For much of Wednesday’s emotional press conference at the southern border, I found myself agreeing with Sen. Katie Britt.
What’s happening at the border is, indeed, a humanitarian crisis. The stories that often are told by the men, women and children who make the harrowing journey from Mexico or from one of the Central American countries are a combination of terrifying and maddening.
And those stories, and the horrors that occur even after many of those migrants make their way into the U.S., deserve to be told so the American public can gather a better understanding of the true crisis.
So, yeah, I was with Britt through much of her lectern-pounding press conference.
Right up to here: “Folks, you look at the number of people that have died at the border because Joe Biden has made it more and more enticing to come here.”
Let me see if I have this right – these migrants are suffering through hell in an attempt to cross the border into America and the solution is to … treat them worse?
Ooooh, should we take away their children? Lose them in our bureaucratic system for years? Possibly never reunite them with their families?
Or should we lock toddlers in cages away from their parents? Maybe even deport the parents, leaving behind children who can barely speak?
Bad news: We’ve already tried those things. They didn’t work. The people still came. The border was still a mess. The cartels were still killing and torturing people.
You know, whenever I hear a Republican talk about the border – particularly when they’ve visited recently and maybe, like Britt, carry the standard human-sized portion of empathy – they get so agonizingly close to getting it. I mean, they’re right there on the cusp of this thing … and then it’s like the conservative rot wrestles back control of their brain and they veer off into the black-and-white, simple solution rhetoric.
Just consider what Britt said Wednesday. Her emotion and words captured the real-life, heartbreaking scene at the border. You could tell she was genuinely horrified by what she saw and by the gut-wrenching stories of lost children and brave mothers and fathers. You could tell that she was rightfully angered at the callousness and dehumanization of the cartels and the way in which they so brazenly prey upon the desperate good people.
And then … BAM! It’s all Joe Biden’s fault because he’s making America too attractive.
That makes no sense. And I suspect that Britt knows that. I actually suspect that she knows there’s a really, really complicated answer out there, but instead of addressing that cumbersome solution, she instead chose politics.
Which, of course, is why we have a crisis at the border in the first place. Politics. Very, very bad politics. Decades upon decades of very bad politics.
The dirty secret of our immigration issues at the southern border is that almost all of them were caused by American politics. From the war on drugs to the funding of this cartel over that cartel to the opioid epidemic to America’s drug policies to the American justice system to America’s immigration system itself.
Ball it all up and you get the horror show at the border.
But explaining that doesn’t fit neatly on a campaign poster. You can’t scare the hell out of grandparents in Wisconsin with a reasoned examination of the way America’s war on drugs led to the rise of certain cartels. Only a “migrant caravan” can do that.
So, we’re left with only an endless “crisis” that receives superficial patches from time to time – just enough for a politician to talk about it in the next speech – but never the complete examination and overhaul that would be required to truly fix the crisis.
The absolute worst thing about that is the very real human toll that our elected leaders seem to be simply OK with. Britt talked about some of them on Wednesday – the dead babies, the dead pregnant mother, the terrorized families who are still subject to the cartels’ cruelty even on this side of the border. And that’s to say nothing of the American lives lost to the drugs that flow over the border.
For the life of me, what I’ve never understood about this crisis is why so many people choose to focus their attention on the “bad guys.” Or why they choose to create villains out of good people. When, as Britt noted Wednesday, there are so many absolute heroes coming across that border.
Now, she didn’t call them heroes, but let me tell you something: if tomorrow, your neighborhood was overrun with murderous gang members who would either kill or recruit your child, and instead of allowing that to happen, you put your kid on your back and walked – literally walked – a thousand miles to a safer place, you’d be hailed a hero.
It happens every single day at that border. By the thousands.
But instead of praising these brave parents who have literally sacrificed everything they have to get their kids to safety, the entire conversation is typically about “criminals” and cartel members sneaking in. We portray migrant caravans as though it’s a group of people coming to forcibly take our possessions and murder us, when in reality it is simply a tired, scared, desperate group of mothers and fathers hoping like hell that the American dream is still there.
We will never solve this problem until we focus on those people. Until we focus on being decent, caring humans to other humans. Until we stop trying to boil this issue down to a bumper sticker solution.
Until American immigration policy focuses less on punishment and cruelty and far more on kindness and empathy.