Over the last few weeks, the Republican party and their right-wing media allies have tried to exploit desperate migrant kids at the border for political gain. In spite of the facts on the ground, the GOP employed a coordinated effort to solely blame President Biden, framing the situation a “crisis.” Their focus on the border is all about politics, not policy. It is a cynical and strategic racist play. Unfortunately, many in the media have fallen right into their trap and helped amplify their strategic racist political narrative. The GOP is wrong both on the issues and the politics. We cannot fall for the GOP trap, dividing Americans and distracting from the work of providing real solutions.
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For the GOP It’s All Cynical Politics With No Policy
Members of the GOP told us exactly what they were going to do: use the border as a political prop combined with a racist lie to blame immigrants for spreading the virus, crime, and terrorism.
On February 23 on ‘Hannity,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I predict this, that immigration will be a bigger issue in 2022 than it was in 2016.” The next day, the Washington Post quoted white nationalist and top GOP strategist Stephen Miller saying, “From a purely political standpoint, [immigration] is a recipe for Democrats to have a historic drubbing in the midterms if we can make it even as big an issue or bigger than Obamacare.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump ally, also said, “If they don’t control this, it’ll be a huge issue this year, and it’s an issue that gets you into public health, into the issue of defending America and whether there are borders.” Essentially Miller and Gingrich are saying the GOP should use the border as a political prop with a racist lie to blame immigrants for spreading the virus and increasing crime.
Many members of the party are fully embracing the strategy. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the party committee allied with Senate leadership, has been polling on the issue. They have already run ads in Georgia and Arizona showing an early investment in xenophobic dog-whistles as their midterm election strategy. And, this weekend, 18 Republican Senators are traveling to the border for photo ops.
On the House side, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House Republicans, and 33 Republican members of Congress used the hashtag “BidenBorderCrisis” in an effort to construct the strategic racist political frame Miller and Gingrich suggested. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14), Rep. Lauren Boebert (CO-03), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – an xenophobic hate group with ties to white nationalists the GOP has repeatedly taken their messaging cues from created neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec – also were pushing this phrase to help construct the strategic racist political frame of a “border crisis.”
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy led a dozen members to the border for a fear-mongering photo op where they gave misleading fear-mongering narratives about terrorists and drugs at the border. For the GOP, the border is all about politics and cruelty, not policy. Sen. John Cornyn made that clear when he criticized Biden’s “humane treatment” of migrants.
Xenophobia is No Longer the Wedge Issue it Once Was
The Miller and Gingrich political theory of using strategic racism to depict non-white others as the specter of disease and danger to distract from the GOP’s complete failure to improve the lives of the American people is dangerous and politically ineffective. Time and time again we have seen the horrific and often deadly consequences of dehumanizing a marginalized group, especially when backed by powerful voices, millions of dollars in ads, and media echo their narratives. Nevertheless, GOP candidates used an aggressive xenophobic dog-whistling campaigns in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 and we watched that strategy repeatedly fail or backfire.
In 2017, Steve Bannon boldly predicted that Ed Gillespie would win the Governor’s race because he had embraced Trump’s anti-immigrant messaging (many pundits believed him). He was wrong. Miller predicted the same in 2018 and 2020. He was also wrong. But many in the GOP and the pundit class are still making similar predictions. Aggressive dog-whistle xenophobia may work with a shrinking base of Republicans that candidates think they need to woo to get past the primary, but it is a losing long-term strategy.
The notion that dog-whistle xenophobia is politically savvy and will hurt Democrats is outdated and a lazy political analysis.
The GOP’s coordinated effort to frame migrants at the border as a “Biden Border Crisis” was meant as a tactical political distraction – a distraction from the facts:
- The number of migrants at the border are in line with a typical seasonal increase.
- Migrants still came to the U.S. under the cruelty and chaos approach the GOP employed under Trump.
- Writing in The Week, Ryan Cooper calls the idea that there is a crisis at the border “nonsense” saying “There is a problem at the border, but it is not remotely a ‘crisis.’ It’s an administrative challenge that could be solved easily with more resources and clear policy.”
- David Bier of the Cato Institute writes, “The reason that arrests have reached such a high level is that since March, the vast majority of crossers are immediately expelled to Mexico under authority in Title 42 of the U.S. code. Once sent back to Mexico, the expelled can promptly recross. Without these repeat crossers, the first few months of fiscal year 2021 would look nearly identical to fiscal year 2019 before the pandemic.”
- Alexandra Yellin of Human Rights First writes, “The prospect that people making the decision to flee for their lives are basing that decision on changes in U.S. immigration policy is both woefully self-centered and laughably wrong-headed.”
A GOP distraction from GOP failures
The GOP also hopes to fear-monger at the border to distract from their failures in helping and protecting the American people. For example, zero Republicans voted for the relief bill that gave Americans stimulus checks, extended unemployment, and helped reduce child poverty.
They helped stoke a terrorist attack on the Capital and refused to confront those responsible. Instead, they blame children seeking refuge, with some members like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) going so far as to say, “They are children today, but they could easily be terrorists tomorrow.”
Don’t Fall For the Trap
The new administration is fixing an intentionally broken mess and trying to build a safe, humane, and timely system to process asylum claims. Using the GOP’s “crisis” frame is not objective journalism. It only helps dehumanize migrants at the border and perpetuates the GOP’s strategic racism. The GOP is looking to divide Americans and distract them from the work of providing real solutions. There are huge challenges and real crises that we face. A crisis of overcoming a global pandemic, a crisis of racial justice, and a crisis facing environmental changes. Migrants at the border, especially children, is a challenge Americans must meet with humanity and respect. As DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently said “We can do this.”