Immigration, U.S.A.

HOW THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE WAS LOST

Trump and Biden. The same day, in the same place. Separated by barely a few miles in Texas. And both trying to appear tough on immigration.

The time when we talked about legalizing millions of undocumented migrants or helping the Dreamers is over. Now it’s all about winning votes in the November elections. And one way to do that is to go to the place so feared and desired – the border between Mexico and the United States – and declare that if the situation grows worse they will close the border.

Let’s start with the reality. More migrants than ever have crossed the border illegally during the Joe Biden presidency. It’s already 6.4 million from 2021 to 2023, according to the US Border Patrol, and we still have months to go. In December alone, 302,034 were intercepted along the southern border of the United States.

We have all seen the images. Some call it a “crisis,” others an “invasion,” even though no country is invading the United States. It is, in fact, a giant migratory movement – a tsunami – that no one knows how to stop. If migration is explained as a push away from a country and a pull toward another, what we’re seeing is a massive push, one never before seen.

Millions are being pushed out of their birth countries. The pandemic pummeled Latin American economies, and the US economy has recovered more rapidly. That’s part of the explanation for the south-to-north flow. What’s more, we have three dictatorships – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – that are generating a massive moves to a country with more freedoms, democracy and opportunities. And there are violent nations like Ecuador and Mexico, where drug cartels control parts of the national territory – regardless of what their presidents say. You don’t need much more to decide to leave your home. That’s why we’re seeing so many families selling what little they own and borrowing for the trek north.

The United States cannot stop that. Not with walls, not with more border patrol agents, not with new laws. Nothing stops women fleeing violence – at home or outside – or families without money for doctors or schools, or people searching for a country without censorship or an authoritarian government.

But President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are engaged in an electoral war to show who is tougher on the migrants. The border is the new battle ground. What is surprising about this clash is not what Trump says – we already know him and his anti-immigration history – but how Biden has changed.

Trump recently posted this on social media: “When I’m your President, we will immediately Seal the Border, Stop the Invasion, and on Day One, we will begin the largest deportation operation of illegal CRIMINALS in American history.” That’s from a former president who separated thousands of migrant children from their families and in 2015 said Mexican migrants were “criminals” and “rapists.” But what stands out is when Biden puts himself on the same level as Trump.

First, we have to acknowledge that as he promised, on his first day as president Biden sent Congress a proposal to legalize millions of undocumented migrants. But that was a symbolic gesture. He did not have the votes in Congress. But now Biden is the one saying that “the border is chaos” and that he would be willing to “close the border.”

Biden clearly feels forced to do something drastic. If not, he could lose the election. The border, according to the polls, is one of the top concerns among voters. That’s why he’s considering tighter restrictions on the rights of migrants to apply for political asylum when they cross the border. It is very possible that such executive orders would be invalidated by the courts. But politically, Biden also could argue that he’s done everything possible to control the border, and try to remain another four years in the White House.

Sadly, I believe that we have lost the immigration debate – for now. Just a few years ago we were talking about legalizing the 10 million undocumented migrants in the United States, and providing dignified treatment for newcomers. The Dreamers were close to regularizing their legal status. Not any more. President Biden and some Democrats have made concessions that are unjustifiable for many Hispanic voters. And I ask myself if disillusioned Hispanics could decide a close election in November.

I still believe that in the long run, the United States will do the right thing, that it will regularize those who arrived after me, and will remain the generous country that welcomed me in 1983. But today, sometimes, I don’t recognize that country.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

Image by: K E on Unsplash

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”

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