The debate about the elimination of Title 42, a public health measure that expels migrants attempting to seek asylum, with certain exceptions, is just another chapter in the sad saga that is the migration discussion in this country, which is not based on solutions, but exploiting the issue for political-partisan ends. It’s the same tired and predictable script in a play where nothing changes but the actors. The only constant continues to be the protagonists: the millions of undocumented immigrants whose lives are in limbo.
Yes, the very same undocumented immigrants who, day after day, through arduous effort, continue to keep local economies afloat; the ones who, with their workforce participation, fill vacancies; rescue companies, and keep ones that are sinking from going down; they pay millions of dollars in taxes, knowing that in the process they run the risk of not receiving anything in exchange, after an entire life of poorly-paid work; they buy houses and cars, start small businesses, take care of others during a public health crisis, and prepare themselves, like students for a final exam, to become U.S. Americans in every way but on paper.
Republicans, accusing the Democrats of promoting “chaos” and “open borders,” have taken advantage of President Biden’s plan to end Title 42, which Donald Trump implemented using the pandemic as an excuse. Even this, in reality, is another way to stop migration and, in this specific case, decimate the asylum program. Now, a COVID aid package has been taken hostage by Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats, arguing that Title 42 should stay in place.
In that sense, it’s not surprising that ex-President Donald Trump has taken the public megaphone once again, inserting his anti-immigrant rhetoric and touting, without any basis or evidence, that if Title 42 is ended, an “invasion” the likes we’ve never seen before—of “millions” of immigrants—will take place. Just recently, he irresponsibly affirmed this idea in two separate rallies with his supporters in Michigan and North Carolina.
Recall that those Republicans are the same ones who, during the pandemic, criticized every mechanism to control it, from the simple use of masks to vaccines. However, it seems that when it comes to migrants who seek asylum, yes, restrictions must remain.
For those who have followed the immigration debate for decades, more specifically since the 1986 amnesty—that is, for almost 36 years—it’s exasperating to witness once again this sterile and vacuous debate that serves politicians in each electoral cycle, and where real solutions remain only on paper.
For almost four decades, millions of human beings have had to adapt to circumstances, almost always negative, as well as immigration laws and the economy itself in order to continue coexisting in a society full of contradictions and double standards which has not learned how to appreciate the dynamism these undocumented families bring to this nation of immigrants, even in times of war, as evidenced by their participation in more than ten armed conflicts this country has become involved in throughout this time without immigration reform. Not recognizing this is not accepting the highest principle of the United States.
And while Republicans bear the most blame for this, the Democrats also have a hand in it. The sum of their actions, or rather their lack of action, is also responsible for this stagnation.
The Republican obstructionist bloc, as well as their ability to undermine any progress by using the magic words “uncontrolled border” and “invasion,” and the Democrats’ inability to move past the criticisms and the fact that, in many cases, they join the Republicans (as moderate Democrats usually do in electoral times), contribute to what we see happening today: no immigration reform and only a remote possibility of achieving it in the near term.
Caught between these two irresponsible political attitudes, that have led to nothing positive on this issue, is the immigrant community that aspires to greater acceptance and inclusion but has had to cope with rejection and accusations of “blame” for all ills befalling this nation. And even then, they remain invisible.
But let’s be clear, the Republicans’ role is simpler, since they are only about obstructing, en bloc, any possibility of reforming immigration laws. They step up to the podium and lament that the borders are not secure; that undocumented immigrants are “invading” us and inundating us with drugs (while saying nothing about the localized consumption that powers the drug trafficking machine that is “victimizing” the U.S. society). They complain that legal immigration has to be regulated and talk out of both sides of their mouths, saying that something must be done to “help” the Dreamers yet they do not offer any legislation; and if the Democrats propose something, they block it.
Let there be no doubt that Republicans do not want to resolve immigration because, upon doing so, they will deprive themselves of the issue that they have used as an electoral stalking horse: turning migrants into scapegoats to mobilize their base.
That, of course, is at the domestic level. We don’t yet know how Republicans will react to the new proposal from the Biden administration to establish a regional migration pact as the main objective of the next Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Los Angeles this June. As explained in the Biden press release: “climate change, the pandemic, repression, corruption, and democratic backsliding have created migration and refugee flows unequaled in the modern history of the region.” A focus on attending to the root causes in the places where they originate, without forgetting of course that, in the background, the entire regional problem has a name: savage capitalism.
On the other hand, it’s the Democrats who are paralyzed by fear again and again and again. Yes, they have become experts on offering good solutions to the migration dilemma on paper, in bill drafts only. When it comes time to take action, ensuring this legislation progresses, internal fissures begin to flower and fear wins, especially in an election year, when the immigration issue is, to them, like Superman’s kryptonite. Few know how to respond to Republican attacks and, if they do, other Democrats want to distance themselves from their colleagues or, in the worst-case scenario, join Republican critiques.
And then the usual Democratic argument shows up —that voters, including Latinos, care about the same issues that matter to everyone: the economy, jobs, health, and safety, to name a few, as if that were a reason to keep postponing action on the migration front. It’s been 36 years without immigration reform, ladies and gentlemen!
It seems that it’s easier for these Democrats to join Republicans than respond to the voters who gave them their jobs, many of whom support immigration reform.
In sum, we are about to embark on another act in the tragicomedy that the U.S. immigration debate has become, but the outcome should no longer point toward prejudice against an entire generation of undocumented immigrants, but toward the basic understanding that this time, common sense and humanism, must be the final act.
Read the Spanish version of this column here.
Maribel Hastings is a senior advisor and David Torres is a Spanish-language advisor at the national immigration reform advocacy nonprofit, America’s Voice.