A confluence of events on the U.S. southern border in Texas, Congress and in the U.S. Supreme Court has shone a spotlight on the nation’s broken immigration system. In this presidential election year, arrests of migrants crossing the border from Mexico seeking asylum status in the U.S. reached an all-time high in December.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who like Donald Trump and many other Republicans have spent years demonizing immigrants, surrounded a crossing point for asylum seekers on the Rio Grande river with miles of razor wire blocking access to federal Border Patrol officers to assist injured people. Dozens of migrants have drowned in the river over the past year. Responding to a lawsuit filed by the Biden administration, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a recent ruling that upheld federal jurisdiction on enforcement of immigration law.
As Gov. Abbott vowed to defy the Supreme Court ruling, using language similar to the Civil War-era Confederate declaration of secession, Donald Trump called for Republican governors to deploy their state National Guards to Texas to prevent the entry of “illegals.” At the same time, anti-immigrant activists formed a convoy they call the “Army of God” which recently converged on the border to rally against what they say is a “migrant invasion.” Meanwhile, as Congress was working to pass a draconian bipartisan immigration reform bill, Trump urged Republicans to reject it, concerned that any solutions offered on the “border crisis” would deprive him of a potent issue in his re-election campaign. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Justin Akers Chacón, professor of U.S. History and Chicano studies at San Diego City College, who talks about the GOP and far-right anti-immigrant activists trying to provoke a national emergency at the U.S. southern border.
JUSTIN AKERS CHACÓN: First of all, it’s important to understand that this is a manufactured crisis. What I mean by that is much of the discourse that’s coming out of especially the far-right governors, you know, starting with Abbott in Texas and in different parts of the country and also kind of reflected in the media narrative is that this is a crisis.
The reality is that it’s sort of being generated as a crisis by the Texas state government attempting to overstep the federal government and creating its own reinforced barrier and a deadly barrier. Right. Using different types of barriers such as concertina wire and these kind of floating buoys that have razor sharp wire, these very deadly types of barriers that are being placed in a common crossing point in south Texas.
While it’s true there has been an increase in more people trying to seek refuge in the United States, that can be understood as the result of policies that are driving people from their homelands, many of which are actually policies that the U.S. government has a hand in. There are people trying to get refuge in the United States, and there is an increase, but it’s not a crisis.
The United States can easily handle processing people who come to the border as refugees. Could easily afford to resettle and help people go through the process of going from asylum seekers to refugees and getting resettled. It can handle all of these things and it has. But we’re in an election year and the far-right — specifically those aligned with Trump and a far right anti-immigrant policy agenda — want to create this crisis as a way to demonstrate that they are going to make this their defining issue of the election.
And they’ve succeeded in that capacity. They’ve pushed the Biden administration and the Democrats as a whole farther to the right to the point where there’s not a whole lot of difference in terms of what they’re arguing, in terms of how to respond to refugees coming to the United States. But that also has emboldened the far right to basically want to go even further.
SCOTT HARRIS: Right. Trump and the Republican party have long demonized immigrants as dangerous murderers and rapists. They characterize the numbers of migrants seeking asylum in the United States as an invasion, poisoning the blood of our nation, quoting Adolf Hitler. Many people in the United States believe in this xenophobic and hateful message. What’s the best way to counter it?
JUSTIN AKERS CHACÓN: Well, it’s important to understand that it’s also not just coming from the right. It’s coming now from the Biden administration and the Democrats who are complicit in accepting this narrative because they’re not actually challenging it. They’re actually trying to catch up to it.
But refugees and undocumented people who come to our border, you won’t hear any actual reference to what they’re doing because they’re coming to get refuge. Many of them end up working, starting lives here, building families. They’re the least likely to commit crimes. They don’t do any of the negative things that the far right claims that they do and they can’t show any evidence to support their absurd claims. And so this is based on a kind of an emotional propagandistic plea to people.
But the evidence bears out that actually refugees and immigrants contribute to our country and play a beneficial role. But if they have access to citizenship, if they come into the workforce and they have everything that they need in terms of their rights and their benefits, then they end up becoming productive members of society.
But the capitalist class really wants to keep people who are refugees and undocumented under conditions of oppression, and they want to keep them non-citizens. They want to keep them vulnerable. So we need the U.S. economy needs the labor. They just don’t want laborers with rights. And so for that, for that reason, they have to generate this whole narrative of criminality and threat and invasion.
But it’s not true. It’s simply not true.
Chacón’s op-ed, “Why the True Immigration Crisis will Always be Racism,” appeared in the Boston Globe.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Justin Akers Chacón (13:10) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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