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Stephen Miller Has Zero Credibility. So Why Are Many Using His Framing Regarding Asylum and Border Policies?

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“The Biden Effect?” Puleeze. The issue is the Trump Trauma inflicted on all of us.


Yesterday, White House advisor Stephen Miller appeared on Fox News to attack our democracy. He peddled Trump’s election fraud lies and predicted Trump would be declared the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election. 

He was rightly mocked in mainstream media.  

Miller, infamous as the evil architect of Trump’s unprecedented assault on refugees and immigrants, has long peddled the argument that taking a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty is good politics for Trump. In Spring 2020, Miller asserted that Joe Biden’s immigration stance was “a massive political vulnerability” and in October 2020 he said, “If you implemented Joe Biden’s catch-and-release plan in Arizona, that state will be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands, millions of illegal immigrants because they get apprehended, they get issued a court date and they get released. These are issues that are going to cost Joe Biden states.” 

Wrong. Yet, Miller’s immigration narrative is dominating right wing media and influencing coverage in mainstream media. 

His most loyal teammates have fanned out to make sure their (false) message that Biden is to blame for what is happening on their watch breaks through. That’s right. Trump’s border policies were a success, they claim, and the increase in border arrivals dating back to April is due to what they call the “Biden effect.” To wit: 

  • Former Acting ICE Director and Trump diehard Thomas Homan on Fox in late November: “The cartels are celebrating what is happening in this country right now because they are back in business. The border numbers are already going up because they think Joe Biden is going to be the president and they are open for business and the flow has already started. ‘It’s a Biden effect. It’s already happening.’”
  • Mark Krikorian of the hardline anti-immigrant group CIS in National Review this week: “The Biden Effect at the border — the surge of illegal immigrants expecting to be let in by Democrats — has already begun, with increasing apprehensions of minors and families.”
  • Ken Cuccinelli in Washington Examiner: “…you saw the ‘Trump effect’ when President Trump came into office. You’re going to see the ‘Biden effect’ as well. And it’s going to be the opposite. And they’re feeding that, and it’s really bad for America. It’s going to be a humanitarian problem, particularly in the midst of COVID.”

And here are just some of the recent stories and headlines in the mainstream media: 

See how it works? The right wing stirs it up and the mainstream media picks it up. So much for sober analysis, historical context and a skeptical take on the goalposts set by the right wing. 

Here is our effort to provide some of the missing context.

Miller’s claim that nativism is good politics is belied by the fact that Republicans lost in 2018 and lost in 2020 by historic margins. In both, voters decried Trump’s divisiveness, xenophobia and cruelty, in particular his authorship of the policies that led the federal government to rip more than 5,000 children from the arms of their parents without a system to reunite them. The cruelty was the point. It mobilized his base, to be sure; it also mobilized a multiracial majority in opposition to the cruelty and racism. In the midterms, caravan hysteria backfired. In 2020, immigration lost more votes than it won for him in crucial battleground states.

Stephen Miller and his allies and acolytes have inflicted trauma on immigrants and on America. The Trump administration has been the most racist, xenophobic and evil administration in modern American history. They relentlessly and routinely demonized immigrants and refugees, violated laws as they implemented a thicket of unprecedented policies, and produced such a backlash that more Americans than ever support immigration and immigrants. They should have zero credibility among observers outside their small bubble of nativists, white supremacists and right wing propagandists. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent put it yesterday, “Stephen Miller is a fraud who should just go away already.”

Donald Trump and Stephen Miller dismantled our nation’s fledgling strategy toward Central American refugees and created the cruelty, chaos and condemnation we see today. Here is just some of the handiwork brought to us by the Trump and Miller wrecking crew:

  • They ended investments in Central America aimed at reducing violence in the communities that generate refugees and migrants.
  • They ended the chance to apply for refugee status from home countries — including the program that rescued kids in danger — and cut off discussions of refugee processing from neighboring countries, leaving the U.S.-Mexico border as the only place to apply for asylum.
  • They ended the option of applying for asylum at the border entirely, using the cover of the pandemic to expel all arrivals, even kids fleeing violence and arriving at the border without their parents. 
  • They separated thousands of families at the border, shocking the conscience of Americans and the world, with 666 kids yet to be reunited with their parents. 
  • They built a border wall, the antithesis to the Statue of Liberty, a monstrosity that does nothing to intelligently manage the flow of refugees and migrants from Central America. 
  • They threw kids in cages and locked adults in detention centers that turned into COVID hotspots.
  • They based their zero tolerance policies on an assertion that those released from the border wouldn’t show up at subsequent asylum hearings — having ended case management programs that result in 95% of applicants complying with court dates and orders. 

America needs to set new goal posts in response to the challenge posed by Central American migration and refugees. It is our view that the only way to get it right at the border is to a) get it right in Central America and Mexico; and b) get it right in communities in America that receive, settle and integrate those seeking asylum. Instead of goal posts anchored in up or down, tough or soft, and border and ‘pull factors,’ we need strategies and solutions consistent with our identity as a welcoming nation. We need to process refugee applications fairly and expeditiously in order to protect those fleeing for their lives, and we need to set up opportunities to do so in-country, in the region, at the border, and throughout America; we need to move those who have strong cases — the vast majority — into communities where their families and sponsoring case management programs can help them get settled and follow through with their court dates and decisions; and we need to be serious about a long-term and intensive strategy to address the push factors that drive migration and refugee flows. Migration should be a choice not a necessity.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Sure, a multilayered strategy that operates on a regional basis isn’t as snappy as calling any increase in arrivals ‘the Biden Effect.’ But if we’re serious about analyzing how we got here, it’s essential we recognize that Central American migration is a phenomenon fifty years in the making, understand just how destructive and traumatizing the past four years have been, and that it’s time to move beyond simplistic soundbites spewed by anti-immigrant spokespeople to reckon with the complex solutions required to address a complex challenge.”