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Closed-Border Clowns To The Right. Open-Border Jokers To The Left. Happy 4th Of July

Department of Homeland Security
An overcrowded Border Patrol detention facility at Weslaco, Texas, last month. The photo is part of the Homeland Security inspector general's report.


Border Patrol clowns on Facebook to the right of me. Open-border jokers at Democratic debates to the left. Here I am, America, stuck in the middle with you on the Fourth of July.

No country is more defined by immigration than the U.S. But we live today in The U.S. Unhinged. So as we celebrate our nationhood, America’s immigration scene has turned as berserk as a next-door neighbor misfiring Roman candles into your flaming gas grill.

To the right of me: almost 10,000 current or former U.S. Border Patrol agents who, according to ProPublica this week, are part of a secret Facebook page whose bigoted, anti-immigrant posts make President Trump look like a Rio Grande Valley social worker. Jokes about the tragic photo of a Salvadoran migrant and his toddler daughter who drowned trying to enter the U.S. last week. Appallingly sexist memes of liberal Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Yep, that’s what these agents felt compelled to leave on social media as their legacy of service. Cue "The Ballad of the Green Berets," boys!

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Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security issued its inspection of the “dangerous overcrowding” at Border Patrol detainee facilities and their squalid living conditions. Scant food and hygiene for adults and children alike. Standing-room-only cells. A “ticking time bomb,” said one official.

One Trump feels no urge to disarm. Sure, to most of us this is all a new low for his immigrant-demonization agenda – especially considering most of the migrants affected aren’t law-breakers but asylum-seekers from Central America’s horrific northern triangle. But if you’re a zealous Trump supporter this is likely a fist-bumping woo-woo moment that revs up your full-throated MAGA cheer.

Memo to America's right and left on immigration: Great countries don't seal their borders, nor do they erase them. They grow up and MANAGE them.

And yet to the left of me things are also looking a few bricks shy of a border-wall load. At last week’s Democratic presidential debates here in Miami, more than half the candidates said unlawfully entering the U.S. should no longer be a criminal violation. That’s the sort of overreaction to Trump’s over-reactionary immigration policies that Democratic primary voters might love. But it sends the sort of let’s-throw-America’s-borders-open message that swing voters will probably savage next year if it’s in the Democratic platform.

It’s as foolish practically as it is politically. Any immigrant, documented or undocumented, should of course be treated more humanely than Trump and the Trumpsters were taught by their parents to treat people. But as Ali Noorani, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based immigration-advocacy group America Is Better, said last week: “The answer to overcriminalization and overprosecution is to ensure that law enforcement – including the Department of Homeland Security – use their discretion to prioritize safety threats, not to strike [down] statutes whole hog.”

When a country treats illegal immigration no more seriously than a parking fine, it’s not promoting border compassion so much as it’s inviting border chaos – the kind the Trumpsters love to exploit.


The fact Americans left and right need to wake up to is that flood-level immigration is an inevitable challenge – and responsibility – for any great power, from the U.S. back to the Roman Empire. But, the patriots will protest, America is not an empire. Bull. From the moment the U.S. conquered more than half of Mexico’s territory in 1848 – creating a 2,000-mile-long southern border that any Roman emperor would have recognized – it’s assumed an imperial guise.

Credit Wilfredo Lee / AP
Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro led the voices to decriminalize illegal immigration at the Democratic debates in Miami last week.

We can learn from our imperial predecessors, who were frankly more grown up than we are about immigration. They didn’t opt to seal their borders; nor did they opt to erase them. They chose to manage them. Rome did it for a thousand years, keeping its frontiers controlled while facilitating robust immigration that made it one of history’s most diverse civilizations.

We can return to doing that if we’d just upgrade our immigration infrastructure. Not Trump’s sophomoric wall but real, 21st-century border bolts like effective patrol technology, adequate asylum-processing facilities and smarter visa systems for managing the flow of seasonal labor that helps keep U.S. economic sectors like agriculture, construction and tourism afloat.

That commonsense immigration reform should also include Marshall Plan-style aid to reform Central America – where corruption, inequality, poverty, violence and now climate-change disasters propel most of the undocumented immigration arriving at the U.S.’s southern border.

This week new Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele acknowledged that the deaths of immigrants from his country are “our fault” too. Sharing blame is a required step toward finding solutions. On this Fourth of July, Bukele is the only politician who seems sane enough to get that.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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