Democrats effectively conceded their loss to Republicans in the immigration debate a minute after the Trump-era Title 42 policy expired at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. “Starting tonight,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement sent at midnight, “people who arrive at the border without using a lawful pathway will be presumed ineligible for asylum.
“Do not believe the lies of smugglers. The border is not open,” Mayorkas said. “People who do not use available lawful pathways to enter the U.S. now face tougher consequences, including a minimum five-year ban on re-entry and potential criminal prosecution.”
Game over. With that capitulation by Democrats, there is no longer an immigration debate in the United States. The system that has been broken for decades should now be declared permanently shattered with no concrete hope of any real progress of reform, unless Congress suddenly wakes up, works together and passes a real bill for President Joe Biden to sign. Such a scenario, however, is a fantasy right now.
The Biden administration should have had a different response to the end of Title 42, the public health emergency order that allowed our government to expel migrants more quickly without having to consider their asylum requests. The end of the policy, which coincides with the official end to the country’s Covid emergency, is expected to lead to an estimated 10,000 asylum seekers per day at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The law says that to apply for asylum in the U.S., a person must be either physically present in the U.S. or at a port of entry. But Biden’s Homeland Security secretary sent a message that the United States will set rules regarding how a person has to enter to ask for asylum and punish those who don’t follow those new rules. ?Mayorkas’ statement is a clear sign that Democrats have more in common with nativist Republicans than they led us to believe.
Our so-called nation of immigrants now operates as a nation that hates them, at least immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti and other countries to the our south. No matter how many times Americans express the belief that our diversity is our greatest strength, the narrative we are now being fed almost hourly about the end of Title 42 is one of fear and hysteria.
?We’ve been told to brace for “waves” and “surges” of migrants, ?as if people seeking asylum are threats to our national security and our way of life. Republicans are the original authors of this narrative, but Mayorkas’ midnight statement is an example of Democrats adding to it as they scramble to prove they are just as “tough” on the border.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration enacted some of the cruelest, heartless border policies in American history, including family separation, travel bans and promises of a massive border wall, but he was still working within a system that criminalized immigration and was carried out by presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Despite Biden’s campaign promises to be different, his administration’s immediate response to the end of Title 42 is one of many examples of him being the same.
The cruelty will only continue to grow, and if history is any guide, Democrats will denounce that cruelty only to later support it.
This week, as scenes of helpless migrants desperately trying to enter ports of entry and sleeping on the streets of border cities filled our screens, Republicans continued to double down. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what he boasts is “the strongest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country,” That new law requires the use of E-Verify but also prohibits undocumented law school graduates from practicing law in Florida, forces all patients to share their citizenship status with hospitals that accept Medicaid and allocates state money to fund stunts such as the ones DeSantis pulled last year when he bused migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
Hours before the end of Title 42, House Republicans passed the Secure Border Act of 2023, which calls for increased border enforcement technology and a return to border wall construction. The bill will not pass the Senate, but that is not the point. Republicans have turned immigration into “Biden’s border crisis,” and the aim of this bill is to create a trap for Democrats they don’t even seem to want to escape.
We know the immigration debate is over because even as Democrats spend their time slamming Republicans for how extreme they have become on immigration, they enact policies that all but put an end to asylum.
At Wednesday night's town hall on CNN, former President Donald Trump floated the possibility that if he were to win in 2024, his cruel immigration policies, specifically his decision to separate families, would be even crueler.?
“We have to save our country,” Trump said on Wednesday night. “When you say to a family that if you come, we are going to break you up, they don’t come.”
How different is that from Mayorkas vowing to punish migrants who don’t seek asylum according to his arbitrary new rules?
?The upcoming 2024 election cycle is already eerily similar to other recent election cycles. Immigration will still be a wedge issue. Republicans know that, and so do Democrats. With Biden’s approval ratings at their lowest ever before this week’s news about Title 42, Republicans can easily exploit “Biden’s border crisis” and continue churning out the falsehood that migrants from our south are coming to terrorize our nation. And they can exploit Democrats’ fear of not appearing to do enough to protect the country against those “waves” and “surges.”
“We are bracing for some turbulent times ahead,” DeSantis said Wednesday, when he signed Florida’s restrictive immigration bill. “When you have a president that has turned a blind eye to the border … when you have that, you are likely to see it get a lot worse.”
Republicans have won the immigration debate. Democrats got crushed and knocked out. The only way to counteract decades of Republican xenophobia is to offer concrete alternatives to GOP policy. But all Democrats have done is criticize and then cave. It doesn’t look like there will ever be comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. Just like we’ve normalized mass shootings, we’ve normalized criminalizing human beings escaping crime and hardship and sending them back to the places where they’re likely to suffer.
This is who we are. As a nation, we should be outraged. Sadly, we are not.
CORRECTION (May 13, 2023, 12:06 p.m. ET) A previous version of this article gave the wrong night for Trump’s town?hall on CNN.?It was Wednesday night, not Tuesday.