The rise of Joe Biden to the Oval Office has awakened expectations of comprehensive immigration reform, an issue of particular relevance to the Hispanic community. However, 12 years ago, with Barack Obama, similar hopes had already arisen and then collapsed into dust because the president chose to use his political capital in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), while immigrants were left to wait.
Immigration is an uncomfortable topic, full of hysteria
Immigration, especially illegal migration, is one of the most controversial topics in America. Yes, it comes up very, very often on TV, but most of the time is turned into a mere tool for politicking. The result is that the problem has been dragging on and on for decades without either Democrats or Republicans being able to come up with an effective solution.
It is not simply a matter of taking the stance of “good immigrants” to whom we must give everything even if they arrived breaking the law, or the equally absurd nativist position of “bad immigrants” who take resources from the budget and contribute nothing to the country. Immigration is much more complicated, and, as a first step to understand it, here are 10 ideas to go beyond the baloney:
- Immigrants arrive and stay because America needs them. Yes, it is as simple as that. If there are 30 million illegal migrants in the United States, it is because those 30 million souls have found in America the welcome and the opportunities they could not get in their countries of origin. It may seem like a truism, but it is a truism that needs to be reaffirmed: immigrants are in America because America wants them to be, it has given them jobs, it has given them families, it has given them a home and a life project.
- And yet, the U.S. government has not given them their documents. For decades, U.S. immigration policy has been mired in absurdity. Legal migration options are drastically limited in an attempt to keep unions and nativists quiet, while in practice, millions of illegal workers enter the country.
The result is institutionalized schizophrenia where the country is inviting migrants (through economic opportunities), but the legal system limits their immigration opportunities and incentivizes them to arrive illegally. They may not give them the residence, but they sure do give them jobs.
- It was not always like this. An obvious example is that of temporary workers. During World War II and the years after, temporary worker programs allowed millions of people to come to work in the United States and then return to their home countries (mainly Mexico). However, these programs were scaled back under pressure from the left, which viewed these guest workers as “unfair competition.” The result of that baloney was increased border controls and more illegal migration.
Why? Because neither the foreign workers nor the American businessmen were going to give up a mutually beneficial partnership, so the foreigners opted to stay in the United States. The cycle of border interaction was cut, but instead of keeping people out, it kept them in, and the migration problem, which was already complicated, became even worse.
- The issue has become bitterly partisan. The current paradigm is that Democrats are the party that defends immigration, and Republicans are the party that opposes it. Still, even a couple of decades ago, the territory was not so starkly divided.
In 1980, both George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan had a much more nuanced (and more sensible) position on regulating immigration flows and the illegal immigrants’ status. Reagan achieved an amnesty, and even in this 21st century, George W. Bush proposed a wide-ranging immigration reform. Actually, during the early months of 43’s first term, it seemed that there was a strong consensus to support a reform, until the September 11th attacks drastically changed the political priorities. Even so, Bush still made his proposal in 2006, but it did not manage to connect in Congress.
Since then, Republicans have taken an increasingly anti-immigrant stance in an attempt to capitalize on the justifiable concern of many people about the changing identity of the United States. However, by opting for easy applause, the GOP has got the vote of a handful of nativists in exchange for the unnecessary repudiation of millions of people who could be their allies. The anti-immigrant rhetoric wins them today’s primaries while condemning them to inevitable defeat in tomorrow’s general elections.
- The GOP has failed to understand that immigrants, particularly those within the Hispanic community, could be one of its greatest allies. Because of their ideology, religious values, and appreciation for institutions such as the family, Hispanics should be overwhelmingly on the Republican side. Still, they have leaned toward the Democrats because they have been more skillful: inviting “Los Tigres del Norte,” eating tacos, reciting “despacito” and giving political leeway to the Hispanic community leaders.
On the Republican side, those seemingly insignificant courtesies were forgotten for years. That, together with an anti-immigrant discourse, has had only one tangible result: to alienate the immigrants and their families, who, by the way, are not going anywhere.
- Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want to deport immigrants, plain and simple. Beyond the hysteria, neither party is willing to bear the political cost of mass deportations. If they wanted to act, the government already has the information and tools to do so, for example, using the IRS data or mandating the application of systems like “e-verify.” Still, not even the most nativist of Republicans is really willing to expel illegal immigrants.
That brings us to the height of absurdity because the Republican politicians are aggravating, humiliating, and angering a group of people who will remain in the country anyway.
- Beyond the hysteria, there are two choices about illegal migration: If America genuinely doesn’t want the immigrants, the only solution would be massive and immediate deportation; and if they are not willing to do that, the other alternative is to regularize them. It’s ridiculous to have 10% of America’s population living with fear from the threat of deportation that most likely will never happen.
- The Republicans should remember something that they used to understand in times of Reagan and George W. Bush: That immigrants do matter and do contribute, that Hispanics can be their allies, and (just like many other immigrants) would be natural supporters for the GOP.
- Loyalty does not depend on where you were born. The anti-immigrant position builds upon an absurd nativist position: the idea that if someone was not born in the United States, he won’t be loyal to America; while those people who have passport, language, and a great-grandfather with a ticket from the Mayflower will always be a model of patriotism.
If you still believe the hysteria, just take the time to look at those arrested for the “Antifa” marches or the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) riots, and analyze who is driving the anti-American rhetoric. Almost all of them are white and Anglo-Saxon. They’re people with all their papers in order and maybe 10 generations in the country, but also a visceral and disturbing hatred against America.
- Immigrants are not the enemy. The enemies are those who hate America, whether they have U.S. passports or not. The real danger to the identity and survival of the United States is not hidden in a tamale cart down in downtown Los Angeles but in some very Bostonian classroom of the Ivy League universities.
For the time being, Biden is flirting with a plan that would offer a path to citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants. Perhaps as a sign of that commitment, he decorates the Oval Office with a bust of activist Cesar Chavez. That very detail illustrates the complex road to immigration reform: Chavez himself, together with the labor movement, was one of the initial promoters of the labor and immigration restrictions that got the United States into the current dilemma.
Meanwhile, the Republicans should rethink their rhetoric to advacce towards a real alternative, aware that the real solution is not to deport the immigrants but to help them love America with the same passion of those European migrants of a hundred years ago.
The way does not lie in deportation, xenophobia, and nativism. The path goes through the love for America. That’s something that you don’t get with a passport; You forge it with work; prove it throughout life, and build it from your very soul.
Everything else is hysteria.