Border crisis echoes through American history - GulfToday

Border crisis echoes through American history

Representational image.

James Rosen, Tribune News Service

Don’t feel dismayed if you have no idea what’s going on at our southern border. Since I began covering it two decades ago, the notion of “illegal immigration” has always been confusing, and it’s gotten even more muddled in recent years. Lawmakers playing partisan politics want to confuse you. Democrats and Republicans regularly warned of a “border crisis” during the Donald Trump administration, though for different reasons.

Trump used the bully pulpit to amplify the shrill cry. His core campaign call to “build the wall!” withered in the hot desert sun once he became president. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon faces charges of running a “We Build the Wall” crowdfunding scam to enrich himself and associates. Democrats, for their part, accused Trump of putting “kids in cages,” even though Joe Biden is now using the same holding facilities. Just two months ago, George W. Bush consigliere Karl Rove was preaching to the conservative choir when he bemoaned “the record number of desperate people crossing the border.”

At a Feb. 7 hearing by the House Oversight Committee, emboldened Republicans, flexing their new majority muscle, mixed apocryphal hyperbole and statistical stew to hype the “border crisis” to hysterical levels. Using every buzzword he could conjure, committee Chairman James Comer of Kentucky mused: “It sounds like the cartels are taking advantage of historically high flow of illegal immigration to overwhelm Border Patrol agents’ resources, place migrants in peril, and undermine border security by introducing deadly narcotics, criminals and terrorists into our country.”

Never mind that the number of border-crossers designated as possible terror threats by US Customs and Border Protection peaked in 2019 under Trump — and tumbled to less than one-quarter of that number last year under Biden. (No doubt a “deep state” conspiracy.) Never mind that study after study after study has shown that the crime rate among undocumented workers is considerably less than the rate among US citizens.

During President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, Republicans regularly accused him of being soft on illegal immigration and causing a “border crisis,” even as he deported twice as many undocumented visitors as his predecessor, George W. Bush, during the same number of years. Obama’s record earned him the monicker “Deporter in Chief” and angered Hispanic advocacy groups that had supported him.

Even our most reputable news outlets contribute to the confusion. For example, an October 2021 New York Times article carried the headline “Illegal Border Crossings Soar to Record High,” but the first sentence read: “Migrants were encountered 1.7 million times in the last 12 months, the highest number of illegal crossings recorded since at least 1960.” This unfortunate juxtaposition conflated the total number of all border breaches with the much smaller number of undocumented immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents or other law-enforcement officers, many of whom wanted to be caught and classified as political refugees from violence at home. The number of “runaways” — those who elude capture — is much higher. The 11 million or 12 million figures, often reported as the number of undocumented workers in the United States, is just a guess. No one knows, partly because the businesses that employ undocumented immigrants help to shield them thanks to their willingness to do manual jobs for low wages. High-tech companies also protect the thousands of skilled newcomers, many from India, who overstay their special visas and then melt into the general population. Immigration advocates put their number at almost half of all undocumented workers. They’ve been a major boon in Silicon Valley and other cutting-edge hubs.

Different alarmist terms have been used at different times, but the notion of a “border crisis” is almost as old as our nation. No matter the term, what it really means is ethnic prejudice and fear of foreigners. There was a “border crisis” in the 1840s when the Irish flooded into the country in huge numbers; they made up half of all immigrants. Yet they would come to dominate politics in Boston, New York and other cities while seeing one of their own elected as president in 1960.

There was a “border crisis” in the 1850s when waves of Chinese immigrants arrived, drawn by the California gold rush and fleeing economic turmoil at home. Yet they almost single-handedly built the first transcontinental railroad and opened many popular businesses.

There was a “border crisis” in the early 1900s when millions of Jews came to escape pogroms and other persecutions in Eastern Europe. Yet they would come to dominate fields from filmmaking to academia, earning a volatile mix of admiration and contempt in their new homeland. There was a border crisis in the 1940s when Japanese immigrants were rounded up and held in internment camps during World War II. Yet today, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Suburu employ tens of thousands of Americans at factories in eight states; hundreds of thousands more work for firms that supply them or sell their cars.

Related articles