How Democrats Can Win on the Immigration Issue

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10 mins read

Midterms are coming. At the moment, Republicans are trying to make the southern border the main voting issue, and they are succeeding. With Republican governors strategically in power in much of the Southwest, Democrats with close races are scurrying down to our border for photo ops with Border Patrol brass and putting out social media posts insisting that after two days in our border communities, they now know that the agency is in dire straits and we need to give them more money.

This tweet from New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan says it all:

One of the main reasons Democrats always lose on immigration is because they literally have few plans. The plans they do have are mostly watered down Republican plans. They cannot push these pathetic ideas because they know if they do, many of their supporters will rightly call these plans out as still being cruel and inhumane. This leaves Democrats with policies that are slightly better than the outright brutal policies of Republicans. And Republicans know this, which is why they rule the debate on immigration.

There is this notion among moderate Democrats that if they come out boldly in support of immigration, they will lose. Yet, poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans support immigration if it is done with an eye towards security at the same time. Republican leaders claim there is no middle ground: the border must be closed to all Black and Brown migrants. Note how they are not whining too loudly about Ukrainian asylum seekers like they do Haitians and Central Americans. That’s not because there is a war going on in Ukraine and people’s lives are in danger. Black and Brown migrants are coming from war-torn areas as well. It is because Ukrainian faces are white, and the Republican Party is the party of white grievances.

So, how can Democrats talk about immigration and push for a more equitable and humane system for all asylum seekers regardless of their skin color while maintaining national security?

They can start by stating what our core values as a nation of many immigrants should be. Where are the policies that would prevent another family separation from occurring? Where are the policies to prevent more children from dying in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody as they did during the Trump administration? Where are the laws stating that we will not hold asylum seekers who have passed inspections by Border Patrol and CBP in custody? These and other basic human rights of asylum seekers are still in jeopardy simply because Democrats have failed to bring these issues forward. While the 1980 Refugee Act and other laws address some of these concerns, they are all woefully out of date for today’s asylum seekers and national security needs.

The Trump administration demonstrated how easily a president can change and manipulate immigration policies resulting in shameful and disgusting treatment of asylum seekers. And this did not only affect migrants, it affected agents as well. Currently, the Border Patrol is seeing suicide rates of agents increase after four years of orders to oppress people. This is not a coincidence. As a former agent who is also a survivor of a suicide attempt greatly influenced by the things I did and saw as an agent, and as someone who regularly speaks with agents today, they are suffering from enforcing these brutal and inhumane policies as well.

Democrats must produce a new act that states unequivocally that the US immigration system must recognize and cannot violate the basic human rights of asylum seekers and refugees as was done under both Republican- and Democrat-led administrations of the past. Never again should children lay dying on Border Patrol concrete cell floors for hours before an agent realizes they need help. Never again will a child go hungry, be sexually assaulted, be taken from their parents or have rotten food thrown at them by immigration agents. Never again will holding families under a bridge with no food or water be acceptable in the US immigration system. Never again will people be held in exterior dog cages, crammed into overflowing cells, or held in detention facilities without any criminal convictions whatsoever.

This new act will require Congress to start holding agencies and agents responsible when these rights are violated. It will require Congress to stop allowing CBP and Border Patrol to use their ever-increasing budgets to buy new toys like guns and boats and instead provide for safe and humane facilities with which to process in. It will require the Border Patrol Union be eliminated for two reasons: 1) The union is illegal under 5 USC 7112 (b)(6) since Trump designated them a security agency. 2) The Border Patrol union was responsible for many of the inhumane policies of the past and continues to use their position as federal agents to produce racist and political propaganda that violates basic human rights and federal law by associating with known white supremacists and white nationalist organizations.

Instead of running to the border and repeating the constant drumbeats of the Border Patrol union which encouraged policies that separated families and committed horrendous atrocities on asylum-seeking families, Democrats should be proudly standing before television cameras denouncing these abominations. They should point out that today’s immigration crisis was created by the last four years of Trump policies. There are years worth of asylum seekers waiting on the other side of that ugly wall because of Trump’s Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) and because he improperly used Title 42 to shutter the asylum system. If Trump had won in 2020, he would have continued Title 42 indefinitely even though he does not believe Covid is deadly. His election loss has created quite a nice little booby trap for the Democrats, because now they have four years worth of asylum seekers waiting to be heard. Talk about kicking the can down the road.

The fact is that we can have a humane asylum system and security at the same time. The fact is that a robust and large asylum system is an integral part of national security. We cannot have national security without it.

As we have seen under Trump, those families running for their lives will still come. If there is no way to present themselves at the ports of entry, they will be forced to cross irregularly in between the ports. The Trump administration’s immigration policies have also shown that many families will wait a decent amount of time if they have an avenue to claim asylum legally. By no means should we expect families to wait for years or even months, but people will be patient for their chance to legally claim asylum.

Will a robust and open asylum system that inspects every single person coming to our border prevent people from crossing in between the ports? No, there will always be people crossing in between the ports. And as a former senior patrol agent, I can assure you a small percentage of those will have criminal records or warrants. That is just a fact. But having a system that adequately processes asylum seekers will greatly reduce the numbers of families currently being pushed to cross in between the ports. This will, in turn, reduce the high numbers of people being processed by the Border Patrol for asylum.

The Democrats are poised to lose the midterms and possibly the presidency soon thereafter. They will never be cruel enough for some Republican voters. Every time they are interviewed, they must state how the Trump administration created this mess and that the only way out of it, and to have any semblance of national security, is to have a robust and humane asylum system that can inspect every person presenting themselves at our borders.

This article is posted with permission and minor edits from the author’s blog. You can find more writing from Jenn Budd here.


DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


Jenn Budd is a former Senior Patrol agent, Senior Intelligence agent and whistleblower in the US Border Patrol. She writes and speaks on the inhumanity, corruption and rape culture of her former agency.

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Para una versión en inglés de este artículo, lea "A Recurring Nightmare."

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