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The ongoing immigration crisis

Ronald Mitchell
The ongoing immigration crisis
All talk and no action

Challenges to U.S. immigration policy, long an unholy mess, have only gotten worse in the last few years, with over 2.3 million undocumented migrants crossing the southern border in 2023 alone.

The cynical and politically charged decisions by border-state officials like conservative Texas GOP Gov. Gregory Abbott, to transport migrants from the Lone Star State to blue states like Massachusetts and New York has brought the dilemma to our own doorstep like never before. The Bay State is now spending $48 million a month to house migrants under a right-to-shelter law, and just this week temporary accommodations for migrants are displacing school and community sports programs at the Melnea Cass Recreation Center in the heart of Roxbury.

The ongoing humanitarian and political crisis forced Congress to take up a long-overdue reckoning with our nation’s patchwork of immigration laws to come up with a compromise that at least addresses the consequences of states and cities facing the unsustainable costs of treating migrants with some degree of compassion.

But enter Donald “I’ll build a beautiful wall” Trump, who is trying to make sure no good deed ever goes unpunished. The prospect of his GOP faithful coming to an agreement, albeit imperfect, with their Democratic colleagues to address immigration was just too much for the likely Republican presidential nominee to accept. It seems the give-and-take of the democratic process is no more a part of the ex-president’s playbook than the lamp of liberty lifted by the golden door.

The much-indicted White House hopeful is driven by naked political motivation: He seeks to deny President Joe Biden any opportunity to campaign on a bipartisan immigration policy victory in November. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, a key driver of the Capitol Hill compromise and no fan of Trump’s, has linked measures giving Biden extraordinary powers over border crossings to the current president’s military aid package to Israel and Ukraine. Biden was open to that deal and has blasted his putative November rival for standing in the way of securing the border.

As usual, GOP senators in Washington mostly denounce Trump in private while doing no more than wringing their hands in public. U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney has had a mixed record of backing and blasting Trump. Since his decision to not seek re-election to his Utah seat, the former Massachusetts governor has been more critical of Trump’s political and personal theatrics. “I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump,” Romney told The Washington Post. “And the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and  congresspeople that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is  really appalling.”

The current debacle in Washington is just another chapter in the long battle over much-needed comprehensive immigration reform. America’s economy needs highly skilled workers from abroad and a smoother pathway to hire foreign students trained in our universities. Lower-wage workers who labor in our fields and pick our crops are also needed. Georgia’s disastrous experiment in banning migrant farm laborers exposed the cynical ploy of Republicans who reap electoral rewards by using immigration as a wedge issue but don’t want to solve it because of its impact on business. Meanwhile, the status of some 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. must be settled short of an impractical mass expulsion while trying to reform the system of applying for political asylum.

Securing the border from massive surges of economic refugees and victims of climate change — many of whom pay into a coyote system of trafficking reaping billions of dollars from non-state actors — may seem harsh to those who remember the Gospel story of “no room at the inn.” But that is why efforts must also be made to address the causes of migration in the first place, to minimize incentives to leave home and family behind and seek a better life in a land that has long stood for freedom and opportunity.

National polling has long shown that African Americans are more sympathetic to the plight of migrants than whites, even though some studies also show that Black employment is more negatively affected by waves of new arrivals. Compassion towards immigrants can coexist with demands to enforce border laws. That’s a balance we can’t expect Donald Trump to ever strike, but we should expect more from federal representatives elected to solve our challenges rather than to scurry like rabbits in fear of rebuke from the blustering demagogue angling for a return to Pennsylvania Avenue.