Immigration: A new, completely false narrative emerges from the usual precincts

As awareness of the broken border grows after the Martha’s Vineyard debacle, where migrants were forcibly relocated to Cape Cod, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and The New York Times’ Dara Lind start a new narrative:  Republicans are not part of the solution because they don’t support amnesty and they’re against political asylum in general, even though at least two thirds of the crossers aren’t legitimate asylum seekers.  Facts must give way to the preferred political story.

Yesterday, I opined that the narrative now trumps reality in political circles.  The subject was the midterm elections, and I posited that the media promoted a false narrative overstating Democrat hopes over the summer and were now pivoting to a false narrative about President Joe Biden’s accomplishments in a desperate attempt to preserve his political fortunes in November.  This is far from the only narrative currently being spun, however.  A new one is taking shape right before eyes on immigration and, the same as the other two just mentioned, it is completely false.  Observing and commenting on how these narratives change and come together is important to countering them.  Less than two weeks ago, fair-minded people watched as progressive Martha’s Vineyard, the playground of the super rich like former President Barack Obama, where all the right people believe America should be a sanctuary country, declared a national emergency over the arrival of less than 50 illegal immigrants and proceeded to forcibly remove them from the island in less than 48 hours.  The migrants they claimed to love and support so much were almost immediately shipped to the equivalent of a government camp at an army base in Cape Cod.  The initial progressive instinct was to malign popular Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who engineered the arrival of the migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, taking the lead from another Republican governor, Texas’ Greg Abbott.  Though President Biden himself had orchestrated the dispersal of tens of thousands of migrants throughout the country over the past 18 months, sometimes on planes in the dead of night, we were told that Governor DeSantis’ actions were criminal.  The equivalent of “human trafficking,” as though Florida were lead by a slave trader.  The governor himself was not cowed, however, and the attempt to claim he was a criminal operator fell woefully short.

Of course, this required the rapid roll out of a brand-new narrative, one that would attempt to hide President Biden’s complete failure to control the southern border as a record number of illegal immigrants continue to stream in, crossing the 2,000,000 mark with a full month left to go in the fiscal year.  President Biden himself, via his Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, has already made some rather pathetic attempts to claim control of the narrative surrounding this debacle.  The facts don’t lie:  The number of migrants coming into the country has increased close to fivefold since her boss took office, but still she insists that the wreckage at the border remains the fault of former President Trump.  This is necessarily a logical absurdity.  President Trump left office with the border more secure than it has been in decades.  President Biden, on the other hand, came into office promising to be more welcoming to migrants than his predecessor and immediately began to undo the policies that were in place.  These include Remain-in-Mexico, reinstating catch and release, and ending all construction of the border wall.  The administration has also aggressively pursued disciplinary action against Border Agents simply for doing their job. Only a fool or a liar would be surprised that the number of migrants began to skyrocket immediately after these policies were rolled back, and therefore it was no surprise that fair-minded people weren’t taking Ms. Pierre’s new narrative seriously.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stepped into the breach, combining the attack on Governor DeSantis with the this-is-all-the-Republicans fault threads into a potential new, equally fantastical story.  At an event organized by The Texas Tribune, Secretary Buttigieg claimed “Obviously there are issues with the border and migration, but these are people that don’t have a solution.  Governor DeSantis was in Congress.  Where was he when they were debating immigration reform?”  Thus begins the new dodge:  First, Republicans have a solution.  We want the administration to put the policies in place that were working less than two years ago and maintain operational control of the border.  Democrats might disagree with one or all of the policies, but their disagreement doesn’t mean that no solution has been offered, it simply means they don’t like it.  Second, the idea that “immigration reform” is a solution to the problems at the border is nonsensical.  A pathway to legal status or citizenship has absolutely nothing to do with whether the border is secure.  It is a means to address the tens of millions of illegal immigrants who are already in the country, and if history is any guide, it only increases the likelihood that more will come.  Putting this another way, Secretary Buttigieg is recommending a solution that might well make our current problems at the border worse and then haranguing Republicans for not supporting it, when we believe the security of the border is a paramount.  It’s the equivalent of installing a state of the art security system in your home and then planting a sign outside that says trespassers are welcome, the system is permanently off. This didn’t prevent Secretary Buttigieg from asking once again, “What have any of these people done to be part of the solution?”   The shamelessness is striking:  The administration, of which he is a part, overturns the very policies that were working, create these problems themselves, and then accuse others of not offering a solution.  He continued along these lines with an additional attack, claiming “It’s one thing to call attention to a problem when you have a course of action…It’s another to just call attention to a problem because the problem is actually useful to you and that lets you call attention to yourself.”  In other words, Governors Abbot and DeSantis are merely grandstanding for political purposes, but how precisely does a purely political creature like Buttigieg, who believed he should be President of the United States after serving as a small town mayor of all things, know that is true?  Certainly, both governors succeeded in calling attention to the problem, or these attacks wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.  The rest is just spin because the administration position is indefensible.

Of course, no one wants to defend the indefensible, so Dara Lind, writing for The New York Times, attempted to extend and enhance the false narrative in an opinion piece earlier this week.  Once again, she reiterated the false canard that Republicans have refused “to articulate what American ought to be doing on the US-Mexico border,” as if people cannot remember that what we were doing less than two years ago was proving effective.  Rather than claim Republicans have no solutions at all, however, she wove this together with yet another false narrative:  Political asylum, claiming the logical outcome of the Republican position is “rejecting the principle of asylum entirely” and the “idea of asylum itself.”  This “asylum” narrative dates back several years now on its own.  In the halcyon days of George W. Bush, a mere decade and a half ago, the immigration debate was dominated by whether we should refer to those entering the United States unlawfully as “illegal aliens” or “undocumented immigrants.”  Whatever your preference, the underlying idea was simple:  This group of people was in the country unlawfully and the debate was over what should be done to, first, slow the tide of people coming in, and second, whether to grant them legal status of some sort.  The nature of asylum or the idea that people streaming across the border for a better life were in fact asylum seekers was not part of the debate.  Sometime during Barack Obama’s presidency, this changed.  Undocumented immigrants suddenly became migrants and asylum seekers, and a new narrative was born:  People cannot be turned away at the border until their asylum claim is heard in court.  A narrative, however, needn’t be based on fact.  Saying someone is an asylum seeker does not make them one.  Like everything else in international law, seeking asylum is a process with a lot of rules.  Three of them are relevant here:  First, asylum seekers are supposed to present themselves at legal ports of entry, not anywhere along the border they can cross.  Second, asylum seekers need to demonstrate they are subject to religious, political, or other persecution in their home countries.  Being from a poor or corrupt country doesn’t qualify.  Third, asylum seekers are supposed to request asylum in the first country they enter that admits them.  This is known as the “first country of asylum” principle.  You do not get to choose which country you wish to go to.  We currently have agreements in place with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and in conjunction with the Remain in Mexico policy, this meant that anyone traveling up from South America would be required to seek asylum long before they reached the United States.  Therefore, the description of migrants as asylum seekers has always been a false narrative.

This is more than clear from the percentage of rejected asylum claims.  Depending on how you calculate the metric, only about 15% or 32% of these claims are ultimately approved, allowing the claimant to remain in the country, meaning a majority are declined whether you choose to use a more or less favorable method.  The metrics differ based on whether or not a person formally applies for asylum after they are initially screened.  Over 41% of those screened never go onto file an actual claim (these numbers are from the 2019 fiscal year and given the massive influx since, there is reason to believe they are much, much worse now); if you include that group you get 15%, if you exclude it 32%.  Immigration advocates argue the high percentage of people who never file claims is because they are unaware of the process, but that does not change the fact that over 40% of people granted admittance to the country do not actually proceed further.  In other words, they are no longer asylum seekers for whatever reason.  In addition, about 50% of deportation orders are issued in absentia, meaning a large subset of asylum seekers never show up for court in the first place and aren’t even present when their claim is denied.  The court date to adjudicate the claim is not immediate either.  A recent New York Times’ report suggested the average wait to be heard is around seven years, meaning everyone gets to stay in the country for an extended period even though we know as much as 85% have no legal right to asylum.  Further, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement only prioritizes the deportation of violent felons.  A high percentage of those ordered deported know they will never actually be deported and can remain in the country regardless of their status.

Why then is anyone referring to a group of people as asylum seekers, fully knowing at least two thirds of them aren’t and the great majority of those are going to remain in the country anyway?  The need for a false narrative on the issue is the only answer that jumps to mind, rendering Ms. Lind’s conclusion invalid.  “The American people (and refugees around the world) at very least deserve something better than mixed messages about the fundamental commitment of asylum. It’s hard to reconcile the flippancy with which Governors Abbott and DeSantis are treating their migrant stunts with the global life-or-death gravity of the implications.”  This is yet another strawman set up to support the false narrative.  There has been no substantive change in the conservative commitment to traditional asylum, as in following the three principles I outlined above.  We have concerns about the vetting process from war torn regions, and we have concerns about why the “first country principle” is not being applied uniformly.  Refugees from the Syrian Civil War for example, should rarely make it all the way to America without first filing a claim in another country.  These are legitimate topics that should be debated, but the fundamental problem has arisen because progressive immigration activists have crafted a new narrative based on a false definition of asylum.  Conservatives should feel under no obligation to accept this change of definition or the narrative it supports.  Nor should we feel any obligation to entertain grandiose immigration reform programs while the border remains completely broken.  As the old expression goes, Biden broke the border and he should fix it before anyone discusses anything else.

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