The current immigration debate is more than a short-term skirmish over the future of Title 42 and how both parties position themselves tactically ahead of the midterms. It’s a battle over what kind of nation we want to be. It’s a battle over whether Democrats will fearfully and timidly aid and abet Republican extremism. It’s a battle over the future of the Democratic coalition and whether some Democrats are going to panic and end up helping Republicans slam the door on refugees and immigrants.
We know where Republicans stand on immigrants and refugees. They are waging a relentless scorched-earth war against immigrants and refugees. They want to block legislation that would put undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship, keep out refugees, and slash levels and categories for the admission of legal immigrants. They have lurched to the far right on immigration because most have decided that feeding base GOP voters a steady diet of fear and hatred will help them spur turnout and regain power.
They are normalizing the dehumanization of immigrants and refugees by calling an uptick of those seeking refugee protection at our southern border – including Ukrainians, Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans – an “invasion.” Some even traffic in the trope that Democrats want to “replace” white Americans with immigrants and refugees of color. This is the kind of rhetoric that led to deadly violence in El Paso, Pittsburgh, and Charlottesville. It’s part of a cramped and weak worldview encouraged by the likes of Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, and Tucker Carlson who aim to turn America into a white ethnostate where the multiracial majority is dominated by a rightwing minority.
Democrats have a choice. They can stand for an America that recognizes immigrants and refugees as foundational to the American experiment, defends a welcoming tradition that is critical to the American future, and works to build an immigration system that integrates order and justice. Or they can cede the debate to Republicans, enable a radicalizing party to build walls, slam doors and incite violence, and let the vacuum they create be filled by those intent on advancing their countermajoritarian project.
Yes, there are challenging policy and political issues before us. Managing our southern border and responding to increases in border arrivals has been a challenge for every administration since 1980 – from Ronald Reagan to George Herbert Walker Bush to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Donald Trump to Joe Biden. But a confident, strong and capable America is competent enough to manage and mitigate upticks in forced migration from within our hemisphere. With Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, we should be competent enough to fashion an immigration and refugee system that gives Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s terror an alternative to flying to Mexico and trying their luck with U.S. border guards. And a confident, strong and capable Democratic Party should be competent enough to defend proposals to enact a workable and balanced immigration system, values that define our diverse nation, and a multiracial democracy that is both under construction and under attack.