By Luis Enrique Miranda
When you hear the term “the big lie” tossed around by Americans, it is understood that it is in reference to Donald Trump’s claim that the election was a rigged event.
About five years ago, Democrats spun their own big lie and this one landed pretty well. In the face of the newly elected Trump administration, a lot of people could not take the time to confront Democrats for their past as Republicans ramped up hateful rhetoric in power.
The lie is simple: we care about migrants and want them to be free and equal under our government, never mind their own legacy of tough immigration policies from the Clinton era. Or that Obama set up family separation, fast tracked deportations, and shifted the focus on who should be deported, earning him the title “deporter in chief.”
We were rudely reminded the party purposefully pulled wool over the public eye when Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Guatemala to, among other things, tell its people to “not come.” The statement was rhetorically indistinguishable to the Trump administration except it was dressed over with “respectability”. Back to brunch, Democrats rejoiced.
There has been a lot of debate on context so I will place the quote here in the context of her full statement and a link to the full transcript of the conference for the reader to draw their own conclusions.
“And I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border, do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration. And I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back.”
Harris, in an incredible display of cognitive dissonance, had gone into detail of the sources of why people leave earlier in her speech. Detailing how most people don’t want to leave their ancestral lands, acknowledging that the majority of the population is indigenous. Yet Harris fails to show true support and understanding by telling them not to come. She also is misrepresenting our own immigration laws in a fashion similar to Trump.
First, she’s speaking fact free and completely rhetorically, as by our own immigration law, it is perfectly legal to arrive at our border and seek asylum. So what she’s planting here is not even an assessment of what legal immigration is or the venues to begin that process. Instead, much like Trump, the desired effect is to prevent migration.
Biden, through incentives and economic development, further intervention through our Departments of Justice and State dictating law enforcement in a supposedly sovereign country, and providing funding for green capitalism, shows he’s doubling down on policies that have never worked in the past.
Biden, Obama and the Clintons all played a hand in laying out deterrence and cruelty as a foundation of our modern immigration policy. Biden is content with continuing some rhetoric against migrants such as xenophobic fear of migrants and disease. He strategically terminated the much more publicly hated and known Migrant Protection Protocols policy while upholding Title 42. He worsened the amount of children crossing alone by adding an exception for unaccompanied minors under Title 42, driving desperate relatives to send children alone more often, in hopes they can get their case accepted.
The language Harris used was infantilizing, and it disregarded the lived experiences of migrants who have to undertake a deadly trek to reach the possibility of having a life free of fear. Harris’ speech replaces that reality with the fantasy that people do it as a choice, one that is taken lightly. She does this while acknowledging the trek is dangerous, (made so in large part by the continued use of cruelty and deterrence policies by our government.) and that the homes of these people are dangerous and unstable. Doublethink comes naturally as a concept to compare this behavior to.
“So let’s discourage our friends, our neighbors, our family members from embarking on what is otherwise an extremely dangerous journey, where in large part, the only people who benefit are coyotes.”
Talk of punishing those who profit from illegal migration is commonly paired with harsher immigration policies, a chaser to the shot.
Here we can draw again a parallel with Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, and what she said about the administration’s goals at the time:
“The proposal helps achieve our three most important goals: to control our nation’s borders, to remove illegal aliens and to punish those who profit most from illegal immigration.”
Again, it really drives the point home that the rhetoric is intended to appeal to the right wing and their political theater earlier this year. Republicans again used El Paso as a political prop, fueling deadly rhetoric.
Harris just announced she is coming to El Paso on Friday, after months of Republicans mocking her and demanding that she visit the border. Again, Democrats center Republican narratives by doing so, and again, Republicans just shifted their rhetoric to continue the blame game. Both parties are happy to turn the border into a prop.
Neither party in their current form will really ever address the issue as both benefit from fueling emotional responses from both voter bases that galvanize voter turnout. Republicans, after all, are well versed in generating culture wars out of wedge issues and gleefully target the rights of marginalized groups in the name of avoiding any actual progress and retaining power.
That’s something I have been commenting on for a while now, along with many experts and government watchdogs who have been alarming about for years.
Democrats are again courting compromise that Republicans never accept, which is how we’ve reached this point in our history where a 245-year-old republic is in a rapid slide into an overt authoritarian ethnostate.
The undercurrent of the rhetoric is essentially a concession to Republicans and their constant demands to move everything to the right. Harris’ job here is to send the message: nothing has fundamentally changed, no matter how many stories you hear that we have relaxed or made our border detention policies any more humane.
The United States has so far refused to acknowledge its role in destabilizing our neighbors, or our racist history of immigration laws that lay the foundation of our system. Our political parties will continue to kick the football into future elections with the idea of a pathway to citizenship, and a humane migration system to gain electoral support for or against it.
Any solution would rock the boat too hard for the comfort of the political class who’d have to acknowledge they all have a hand in the current system and would have to give up a good piece of rhetoric on both ends of the national debate.
To again draw from the Clinton administration, as the Los Angeles Times reported:
“Clinton’s immigration-control bill calls for increasing the Border Patrol by 700 to almost 5,700 next year. Clinton said his administration already has increased the Border Patrol by 51% over two years and by 60% on the Southwest border. In El Paso, Tex., he said, border guards are stationed so close together they can see each other.”
El Pasoans are left to grapple with the fact that both parties have turned the city into a center and model of cruelty against immigrants and Mexican Americans. That politicians see it as nothing more than a prop and a photo op to bolster their careers. Perhaps in that introspection we find strength to reclaim our humanity and repudiate the political class. The morsels they offer are more an insult than a solution.
Luis Enrique Miranda is a freelance journalist and writer who grew up in Juárez and El Paso. His work focuses on immigration and politics in the Borderland.
Cover photo: President Barack Obama gave an immigration policy speech in El Paso on May 10, 2011. (Image from White House video)