Heather Cox Richardson
Heather Cox Richardson
Professor, Boston College

From Letters From An American, March 13, 2017:


Republican pundits and lawmakers are, once again, warning of an immigration crisis at our southern border.

Texas governor Greg Abbott says that if coronavirus spreads further in his state, it will not be because of his order to get rid of masks and business restrictions, but because President Biden is admitting undocumented immigrants who carry the virus. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is also talking up the immigration issue, suggesting (falsely) that the American Rescue Plan would send $1400 of taxpayer money “to every illegal alien in America.”

Right-wing media is also running with stories of a wave of immigrants at the border, but what is really happening needs some untangling.

When Trump launched his run for the presidency with attacks on Mexican immigrants, and later tweeted that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country,” he was tangling up our long history of Mexican immigration with a recent, startling trend of refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (and blaming Democrats for both). That tendency to mash all immigrants and refugees together and put them on our southern border badly misrepresents what’s really going on.

Mexican immigration is nothing new; our western agribusinesses were built on migrant labor of Mexicans, Japanese, and poor whites, among others. From the time the current border was set in 1848 until the 1930s, people moved back and forth across it without restrictions. But in 1965, Congress passed the Hart-Celler Act, putting a cap on Latin American immigration for the first time. The cap was low: just 20,000, although 50,000 workers were coming annually.

After 1965, workers continued to come as they always had, and to be employed, as always. But now their presence was illegal. In 1986, Congress tried to fix the problem by offering amnesty to 2.3 million Mexicans who were living in the U.S. and by cracking down on employers who hired undocumented workers. But rather than ending the problem of undocumented workers, the new law exacerbated it by beginning the process of guarding and militarizing the border. Until then, migrants into the United States had been offset by an equal number leaving at the end of the season. Once the border became heavily guarded, Mexican migrants refused to take the chance of leaving.

Since 1986, politicians have refused to deal with this disconnect, which grew in the 1990s when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) flooded Mexico with U.S. corn and drove Mexican farmers to find work, largely in the American Southeast. But this “problem” is neither new nor catastrophic. While about 6 million undocumented Mexicans currently live in the United States, most of them–78%– are long-term residents, here more than ten years. Only 7% have lived here less than five years. (This ratio is much more stable than that for undocumented immigrants from any other country, and indeed, about twice as many undocumented immigrants come legally and overstay their visas than come illegally across the southern border.)

Since 2007, the number of undocumented Mexicans living in the United States has declined by more than a million. Lately, more Mexicans are leaving America than are coming.

What is happening right now at America’s southern border is not really about Mexican migrant workers.

. . . .


Read Heather’s complete article at the link.

The Biden Administration needs to stay the course and continue to treat this as the humanitarian situation that it is, rather than portraying desperate kids and families like an invading army. These issues can be addressed without engaging in egregious violations of international laws, domestic laws, and our Constitution. Even with the current flow, we are not going to be “overrun” with migrants. Indeed, by most reliable accounts, we will need increased immigration for our recovery and long-term economic well-being.  

A critical piece will be revoking the Sessions/Whitaker/Barr precedents, replacing the current BIA with real judges who are experts in immigration, asylum, human rights, and due process, removing most of the cases unnecessarily lingering on the self-bloated EOIR docket, and getting some real expert guidance on asylum law and due process out there from the “new BIA” to guide decision-making at both DHS and EOIR.

Our asylum, refugee, and immigration systems can be fixed. But, not with the “players” left behind by the past regime. And, certainly not with more scofflaw, uber-enforcement-only gimmicks, cruelty, and inhumane policies like those that have failed time after time in the past.

🇺🇸⚖🗽Due Process Forever!