The Immigration Debate - 04/04/21 - Segment 2
KEN MOLESTINA: Welcome back, everyone. Let's go ahead and get to the point on the immigration issue, especially along our southern border. I talked to Dr. S. Deborah Kang, an associate professor of history at UT Dallas who has studied our country's immigration history and our border law.
DEBORAH KANG: What's happening is a seasonal event. So migration typically increases across the border at this time of year. And it's because the weather is getting warmer. But then the numbers will slowly decline over the summer. So what's happening now isn't unusual at all. So it represents your typical seasonal increase, plus some pent-up demand that resulted from Title 42, this public health measure that closed the border.
If there is anything unusual going on right now, it's the migration of children across the border. So this has been an issue in recent history. We first started seeing unaccompanied minors crossing the border in 2011. And it's something the Obama administration had to respond to, and then the subsequent Trump administration, and now the Biden administration.
KEN MOLESTINA: And I wanted to ask you that. And we're going to talk a little bit more specifically about the unaccompanied children here in just a second, but I just want to go back just a little bit because you pointed something out, you said this is not unusual, this is a seasonal situation that you see taking place. But when you hear people argue about this, specifically politicians on both sides of the aisle, they'll tell you things like, well, what's happening is that the migrants now believe that it's a free pass to get in because President Biden is allowing everybody in, and President Trump previously took a hard stance so they knew not to come. But now, they're seeing this as an opportunity to get into the country. Is-- does any of that play into what you're seeing, or is that just [INAUDIBLE]?
DEBORAH KANG: According to the latest reports and research, there is no solid evidence to prove that immigrants are coming because of the Biden administration. It appears much more likely that what happened is, last fall, smugglers, who are often members of these transnational gangs, smugglers began advising migrants in Central America that, when Trump left office, US immigration policies would change. And the smugglers, in turn, then lured migrants into paying them a fee to help them cross the border. And this also makes more intuitive sense, because it takes several months to cross the border. So this is a process that actually began before Biden took office.
KEN MOLESTINA: Now, I also want to point out, because previously, asylum seekers could-- they had to wait out of country for their documents to be processed, for the request to be processed. But now, they're allowed to wait in-country. That's also a big change that perhaps has created some of this uptick in what we see of folks coming in. Is that correct?
DEBORAH KANG: It is and it isn't a big change. The migrant protection protocols that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico to get a court hearing for their asylum claims was, in effect, illegal under international and US law. Migrants coming to the border asking for asylum have the legal right under domestic and international law to ask for asylum and to pursue their asylum claims within the country. So what's happening now, especially with the children, that is actually following historical precedent. And the turning away of migrants under the Trump administration and the continued turning away of asylum seekers under the Biden administration actually is the departure from the precedent.
KEN MOLESTINA: So let's zero in here specifically on the unaccompanied minors situation, the children, the teenagers that are coming in. Obviously, we know that a huge sort of overflow of teenage boys were brought here to Dallas, are being housed at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and other sites across Texas, as well. When we factor in now this new element that we haven't necessarily seen before, the unaccompanied minor, how does that sort of change this debate and the conversations that we're having about this issue? How does that sort of change the landscape of it all?
DEBORAH KANG: I think it ought to trigger compassion and humanitarian concern. And I know that the Biden administration is trying to put in place a number of measures to ensure that these children are getting the care that they need right now, and then have their asylum claims heard in the long run. And then in the long, long term, I think that the Biden administration plans to increase humanitarian assistance to these Central American nations that are suffering from numerous problems-- political, economic, crime-related, and so on.
KEN MOLESTINA: I'm curious as to how complicated of an issue this is to resolve, because several presidents have tried. Here we are again, and we continue to talk about this. There doesn't seem to be a clear resolution. How hard is it to stop this, or to--
DEBORAH KANG: Sorry. It's not a difficult problem to solve. It's complicated because politicians for nearly 100 years have chosen to make it complicated. The reason that these crossings often get depicted in negative terms, such as crises and surges, is because pollsters have shown that that kind of language, that kind of fear-mongering wins elections. And that's what's happening right now. We're facing a lot of tight electoral competition for the midterms and the next presidential election, so politicians are-- again, they're creating a sense of fear surrounding the border and these children. And it really is in the name of winning votes.
And the solution is actually simple. The solution is we're the richest country in the nation, and we can make the choice to actually implement humanitarian policies on the border. But instead, for the past half century or more, we've decided to militarize it, and we've decided to treat migrants as agents of war or as terrorist threats, when all the evidence shows that they're none of the above. And so, again, the nation's made a choice to build walls, to militarize the Border Patrol and so on, when instead the response could have been, again, to create a more welcoming and humanitarian approach to greeting immigrants at our nation's borders.
KEN MOLESTINA: Dr. Kang, there are folks out there who will say things like, even if we did do that, right, this country is not in a position to welcome that many people, that we're not in a position to be humanitarians towards people from other countries. We're failing to do it for our own Americans here in this country. So how do you have these conversations and how do you address this, you think, when clearly there are issues that we need to solve with our own people here in America, and therefore, you know, you get this debate where folks don't want to see a kind, warm hand extended to others when they're not getting it themselves?
DEBORAH KANG: Yeah. So because I'm an immigration historian, I often like to cite the example of the Model T, Henry Ford's famous automobile. That automobile and, in general, the advent of the automobile age would not have come about without immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. We admitted tens of millions of immigrants from Europe, and they were no different from the migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. They were leaving desperate circumstances. They needed subsistence, they needed jobs. And they worked in the nation's auto factories and built our first automobiles. And they're responsible for the fact that millions of Americans could then have cars. And it was thanks to their work.
So the answer is we have welcomed them. And the undocumented immigrants that are here, for example, the 10, 11 million undocumented immigrants who are here, clearly are clear-- are a clear economic benefit to this country. So they're already here, and the United States has already proven that it can, quote unquote, absorb immigrants, and that it, in fact, needs immigrant labor.
KEN MOLESTINA: How much more can we absorb, though, you think?
DEBORAH KANG: So-- and here, the social scientists are-- the social scientific evidence is clear-- there's going to be a demographic shift in the United States because of these lowered birth rates, and so we are going to have shortages in our labor force. And in the coming decades, in the coming half century and more, we're going to need immigrant labor more than ever before.
KEN MOLESTINA: In closing here, I just wanted to ask you this. How much longer do you think this sort of seasonal uptick that we're seeing will last? At what point do you think these numbers will become a lot more manageable, at least the optics of it, right?
DEBORAH KANG: So I am not an optimist on this question because the long-term projections are, due to climate change, we are going to see more and more people on the move. And if it's not Central America, it's going to be the rest of the global South. People are literally going to be up and moving from their homelands because they've lost their farms, they've lost their jobs, or they're simply in search of water. So I think in the long term, migration is going to continue to be an issue we need to address. And it's an issue that countries of the rich global North need to respond. We need to work on finding a response now and assisting those global-- those countries in the global South that are going to be hit hardest by climate change.
KEN MOLESTINA: And our thanks to Dr. Kang for her perspective on all of this. Coming up next, helping the thousands of migrant teens who are being sheltered in downtown Dallas, who is stepping up to help out. Coming up next on "To The Point."