Immigration: Reality vs Demagoguery

A recent news headline from National Public Radio reads, “Despite efforts of 3 U.S. administrations, migrant families keep crossing the border.” Migration from Mexico and Central America has increased over the past several years. In contrast to the past, this increase in migrants is being fueled by families. In August alone about 91,000 family groups were detained at the border.

Clearly efforts to seal the border to prevent, deter, or otherwise frighten immigrants away are not working. Yet, as the NPR headline indicates, for decades we have continued the same, failed, get-tough-law-enforcement approach to the immigration problem.

Albert Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If what we have been doing for decades is not working, maybe we should change tactics. A rational person would analyze the reasons for failure, look at the root causes of the problem and try a new plan. But our political leadership seldom does anything rational.

For many decades the basic U.S. policy has stressed thwarting illegal immigration using arrest, detention and deportation. According to the Migration Policy Institute this shortsighted approach is based on a false “narrative that portrays immigration – legal or otherwise – as a threat to the security of the United States and the jobs and opportunities of American workers. This narrative is rooted in political opportunism, however, not evidence and past U.S. experience.“

The experts at the Migration Policy Institute ( have done a series of research reports called “Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy Initiative.” They suggest a number of more rational ways to deal with immigration problems than continuing past failures. They say, “The U.S. immigration system is in desperate need of an overhaul – and has been for many years. What has been missing is an alternate vision … that treats immigration as a comparative advantage and strategic resource…” (Rethinking U.S. U.S – Mexico Border Immigration Enforcement System: A Policy Road Map).

Rather than being a threat, immigrants are an asset to the country and the economy. The consensus of economists and immigration experts is that immigration benefits our society by starting new businesses, fostering innovation, generating jobs, performing many needed jobs, increasing consumer spending, paying taxes and contributing to local communities.

Numerous analyses by liberal and conservative organizations have shown that often repeated canards about immigrants are false. Legal and Illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than the native population. They use less welfare support and do not overly burden medical facilities. They do not take away jobs, lower wages, or push the poor Americans out of the labor market. Ignorance and misinformation about immigration are widespread in the news media, on social media and in the minds of many Americans.

Our political leadership from both parties have failed for decades to seriously address reform of immigration policies. Sensible solutions are gridlocked by partisan posturing. Democrats are afraid of appearing weak by supporting reforms. Republicans believe immigration is a threat and demagogue the issue for political gain. They accuse immigrants and legal asylum seekers of being “criminals” who are “invading” the country. The Trump administration used extreme, illegal measures including family separation, wholesale denial of asylum (in violation of U.S. and international law), militarizing the border, and trying to build a wall to “deter” migration.

These inhumane actions were a failure and an embarrassment to the country (especially the stupid notion that a wall would solve the problem). Regarding deterrence of migrants, Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former Homeland Security official, says, “It’s very hard to deter somebody who has [a high] level of desperation through harsh penalties…especially migrants who believe that if they do not come to America their family will die or their kids will be killed” (quote from NPR, “Despite efforts of 3 U.S. administrations, migrant families keep crossing the border” September 23, 2023).

Wisconsin’s Congressman, Rep. Tom Tiffany, is one of the Republican demagogues. In his September 29, 2023 newsletter Tiffany says “The solution to this problem is simple: Secure the border.” By this soundbite he means continuing failed deterrence policies of the past. But seldom are complex problems resolved with “simple” solutions.

Ultimately, enduring solutions will require changing the political, social, and economic conditions that drive people to flee their homes in other countries. This is not a simple task. The root causes of migration go back hundreds of years. As long as Latin America is plagued with corrupt, undemocratic, repressive governments with a lack of economic opportunity, massive inequality, crime, violence, civil wars and poverty, migrants will continue to seek a better life elsewhere. In addition environmental problems and climate change are exacerbating the problems.

Frequently our government has been part of the problem rather than the solution. The U.S. has a long history of supporting oppressive dictatorships and economic policies that were better for international banks and multinational corporations than the people of Latin America. Our pathological fear of communism drove relations with our southern neighbors. We contributed more weapons and military aid than assistance with education, healthcare, economic development or more democratic public institutions. Our self-serving and harmful interference in Latin America has significantly contributed to today’s border problems.

Venezuela is the latest example of this behavior. Since 2006 the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions (or economic war) on Venezuela. The U.S. claims Venezuela supported terrorists and drug cartels. But the major issue was that Venezuela had elected liberal leaders that our government did not like. They were too socialistic and we have never tolerated liberal or socialist leaning governments in Latin America. The result is Venezuelan economy is in crisis and the people who can are fleeing the destruction.

We need a new approach to managing immigration based in reality (not political posturing) which recognizes that immigration is good for the country and the economy. To be successful the immigration system must be managed in a fair and humane manner consistent with human rights and our democratic values. This requires dealing with the core reasons for migrants seeking entry or asylum.

We must begin by changing our thinking. We must base our policies on facts and not emotional, political demagoguery. Future articles will discuss in more detail our false beliefs about immigrants, their impact on our country, and rational solutions to immigration problems.