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The New GOP Immigration Policy: Less Evil, Just as Stupid
The candidates onstage in the first GOP debate didn’t have many good ideas on immigration. But hey, at least they didn’t have their former vitriol toward immigrants.
DONALD TRUMP WASN’T THE ONLY THING missing from the GOP debate stage Wednesday night. Much of the animus toward immigrants—especially illegal immigrants—that has defined the Republican party in the Trump era was either muted or deflected toward Mexican drug cartels. Gone were the claims that undocumented immigrants are responsible for increased crime in America or that they are stealing Americans’ jobs.
There wasn’t even much discussion of the burden that asylum seekers allowed to stay in the United States are imposing on major cities like New York and Denver. While there were the usual denunciations of “open borders,” there were few solutions offered beyond finishing the Trump wall and hiring more border agents. Sen. Tim Scott and Gov. Doug Burgum suggested using the funding Biden proposed for 87,000 more IRS agents to hire more border patrol agents instead.
But the real focus was on drugs—and on taking the drug war directly to the cartels in Mexico.
In response to a question by moderator Martha MacCallum about whether he would send “U.S. Special Forces over the border into Mexico to take out fentanyl labs, to take out drug cartel operations,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’d invade Mexico “on day one” of his administration. Vivek Ramaswamy was for using the military at the border, but he brought it up primarily to criticize the current administration’s support for Ukraine: “We are protecting against an invasion across somebody else’s border, when we should use those same military resources to prevent . . . the invasion of our own southern border here in the United States of America.”
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Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson pushed back on the idea of using the military at the border for any purpose other than its current role of providing intelligence and other nonlethal support to law enforcement. Showing a picture of supposed cartel members crossing the border, rifles in hand, cohost Bret Baier asked Hutchinson whether as president he would authorize lethal force against drug cartel members invading the United States. “There would be lethal force used by the Border Patrol, law enforcement as needed to protect the border, absolutely,” Hutchinson responded. But, of course, law enforcement agents, including Border Patrol, are already authorized to use deadly force against anyone posing an imminent lethal threat.
Hutchinson cautioned that if we want to go after the cartels, there’s a right way to do it. He was head of the Drug Enforcement Agency under President George W. Bush and noted that the Bush administration worked with Mexican President Vicente Fox to take down dangerous cartels. There’s a big difference between what Bush did in Mexico, or what the Reagan administration did in Colombia in the 1980s, and what DeSantis is now proposing. The former administrations gave assistance to sovereign nations when asked; DeSantis, by contrast, would launch a second Mexican War (or, rather, a fourth, if you count the 1914 occupation of Veracruz and the 1916–1917 Pancho Villa expedition in addition to the 1846–1848 Mexican-American War).
THERE WASN’T MUCH SUBSTANTIVE DISCUSSION of actual immigration policy, with only former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie weighing in on policy:
We have so many wonderful people from around the world, who are waiting in line following the law to try to come here and pursue the American dream. And those people are waiting and waiting and waiting. Because we haven't dealt with the problem of the folks who are here.
But even Christie bought into the Fox News propaganda parroted by MacCallum that “almost 7 million migrants have crossed this border, our southern border, during the Biden administration.” Christie said he’d make them leave, but that’s already happening.
It’s true that attempted crossings have increased since the end of the pandemic—which coincides with Biden’s term—but the numbers are substantially lower than MacCallum suggests, and attempts don’t equate to the number of individuals actually entering the United States. Even the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform claims Biden has released only about 2 million—a number that includes individuals and families legally entitled to be here under current law while their applications for asylum are adjudicated. Most of those apprehended at the border are expelled or detained under Title 8 (or under the health measures under Title 42 when it was in effect during the pandemic), and the numbers of encounters include recidivists who make multiple attempts at entering. More importantly, the numbers of encounters are down dramatically in recent months because the Biden administration has set up new policies where many of those who want to claim asylum can apply before reaching the border.
Despite the phony numbers bandied about and the boneheaded, immoral plans for invading our neighbor, the immigration talk during this debate lacked the vitriol that characterized the Trump campaign in 2016. Nonetheless Trump is still leading the pack—and the party—though his legal problems and obsession with his loss in 2020 may divert his attention from bashing immigrants this time around.