Article originally published in the San Antonio Express-News
By Robert Weiner and John Black
With the news that a sixth child has died in U.S. captivity in the past eight months, Sen. Lindsay Graham's eased deportation legislation but with reports of thousands of immigrants in solitary confinement for no legal reason, and President Donald Trump's new immigration "reform" executive order, it's now clear that immigration policy must address humanity, not just legality.
After a decade of low numbers, immigration is on the rise at the southwest border. In February, migration at the U.S.-Mexico border reached an 11-year high with 76,535 people either apprehended or deemed inadmissible by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP. That high mark didn't last long, though. In March, migration increased by 35 percent, reaching upward of 103,000. April was more of the same the CBP report released May 8 shows an increase to just over 109,000. The "crisis" cited by Trump and his allies is not fake.
Seven months into the 2019 fiscal year, migration at the southwest border totals 531,711. That's already more than the number for the entirety of 2017 and 2018, putting 2019 on pace to be the busiest year at the southern border since 2008. Since 2009, the total number of migrants has not surpassed 600,000 for a single year, but 2019 will most likely break that mark by the end of May.
Migration across the southwest border, while increasing month to month, is still, since 2007, far lower than 1983 when immigration began to reach more than 1 million. Between 1983 and 2006, immigration at the southwest border remained in the millions for all but five years, topping out in 2000 at 1.643 million.
However, a big part of the issue is that Trump's fearmongering and racist denunciation of our neighbors has caused a steep increase. People are rushing toward the border out of fear fear that they will not be able to come to America because Trump will shut down the border, asylum-seeking, the opportunity for a better life, and the American dream itself.
Appealing to his base, President Trump presents bigoted individual biases and opinions. He paints a picture criminalizing and dehumanizing immigrants.
But at this juncture of history, immigration is no longer a question of politics. It is, rather, a question of humanity. The Texas contenders in the 2020 Democratic presidential field Julia'n Castro and Beto O'Rourke have made immigration a major focal point.
In April, Castro declared in an article he wrote for Medium that the United States needs to "end this draconian policy and return to treating immigration as a civil not a criminal issue." He points out that most people do not come to America with malicious intent, rather, people are running to America to escape poverty, corruption and repression in their home countries.
O'Rourke challenged Trump head-on in February during dueling rallies, telling the U.S. he is going to "show the country the reality of the border a vibrant, safe, binational community that proudly celebrates its culture, history, diversity and status as a city of immigrants."
Castro is calling for comprehensive immigration reform to "repair our existing legal immigration system ... to ensure our policy works for people." He wants to develop a legal pathway to full and equal citizenship, protect Dreamers, their parents, and people under protected status, and end the immigration backlog a promise Trump has failed to deliver on.
Under Trump, the American symbol is beginning to transform into a facade of racial and financial privilege. His rhetoric surrounding immigration, claiming that Hispanics are "drug dealers, criminals and rapists," even though "some are good people" paves a dangerous road for American ideals.
Over 25 million immigrants contribute to the U.S. workforce, and they typically hold jobs that fuel our economy. Immigrants build our roads and cities, they farm and make our food, they make America possible.
Our response to people wanting to live a better life shouldn't be anger, insensitivity or discrimination. The United States should not be forcing people to live in tents and cages while they wait for asylum and refuge as if they were criminals and animals.
Immigration is one of the most pressing issues in America, testing America's humanity. The United States is a beacon of hope, but until we solve the core question of values, the Trump base may define the issue.
Robert Weiner was spokesman for the Clinton and Bush White House Office of National Drug Policy, the U.S. House Government Operations Committee and House Narcotics Committee. John Black is policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.