On Christmas eve in Washington, D.C., the temperature plunged to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest on record. In our neighborhood, people were admonishing their neighbors for leaving dogs outside too long. "It's friggin' 15 degrees!"
And yet, the governor of Texas nonetheless decided to dump another 130 men, women and children — some wearing just T-shirts — on the doorstep of Vice President Kamala Harris' official residence. Three buses arrived between 8 and 10 p.m., and, thanks to the work of volunteers, the dazed and confused migrants were offered blankets and conveyed to local churches. Several restaurants donated food. So the immigrants were OK. But without that intervention, we must assume that the bus drivers were under instructions to leave them there, in a residential neighborhood, on a frigid night, wearing only light clothing, not speaking the language and having no idea where they were.
This brings to 8,700 the number of immigrants Gov. Greg Abbott has shipped to the District this year. Another 6,520 have been bused to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
When, in a similar attention-seeking stunt, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew a planeload of asylum seekers to Martha's Vineyard, it was at least in September. The two Republican governors are in a heartlessness duel. Perhaps the next step will be to shoot would-be migrants in the legs as Trump demanded in 2019.
Yes, this country is being swamped by would-be immigrants, and a mature polity would address the problem with sensible reforms. But that's not what the governors of Florida and Texas are demanding. They and their right-wing media claque are saying that immigrants are clamoring for admission to the United States only because President Joe Biden has an "open borders" policy.
They repeat this mantra even though it contradicts another of their favorite talking points, namely that the border patrol has experienced record numbers of encounters with would-be crossers. Customs and Border Protection reports that agents had 2.2 million encounters with illegal border crossers in fiscal year 2022 — a new record. (Many are repeat crossers.) If the border were truly open, the border patrol would not be apprehending anyone, right? They'd be standing aside and waving them on in.
In fact, the constant GOP refrain about the border being "open" may actually be aggravating the problem by disseminating the impression around the globe that it's worth making the attempt to get into the United States.
Here is the complicated reality. It is not Biden's fault that so many people want to come to the United States. There was a big jump in border encounters under the Trump administration as well (from 310,531 in fiscal year 2017 to 859,501 in fiscal year 2019 — the numbers plunged temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic). People want to come here because 1) so many nations around the globe are hellish and a number of those are within walking distance; 2) this is a place where people with a good work ethic can get ahead and enjoy the blessings of liberty; 3) our immigration laws and rules are confusing.
A 1980 law permits migrants to ask for asylum. Unfortunately, it requires asylum seekers to be physically present in the country — thus the crush at the border. Also, word is out around the world that you can claim fear of persecution and at least get a hearing (though 75 percent of claims are rejected, which may be less well understood). So many have attempted to take advantage of this avenue that the backlog of cases now stands at 1.29 million. Perhaps one way to handle the hordes of people hoping to gain admittance is to clarify the asylum criteria. Another possible reform is to permit people to make an asylum claim at the U.S. embassy in their countries.
Here's another solution to the immigration problem — welcome more legal immigrants!
More immigration is in our national interest. Even aside from the injection of vitality that immigrants always provide, we are suffering from a serious labor shortage. The wait for green cards, even for those who've been fully vetted, can be insanely long because our needlessly complicated law imposes caps by country of origin. Immigrants from India and China, for example, can wait their entire working lives.
We are starved for workers. Americans are paying more for food, housing, and other commodities and services due to the severe labor shortage. We have backlogs of already-vetted immigrants, asylum-seekers with credible claims, and refugees who would gratefully (dare I say tearfully) accept jobs and lives in this country if we could only get out of our own way.
But our politics is poisoned by the demagogues who speak of immigrants as "invaders" and warn of catastrophe if we don't close our border. In contrast to the finest traditions of this country, which at its best has been a haven for the persecuted and a friend to the oppressed, they are treating immigrants as enemies. No — worse. Enemies would be entitled to the protections of the Geneva conventions, which would prohibit what Greg Abbott did on Christmas Eve.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.