The Republican Wrecking Ball Aimed at America’s Asylum System

Former President Donald J. Trump has doubled down this month on his xenophobic rhetoric about immigrants in America “poisoning the blood of our country.” If reelected, he has vowed to resurrect one of the worst American policies in our history, then-President Eisenhower’s racist campaign known as “Operation Wetback,” named for the slur used against Latinos. It was a policy designed to detain undocumented immigrants in internment camps and deport them in mass regardless of how long they’ve been settled in the United States. Advised by his vocal anti-immigrant adviser Stephen Miller, Trump likely won’t stop there. From ending birthright citizenship to  “Muslim bans,” Trump has been blatantly outlining his wish list of vile policies against immigrants of color without any condemnation from his party.

At the same time that candidate Trump is proposing these draconian policies, there is a Senate bipartisan working group in which Republicans involved are holding Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan aid funding hostage by demanding extreme permanent changes on immigration policy on the supplemental funding bill. Republican senators appear to be taking a page from the Trump-Miller handbook and pushing for an asylum ban, barriers that would make it nearly impossible to apply for asylum, as well as measures that would block humanitarian and other forms of parole. These are not small edits to existing law — they would essentially take a wrecking ball to our asylum system and create absolute chaos at the border and across neighboring countries while jeopardizing children and families seeking safety. Despite the supposed bipartisan nature of this Senate plan, no Democrat should be entertaining this deal.

The proposal would not do anything to better manage migration, add capacity to process asylum claims, address the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for DACA ” Dreamers,” or stop some Republican governors from busing and using migrants as pawns against Democrats. This is not the comprehensive immigration fix that most Americans support, but rather a fly-by-night, last-minute attempt that could inject pernicious changes in our immigration laws.

The absurdity of this negotiation is even more striking when you consider that there is no Latino, Black or Asian American Pacific Islander senator partaking in this working group. This is not acceptable. That glaring omission aside, why does it seem Republicans hold the upper hand on immigration, and why do Democrats feel the need to play ball with their drastic demands in exchange for foreign aid to Ukraine?

Since 2016, Republicans have shown that they will use immigration and the border as a means to attack Democrats — not on substance, but by employing boogie-men imagery and racially-charged tropes. In 2022, an AdImpact analysis commissioned by my organization, the Immigration Hub, showed the GOP and right-wing groups spent over $171 million on anti-immigrant TV ads across 10 battleground states. They spent millions more on digital and other paid communications. Miller’s conservative nonprofit group Citizens for Sanity spent $32 million on digital ads, most of which centered on migrant “invasions” and elevating concepts that appear grounded in the Great Replacement Theory.

Using the analytic media tool Critical Mentions, the Immigration Hub also found that in the first two years of the Biden administration, mainstream media outlets — such as The New York Times and the Washington Post — generated over 51,000 mentions of the “southern border” while right-wing media covered the border over 159,000 times.

Add to this the political stunts by Republican governors of forcibly busing migrants to Democratic-led cities, plus the volume of misinformation on immigration, and it all equals a disciplined GOP effort aimed at feeding anti-immigrant fears to their base.

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Beatriz Lopez