These days, during practically every Crossing Borders interview, I am asked about the outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees. “Is this a change in public support for immigration,” I am asked. “Does this mean the American public is finally turning against Trump-era immigration policies?”
Yes and no.
Last summer the American public certainly rallied to support the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghan allies. To this day, communities across the country are welcoming Afghan families. (Amanda Ripley’s Politico Magazine profile of Afghan women who hunted the Taliban and now live in the U.S. is worthy of your time.) Remember, under the Trump administration, Muslim immigration of any sort was presented as an existential threat.
Now, Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine has called into question the Putin fanboy ways of many conservatives. And the support for Ukrainians from authoritarians in Poland and Hungary – not known for their welcoming postures – provides a glimmer of hope that nationalism can be beaten back.
Two notes to keep in mind, though.
One, these are events far from our border. Hence, the displacement and migration that occurs, we feel, can be controlled. Second, from a cultural perspective, the framing has been unique. The Afghan evacuation and resettlement was led, in large part, by military veterans. And, Ukrainians are viewed as Europeans. This type of framing avoids the culture wars we’ll talk about later.
The situation is different at our southern border.
Not because the border isn’t under control. Encounters by CBP remain at, or near, record highs. In fact, enforcement is working so well that the cartels are making money hand over fist.
As I wrote for The Daily Beast, “Once [the cartels] realized there were no legal repercussions for people expelled under Title 42, they modified their business model and sold desperate migrants the opportunity to make multiple attempts to enter the U.S.” Which means that recidivism accounted for as much as 38 percent of apprehensions in some months – with an average over the past two years of 27 percent.
Willingly — or forced by the courts — the Biden administration has kept a number of Trump’s border enforcement programs in place. As a result, what the administration has lost control of is the narrative; and they are paying a political price. Unfortunately for the administration, as with all things border, the situation will only get more complicated.
Because the cartels are sure to increase the flow of Central American migrants to the border. And, with the political and economic situation in Haiti continuing to spiral, the Washington Post reports growing numbers of Haitians are paying smugglers to try and make it to Florida via the sea. (More evidence that the longer Congress goes without reforming our immigration system, the more the cartels win.)
Meanwhile, Congress has absolved itself of any responsibility for border policy. Much less immigration policy. Both sides are quick to call “for a plan.” But no one wants to advance legislation that addresses what is now a full on culture war.
In the April issue of Comment Magazine, Yuval Levin writes that, “seen together,” our culture wars “appear as a vast sociopolitical psychosis. They are all one fight, and the fight is the point.”
As a result, we “assign great moral worth to partisan identities. And because we now tend to equate expression with action in our political and civic lives, we put great value on the assertion of the proper ideals.”
Strangely enough, if policy makers are willing to challenge the immigration ideals of their base, we are approaching an opportunity to take steps towards a solution. This means Republicans will need to agree to protections for Dreamers, farm workers and, potentially others. And Democrats will have to agree to a set of border enforcement measures.
Fortunately there is something in the air. Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyak tweeted last week that Sen Crapo (R-Idaho) said he and Sen Bennet (D-Colo.) are ready to finalize versions of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, but that the bill “can’t move by itself.” And, in The Hill, Senators Durbin (D-Illinois) and Tillis (R-N.C.) both spoke to the need to restart negotiations.
Success will require White House leadership to be much more involved. (And stop fighting with itself.) And a core group of members from both parties need to find a compromise around which the House and Senate can be organized.
None of this will be easy. But 2022 could very well be the last chance for constructive reforms for a few years.
Because if there is one thing we have learned over the years is that our nation’s culture wars are great for the combatants. Terrible for those affected. Whether they are the immigrant or the American looking for a different, more compassionate, approach.
So how do we reframe our culture war at the border so that the public sees Central Americans and Haitians the same way they see Afghans or Ukrainians?
To do so requires that conservative and moderate voices are brought into the debate. Because, as I wrote for Comment Magazine, they can respond to fear “with love” and help those “most affected by the unknown future to step out in courage and lead their community with grace.”