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“Open Borders?” Puleeze

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Cutting through the lie at heart of the GOP attack strategy

Washington, DC – Even before President Biden took office, Republicans and rightwing media allies began engaging in an ongoing attack on what they call the “open borders” policies of Biden.  

For example, see former Acting ICE Director Tom Homan on Fox in August 2020 blaming Biden for a 40% increase in border crossings. That’s right. Three months before the 2020 election and five months before Biden took office, a Trump lackey is on Fox blaming Biden for an increase in border apprehensions happening during Trump’s presidency. 

The rightwing spin machine has been relentless. For example, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is running Google and Youtube fundraising ads that attack Democrats for their “open borders” policies. The hashtag #BidenBorderCrisis is a mainstay of the GOP.

Remarkably, many in the mainstream media have amplified the “border crisis” narrative, with precious little context or analysis. After the hundreds of stories on “the border crisis” and rightwing claims of an “open border,” did you know that 70% of those who show up at the border are deported, expelled or detained?

As the indispensable Aaron Reichlin Melnick, Policy Counsel at the American Immigration Council, details

“[I]n the first 11 months of the Biden presidency:

  • 60.0% of apprehensions led to a rapid expulsion or deportation.
  • 21.7% led to a direct release.
  • 10.7% led to ICE detention or jail.
  • 7.6% led to a kid sent to a shelter.”

Reichlin-Melnick concludes

The reality is that Joe Biden hasn’t ‘opened the borders.’ The large majority of people crossing the border have been expelled, deported, or sent to ICE detention … As Biden is seeing now, and as Trump & Obama saw through their terms, the problem with doubling down on deterrence-based policies like Title 42 (over a million expulsions!) is that you can’t deter everyone. We’ve had a decade to fix our asylum system. Instead we’ve built walls.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The vast majority of migrants and asylum-seekers apprehended at the southern border are deported, detained or expelled. The vast majority of Americans have no idea that this is so. As a major publication likes to say, ‘democracy dies in darkness.’ 

There’s no doubt that Republicans will run hard on ‘open borders’ and the so-called ‘Biden border crisis.’ They are fully committed to using strategic racism and the fear of Black and Brown immigrants to manipulate and mobilize their base. But the key facts relating to the border and the obvious cynicism of the GOP strategy get almost zero attention from mainstream media.

Let’s be clear. We at America’s Voice do not celebrate or support the use of cruel deterrence at the border. We oppose Biden’s continuance of Title 42, decry his failure to reconstitute a fair and functional asylum system, and are outraged by the administration’s decision to expel Haitians to a failing state wracked by political violence and natural disaster. 

But we are fed up by the rightwing domination of this debate. And we are troubled that too many in mainstream media aid it rather than question it. If immigration and border  policy promise to be issues in the 2022 midterms, it’s incumbent on all responsible actors to anchor coverage and discourse in an honest read of the facts, the context for those facts, and the political motivations behind the attacks. 

Moreover, migration to America – and elsewhere – is a permanent feature of our globalizing world. In response, we need a regional approach that integrates effective border management, a fair and efficient asylum process, expanded legal channels, regional cooperation on safe haven, integration and smuggling, and a commitment to root cause alleviation. 

Reducing this complex, multidimensional challenge to monthly border apprehension numbers and rote repetition of rightwing frames is a disservice to the informed debate we need to have.

Additional Background