Migrants, mostly from Venezuela, walk after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas, Sept. 14. CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters

Migrants in the U.S. political crosshairs

By  Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
  • October 26, 2022

WASHINGTON -- The political ads began appearing in early October, strategically aired a month before the November midterm elections that will determine which party will control the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This giant flood of illegal immigration is draining your paycheques, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals, threatening your family,” says one ad, which shows a video of migrants crossing the border or heading toward it en masse. “Mixed among the masses are drug dealers, sex traffickers and violent predators,” it continues.

Another ad proclaims: “Joe Biden is giving your money to illegal immigrants. Your kids don’t matter to him at all.”

Their aim is clear: to paint a portrait of crisis in the U.S. and draining of resources caused by migrants and the politicians who support them.   

“In recent days and weeks, we have witnessed the troubling convergence of our broken immigration system and the political divisions of our time being inflicted upon men, women and children seeking refuge in our country,” wrote Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville in an Oct. 18 reflection called “Migration and the Judgment of the Nations.”

Dorsonville — like previous chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration — has been a constant voice on Church teaching that calls on Catholics to welcome the stranger in an age when Catholic politicians are some of the most visible voices against that teaching.

“Reports have indicated coordinated efforts to transport migrants — and in some cases intentionally deceive them — in furtherance of outcomes that are unbecoming of a moral society,” said Dorsonville, without naming Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans and Catholics who set the model of carting migrants by bus — and DeSantis famously by plane — dropping them off with no resources or shelter to various points around the country.

But Democrats didn’t escape Dorsonville’s reflection on how certain political actions negatively affect migrants. The bishop said the recent expansion by the Biden administration of Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act, a policy set in motion by the Trump administration in 2020 denying asylum-seekers entry saying it was necessary to abate the coronavirus, unjustly denies “access to humanitarian protections that were enshrined in law as a response to horrors witnessed during the 20th century.”  

Neither situation, the bishop said, reflects a safe, orderly and humane immigration system.

“But their shared irreverence for human lives is all too common in our present culture,” he added.

That irreverence has amped up as each party struggles to capture control of the House of Representatives on Nov. 8.

Though a small group of politicians had been touting migrants as a solution to help with the country’s lingering labour shortages in the service industry and in the agricultural sector, the midterm election fight has seemed like a contest on who can be tougher on those coming into the country, legally or otherwise.

In busing migrants away from the border, politicians say they are giving others a taste of what they face in trying to accommodate border crossers in their localities.

But some say this has been done at the expense of human dignity, acting cruelly even toward children, dropped off along with their parents. These migrants have been lured onto buses with promises of food, work and help, only to find empty promises and confusion at the end of their long bus rides.     

“You’re basically dropping penniless people who don’t speak the language in an unknown city and saying, ‘Fend for
yourself,’ ” Theresa Cardinal Brown, a managing director with the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Reuters in early October.

Images in the news and in social media of New York and Washington receiving buses full of migrants from the Republican governors, along with incendiary political ads, have driven immigration to become a top issue for voters in the upcoming election. An Oct. 17 Harvard CAPS-Harris poll said 59 per cent of voters said immigration is a “very important” issue in the upcoming midterms.

Even some Democrats, once known for their support of immigration and immigrants as a party, now find themselves seeking distance from that stance.

“It’s not just far-right conservatives who are blocking Democrats from changing anything (related to immigration) in Congress right now, it’s also moderate Democrats,” said Caitlin Dickerson, an immigration reporter for The Atlantic during a conference at Georgetown University’s Law Center in September.

Leading up to the midterms, Democrats have sounded a lot like Republicans on the issue.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on our southern border and let me just say it’s a mess. It’s chaos. It’s crisis after crisis,” said Arizona Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly during an Oct. 6 debate.

He touted that he had “stood up to Democrats when they’re wrong on this issue — including the president.”

While acknowledging immigration presents challenges, Dorsonville argued there is a “just path forward” to accommodate the flow of people. However, fostering misconceptions, painting migrants as burdens and mistreating them, misses out on the opportunity of not only safeguarding human life, but also missing out on the contributions migrants can bring to the country, the bishop said.

“We simply cannot allow partisan division to continue to impede the needed interventions of government,” he said.

He implored national, state and local governments to work together toward a humane response “to the unavoidable reality of migration” and what it offers.

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