation into child trafficking. The Human Trafficking issue has exploded as well.
According to this New York Times story, the cartels control the border crossings entirely now, leaving the Border Patrol basically at war with the cartels who have turned moving people across the border into a business. However, their treatment of the “deliveries” is abusive and cruel. Crossing the border is dangerous, that is no secret. It is hot, dry, there is no real chance for water or food and migrants often pay “coyotes” to get them across the border. The coyotes can and do abuse immigrants. Many migrants lose their families along the way. In this story from the New Yorker, they discuss an agency in south Texas who tries to reunite migrants with their families, living or dead.
Public perception about the border has taken a turn towards crisis levels. According to an NPR pole, 57% of Americans see immigration and the border as a top issue that isn’t being handled well by officials. Which also brings up an important question, Where is Vice President Kamala Harris?
Where is VP Kamala Harris in all this?
This is an area where narrative and reality diverge again. In 2021, President Biden put her in charge of dealing with the border crisis. In 2022, she declared the southern border secure, but the reality is far from that. This has not stopped Fox News from criticizing her for not moving to Brownsville to deal with the border crisis. That being said, it is rather suspicious that VP Harris isn’t more present in the crisis and shutting down the critics.
The Biden administration has increased quotas from several central and South American nations in the hopes of stemming the tide at the border. The Senate Republican Caucus released this document cataloging their issues with the border crisis and putting the blame squarely on Biden.
We can see from this page from the CBP that we are essentially building refugee camps along the border to house migrants until their status can be determined and asylum granted or denied. The New Yorker also covered these migrant camps and the plight of the people who are stuck in them. Some stay in Mexico, others are right over the border.
The Biden administration’s response to immigration has been lackluster at best. The New Yorker also covered this story by interviewing Andrea Flores, who was an early staffer working in the Biden White House on immigration. Her ideas to expand asylum and handle the influx of migrants in an orderly fashion was met with a legal challenge by Texas and Missouri to stop the suspension of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, while also getting push back from senior leadership like Ron Klain and Susan Rice. Andrea Flores gave up and left the Biden administration after she was accused of “being too intense” and “being too close to the issue.”
Why Can’t Get the Southern Border Right?
America’s immigration policy is complicated, and it has always been. The US all but banned immigrants from 1924–1965, and then President Johnson signed legislation to lift the restrictions on immigration and new immigrants began arriving to the United States. In the mid-1970s, after the end of the Vietnam War, a general was put in charge of immigration on the southern border and actually began the problems we have today with immigration. People were used to crossing back and forth across the border between the US and Mexico for school and work, but once the border was more restrictive, suddenly more people wanted to stay in the United States. This led to a migrant surge that eventually caused President Reagan to offer an amnesty in 1986 to migrants in the United States. Immigrant across the border has continued in the intervening 37 years.
Immigration has become a major political talking point. The GOP has been deeply suspicious of immigration, especially illegal immigration, while many on the Left “support migrants” and some even eschew the very idea of borders. These disparate ideas have led to a certain amount of political gridlock. However, on the Right, immigration has become a way to scare people and activate the base. President Trump was especially reactionary in both words and policy, leading to some interesting trends in illegal immigration.
According to WOLA, an advocacy organization for immigrants, 2021 was the biggest year on record for migrants crossing the border. They credit this problem to the 70,000 people that Trump kept in Mexico while awaiting court dates and “metering” where the CBP prevents migrants from seeking asylum at the border, so they only come in smaller numbers, which is a violation of international law. This was on top of the Obama era policy where migrants were kept in “cages” mostly built in detention centers which ranged from old jails to disused Walmarts throughout the country. This triggered protests. When President Trump was elected in 2016, he began separating families and small children were often sent to immigration courts on their own, a travesty all of its own.
Today, it is estimated there are as many as 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Illegal immigrants are a hot button issue for the right, and as we saw before, many Americans view the southern border as a terrible crisis. Things are not good there, but there is also a narrative being pushed by right-wing sources to use the problems at the border for political purposes.
So, why can’t we get the Southern Border right? There are few reasons for this, but the chiefest among them is that the country relies on the cheap labor. There is a corporate interest in keeping the migrants flowing into the country to pick vegetables and work in meat packing plants. This means that often, there is much talk about doing something about the border crisis, but very little is done. Trump infamously wanted to “build the wall!” which ended up being several sections of fencing that was easily circumvented at the border. Very little of the border wall was ever completed. It was nothing more than a political stunt. If anything, the only effective thing President Trump achieved was keeping people away with his rhetoric; a “truly effective method” of reducing illegal immigration.
What to Do About The Border
The reason we have a crisis at the border is long and complicated, but it is directly linked to two problems: our insatiable appetite for drugs and our poor foreign policy in our neighborhood. The only thing to be done now is to follow international law and process the asylum seekers as fast as possible. This is an area where many more resources could be devoted. Those seeking asylum for economic reasons are not eligible to be let into the United States, and they should be returned as soon as possible.
More resources to patrol the border would also be a good idea. Fortunately, the Biden administration, as part of its infrastructure bill from 2021 added hundreds of millions more to border security, including new officers and more cameras. Patrolling the US border with Mexico is no easy thing. The terrain is rugged in many places and the climate is unforgiving. Using all the tools available to stop the flow of migrants is vital to a more secure border.
As to the question whether the US should welcome anyone who arrives to our shores or borders, I do not have easy answers. On the one hand, America is the one country that everyone can come to and build a new life. “Bring me your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is a screed on the Statue of Liberty that greeted immigrants 120 years ago. Whether that should apply to today or not is not a question that I can answer. One thing is clear: we have a humanitarian crisis at the border and regardless of our attitude towards immigration as a whole, that is a problem worth solving.