Critics denounce Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick's 'invasion' rhetoric on immigration

"Critics denounce Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick's “invasion" rhetoric on immigration, saying it will incite violence" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Democrats and immigration rights advocates are condemning Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for describing immigrants crossing the border as an “invasion" this week, calling the rhetoric “dangerous" to Latino communities while pointing out that it mirrors language used by the accused El Paso shooter two years ago.

“We are being invaded," Patrick said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon about Abbott's border wall plans. “That term has been used in the past, but it has never been more true."

Abbott said Wednesday that “homes are being invaded" as he announced the state would be spending an initial $250 million to construct a barrier at the state's southern border with Mexico. He repeated the sentiment at a signing ceremony for several gun bills Thursday, saying property owners along the border are being “invaded."

“State leaders disavowed this kind of language after that racially motivated massacre, but now that the bodies are cold, here we go again," said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. “The border isn't a political football. There are no invaders here — only people."

Neither Abbott's nor Patrick's office responded to requests for comment.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, condemned Abbott's and Patrick's remarks in a tweet shortly after the Wednesday border press conference.

“If people die again, blood will be on your hands," Escobar wrote.

The 2019 shooting at the El Paso Walmart, which left 23 people dead, is described as one of the deadliest anti-Latino attacks in recent U.S. history. Within hours of the shooting, law enforcement officials had found a message from the alleged gunman saying the attack was “in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas." Of those killed, seven were of Mexican descent.

Abbott denounced the attack as domestic terrorism and the act of a white supremacist. He also appeared ready to soften his own rhetoric about immigration, saying after the shooting that “mistakes were made" in using language in a fundraising letter that called to “defend" the Texas border. It was published a day before the El Paso shooting.

“Unless you and I want liberals to succeed in their plan to transform Texas — and our entire country — through illegal immigration, this is a message we MUST send," Abbott wrote in the fundraising appeal.

After the shooting, Abbott emphasized conversations he'd had with El Paso officials discussing “the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way."

“I did get the chance to visit with the El Paso delegation and help them understand that mistakes were made and course correction has been made," he said, referring to the language used in the fundraising letter.

Mario Carrillo, an immigrant rights activist who grew up in El Paso, said there was no excuse for officials like Abbott and Patrick to repeat the language this week, given their conversations after the El Paso shooting.

“They can't claim ignorance and say they didn't know this language could potentially lead to violence because it happened before," he said. “I wish elected officials thought more about their words because those words have consequences. Are there others that read or listen to remarks like that and think, 'Well, I don't want our country to be invaded, so I'm going to take things into my own hands'?"

The repetition of the word “invasion" to describe immigrants is similar to messaging employed by former President Donald Trump. Out of 64 rallies he attended where he discussed immigration, Trump used the term at least 19 times. He also used words such as “killer," “criminal" and “animal" to refer to immigrants, according to an analysis from USA Today shortly after the El Paso shooting.

Patrick linked immigrants to future criminal behavior at the Wednesday press conference. He hypothesized about what would happen to a 14-year-old boy who comes from Central America, doesn't speak English and is behind in school.

“What does he do when he comes to America? They just let him go free," Patrick said. “You can't put a 14-year-old in a fifth grade class. What is his future? Crime, low wages. No future."

State Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, said making those kinds of comparisons diminishes how integral immigrants are in the U.S. and the role they play in helping the country's economy grow. She said she thinks Abbott and Patrick owe Texans an apology.

“We are basically being slapped in the face and being placed in the category that we don't deserve to be in," Ortega said. “I mean we are productive citizens of the state of Texas."

State Rep. Art Fierro, D-El Paso, said that kind of language incites violence, such as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.

“This is exactly what happens when you fire up people and get them believing that the words coming out of your mouth are not political, but they're really what you believe," Fierro said.

With so much attention on border communities, Carrillo said he fears elected officials could be placing the citizens of other border towns at risk.

“When I think of what happened in El Paso, the shooter didn't ask for citizenship status on the people he killed," said Carrillo, a naturalized citizen who is campaigns manager for America's Voice, an immigrant rights group. “People along the border, the vast majority are going to be Latino, so I don't know how they're going to differentiate. Something like El Paso could unfortunately happen again if we continue down this path."

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'A huge victory': Advocates cheer the end of Trump's cruel 'Remain in Mexico' asylum policy

Migrant rights advocates on Tuesday welcomed an announcement by the Biden administration that it is ending the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols—commonly known as the "Remain in Mexico" program—in a move to reverse yet another of former President Donald Trump's xenophobic and racist immigration policies.

In a memorandum (pdf) announcing the move, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote that the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP)—under which tens of thousands of Central American asylum-seekers were forced to wait in Mexico until their claims were reviewed—"does not adequately or sustainably enhance border management in such a way as to justify the program's extensive operational burdens and other shortfalls."

"It is certainly true that some removal proceedings conducted pursuant to MPP were completed more expeditiously than is typical for non-detained cases, but this came with certain significant drawbacks that are cause for concern," wrote Mayorkas. "The focus on speed was not always matched with sufficient efforts to ensure that conditions in Mexico enabled migrants to attend their immigration proceedings."

"I share the belief that we can only manage migration in an effective, responsible, and durable manner if we approach the issue comprehensively, looking well beyond our own borders," he added.

President Joe Biden suspended the MPP program on his first day in office as part of a raft of executive orders and other actions aimed at dismantling Trump's anti-immigrant policies. In the months since, the administration has ended the so-called Muslim ban, allowed families separated under Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy to remain in the U.S., raised the refugee admittance cap, preserved the Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and canceled contracts related to the construction of the Mexican border wall.

However, immigrant rights advocates have criticized the Biden administration for deporting hundreds of thousands of people—largely under a Trump-era policy called Title 42—as well as for jailing migrants including children in overcrowded facilities, and for seeking nearly $25 billion in funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in his proposed 2022 budget.

Democratic lawmakers and migrant advocates applauded Tuesday's policy shift.

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations, published a joint statement calling MPP a "stain on our nation's history and our long-standing tradition of protecting refugees and asylum-seekers."

"Despite Republican efforts to misrepresent U.S. asylum law and smear those fleeing violence and seeking asylum, we must remember that it is completely legal to come to the U.S. border and seek asylum," Thompson and Barragán said.

"While the process has been underway to dismantle MPP and bring asylum-seekers in the country, more still needs to be done to help those hurt by the policy and we look forward to working with the administration on those efforts," they added. "We must ensure we have a just and humane asylum processing system."

Judy Rabinovitz, the lead ACLU attorney who challenged the MPP policy, said in a statement that "this is a huge victory."

"The forced return policy was cruel, depraved, and illegal, and we are glad that it has finally been rescinded," asserted Rabinovitz. "The administration must follow through on this announcement by ensuring that everyone who has been subjected to this policy can now pursue their asylum cases in the United States, in safety and without additional trauma or delay."

Rabinovitz added that Biden "must swiftly move to dismantle the Trump administration's other attacks on the asylum system, including the unconscionable Title 42 order."

State Department ends anti-LGBTQ policy that targeted same-sex parents

The U.S. State Dept. under Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday ended a Trump-era policy targeted directly against LGBTQ families. The policy, supported by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, mandated that children born outside the United States to parents who are U.S. citizens must be biologically related to both parents, or they would not be allowed to be granted U.S. citizenship.

The discriminatory policy ensnared only same-sex couples, and hewed to Pompeo and Trump's anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant beliefs.

In a statement U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said the "updated interpretation and application of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] takes into account the realities of modern families and advances in ART [assisted reproductive technology] from when the Act was enacted in 1952."

In one case NCRM reported on in 2019, the Pompeo State Dept. actually allowed one of two biological twins to be granted U.S. citizenship but prohibited the other from the exact same rights.

The non-profit group Immigration Equality in a statement Tuesday said the Trump-era policy had affected "many married same-sex couples," and noted that "the Immigration and Nationality Act has never required a biological relationship for married parents. As such, every federal court that heard the issue found that the State Department's policy was inconsistent with the statute."

A moment of hesitation and the absurdity of the border

From the mountaintops of southern Arizona, you can see a world without borders. I realized this just before I met Juan Carlos. I was about 20 miles from the border but well within the militarized zone that abuts it. I was, in fact, atop the Baboquivari mountain range, a place sacred to the Tohono O'odham, the Native American people who have inhabited this land for thousands of years. At that moment, however, I couldn't see a single Border Patrol agent or any sign of what, in these years, I've come to call the border-industrial complex. On the horizon were just sky and clouds — and mountain ranges like so many distant waves. I couldn't tell where the United States ended or Mexico began, and it didn't matter.

I was reminded of astronaut Edgar Mitchell's reaction when he gazed back at the Earth from the moon: "It was [a] beautiful, harmonious, peaceful-looking planet, blue with white clouds, and one that gave you a deep sense… of home, of being, of identity. It is what I prefer to call instant global consciousness."

A couple hours after my own peaceful moment of global consciousness, Juan Carlos appeared at the side of a dirt road. I was by then driving in a desolate stretch of desert and he was waving his arms in distress. I halted the car and lowered the window. "Do you want some water?" I asked in Spanish, holding out a bottle, which he promptly chugged down.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" I asked.

"Can you give me a ride to the next town?"

At that moment, my vision of a borderless world evaporated. Even though I couldn't see them, I could feel the proximity of armed border agents in their green-striped trucks. Perhaps one of the high-tech surveillance towers in the area already had us in its scope. Maybe I had tripped a motion sensor and a Predator B drone was flying over the car. Unfortunately, I knew far too much about one of the most surveilled borders on this planet and how it's designed to create a potentially deadly crisis for people like Juan Carlos who cross it.

Although this particular incident happened a couple years ago, the U.S. border strategy still regularly forces such migrants into the deep and dangerous desert, as has been true for the last quarter-century.

The reason I so palpably felt the surveillance system all around me was because I knew that I was risking a prison sentence if I gave a ride to Juan Carlos, who told me he was from Guatemala. So, I hesitated. The natural impulse to help a fellow human being was almost instantly overridden by a law making it a felony to transport him and in any way further his presence in this country.

My hesitation both infuriated me and reminded me of how borders can be internalized. I had to think about what the Border Patrol would notice if they pulled me over, particularly that Juan Carlos only spoke Spanish and that he had brown skin. They would assume he was undocumented. Such racial profiling is encoded in the border-security paradigm.

In the end, I wrote a whole book, Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, as a kind of meditation on that moment of hesitation and how it acted like a prism through which I could reflect on my two decades of border reporting. But the book is also a reckoning with the border itself, based on conversations I had with refugees, migrants like Juan Carlos, Border Patrol agents seeking out those like him, border-industrial complex officials making money off such voyagers, journalists and scholars covering the never-ending "crisis" there, indigenous people watching their lands being walled off, and those among them who have visions of how all of this can work differently.

One of the most important conversations of all came with someone who will inherit this wall-plagued world of ours, my five-year-old son, William. One day, on a beach south of San Diego, a Border Patrol agent yelled at him as he ran toward the tall, steel-barred wall there at the border to greet people waving from the other side, in Tijuana, Mexico. I remember him sitting in the sand, trying to grasp why that agent wouldn't let him go to the fence and be friendly. Later, when we talked over the incident, he asked me: "Why can't we turn the wall into bikes?"

A good question and, with Donald Trump and his talk of a "big, fat, beautiful wall" gone, there's been lots of news coverage about Biden-era immigration reform, about "fixing a broken system." While my expectations are low, there also couldn't be a better moment to begin to demilitarize our border and turn it into something else. As my son suggested, another world, a world of bikes, not walls — both more humane and more sustainable — is not only possible, but essential to pursue.

"An Element of Absurdity"

It was a hot day in 2008 when the Border Patrol dispatcher radioed agent Brendan Lenihan, telling him that a motion sensor had been tripped in a rugged mountain range about 30 miles from where I met Juan Carlos. Thousands of such sensors have been implanted along the U.S.-Mexico border, even miles inland where Lenihan slowly drove to an empty mine shaft at the top of a mountain. There, as he got out of his truck, a man appeared waving his arms in distress and talking rapidly in Spanish.

As you consider Brendan's story, which he told me long after, keep in mind that our closed but porous borders are also an enormously elaborate system of death-by-design. Yet even mentioning the concept of "open borders" usually brings, at best, polite rejection and often instant ridicule. From the more courteous side, a common argument is that open borders would be a threat to this country's stability. Yet Brendan's story not only illustrates the border's violence and — his word — "absurdity," but also the way in which borders actually maintain instability in a world of immense inequality.

That day, when Lenihan pulled his assault rifle over his shoulder and followed Rogelio — a name he would learn later — he had no idea what he was heading into. He was a new agent, taken on during a post-9/11 hiring surge when the border suddenly became a "counterterrorism" priority mission and the fiscal faucets opened wide for U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the newly minted Department of Homeland Security. Never had there been more Border Patrol agents.

Descending the ravine, he came across a scene that would only become more common in an age of increasing border "enforcement." An older man, Miguel, was gently rocking a younger one, his cousin and Rogelio's brother, Roberto, like a baby. Roberto's eyes, when open, were rolled back and white. The situation was clearly dire. Brendan radioed for help, but a helicopter couldn't land in the ravine.

By clasping their arms, Rogelio and he formed a human stretcher. Roberto started to vomit. Black bile oozed from one corner of his mouth. As they climbed up that ravine under a burning sun, the strain and sweat made their hands slip and Brendan became ever more aware that Rogelio's callused hands were locked in his. It was, he would later tell me, "strangely intimate," holding hands with someone he would normally arrest. Then he simply forgot who he was. The border disappeared. With it went his uniform, his badge, and his gun. Looking down at Roberto, he saw only a young man in his arms and, for a long moment, felt as if he were carrying his own brother.

Suddenly, his radio crackled and he came back to his senses. He was still a Border Patrol agent. The border itself had never gone away. At that very moment, it was, in fact, killing Roberto. Now, however, Brendan found himself moving with a new sense of empathy. To experience this was little short of miraculous, given his intense Border Patrol training, given that the border, by its very nature, is anti-empathetic.

As it happened, the Border Patrol EMT unit was unable to revive Roberto. At a bar later that night, seeing that he was upset, Brendan's fellow agents assured him that such a tragedy was just part of the "border game." And callous as it may have sounded, it was true. The border, by its very nature, by its strategy, by the way the border-industrial complex had developed it, was indeed death by design and most of them had already experienced that all too vividly.

The next day, Brendan's supervisor called him. Don't worry, he said, they were nothing but "drug mules." When Brendan relayed this to me, he looked exasperated and added, "What did I care?"

"It didn't matter to you that they were allegedly smuggling drugs?" I asked.

"To me," he said, "it doesn't make a difference. They just seemed like regular guys. And who knows what kind of job I would have had if I grew up with them in their situation in life. It could have been me. I could have been one of them."

Shortly after that call from his supervisor, he noticed the scent of marijuana coming through his apartment window. "And now," he added, "my neighbor is smoking the very thing I'm trying to stop. There's an element of absurdity to it all."

Yes, indeed, when it comes to the border and its many "crises," the absurdity runs deep. Take those claims about immigrants and drugs. In reality, more than 80% of all illicit drugs making it into the United States arrive through regular ports of entry, not the vastness of the desert. Along the same lines, the usual claims that immigrants are likely to be criminals or prone to crime are simply untrue, as study after study after study has shown.

And by the way, other studies clearly indicate that, far from depressing the economy, higher rates of immigration bolster it. An analysis from the investigative news site ProPublica, for example, indicates that, for every 1% increase in immigration, there was a simultaneous 1.15% increase in the gross domestic product. In other words, if President Trump actually wanted to achieve the 4% economic growth he swore, in 2016, that his presidency would bring, the one surefire way to do so, as ProPublica's Lena Groeger suggested, would have been to stop building that wall of his and let eight million immigrants into the country.

No less important, as Brendan Lenihan's experience implicitly suggested, this country's ever more fortified borders have little to do with global stability. In fact, they play a key role in maintaining the instability of a world in which 2,153 billionaires (many of them American) have more wealth than the poorest 4.6 billion people on this planet. We're talking, of course, about a place where forecasts of climate displacement suggest that, by 2050, as many as one billion people could be desperately on the move.

Borders, at least as presently imagined, are an impediment to a sustainable world based on empathy and equality.

Shifting Shapes

Soon enough, my son's mind would turn from bikes to other possibilities. Why, he wondered, couldn't the wall be made into houses or rails for trains, anything more useful for us human beings and the health of the planet (one of his growing concerns). When, like him, I begin to imagine shifting the shapes of things in our world, I often think of budgets. From 2003 to 2021, the federal government spent $332.7 billion on U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — on, that is, our designated border and immigration control agencies. Those sums would translate into nearly 700 miles of walls — built not just by our last president, but over multiple administrations — as well as more than 20,000 armed agents, billions in high-tech border surveillance technology, and at least 200 detention centers.

When it came to actual human security and wellbeing, however, that money was distinctly ill-spent. As Flint, Michigan, has shown, for instance, contaminated water is a tangible and major threat to human health. Imagine if some of that border-fortification money had been directed not to ludicrous walls on our southern border, but to producing cleaner, safer water or better health care. Wouldn't that have brought stability in a way another mile of border wall or the latest surveillance tower never does? Imagine, for instance, a world in which such money was used not to purchase medium-sized drones with facial recognition capabilities, but to help alleviate the crisis in (un)affordable housing.

And mind you, 1,000 border walls won't stop climate change, the "biggest threat that modern humans have ever faced," as British naturalist David Attenborough told the U.N. Security Council. Imagine the carbon that might sooner or later be gone from this world if our 21,000 Border Patrol agents planted one tree every day for years to come. Turning such agents into gardeners and foresters might sound silly, but it might prove crucial for future generations. Maybe demilitarizing the border and turning it into a lush garden would bolster human security more than any wall, guard, or gun.

Facing the Displacement Crisis

I never had a chance to ask Juan Carlos how or why he had found himself lost and desperate by that desert road. Still, I did know that he wasn't part of a "border crisis" but, as Harsha Walia puts it, a "displacement crisis." As she writes, "Migrants and refugees do not just appear at our borders. They are produced by systemic forces."

Looking back, I have no doubt his request at that moment was also part of that very displacement crisis and U.S. policy had played a significant role in producing it. I mean, how else can you think of his country, Guatemala, where the CIA instigated a coup in the name of the United Fruit Company in 1954 and our government trained homicidal generals responsible for atrocity after atrocity in the 1980s? There's a whole forgotten history of what this country helped create in Central America, as historian Aviva Chomsky has made all too clear, one that's intrinsically tied to today's ongoing immigration disaster.

Any future border freedom of movement policy would be the twin pillar with another fundamental right, the right to stay home and live a dignified life. A fortified border falls, in other words, with the creation of a more humane world.

Perhaps Juan Carlos had been a farmer whose harvest never came in thanks to the increasing Central American droughts associated with a warming globe. I know my country was far more responsible than his for the greenhouse gas emissions now in the biosphere creating that overheated world. Or he could have been displaced by the transnational influx of extractive industries in his country intent on taking its natural wealth, part of a long legacy of dispossession by foreign companies in what still passes for a free-market economy. Or maybe his trip north was thanks to persecution from military and police units (many U.S.-trained) or organized crime and gangs, or both at the same time. I had no way of knowing.

What I did know was that there were no border patrols trying to stop the mining companies, the military-security assistance crews, the economic dispossessors, or the greenhouse gas emitters. The border patrols were reserved for the displaced, not those responsible for their displacement — those, that is, who really live in a world of open borders.

And so, as I sat there, infuriated by my own fear, my hesitation about giving Juan Carlos a ride, I realized — as had Brendan many years before — that I was the one who actually needed help. I was the one who needed Juan Carlos to orient me when it came to what a more humane world might be like. I was the one whose spirit was thirsty and needed a drink. I was the one who needed to imagine a world in which such human-made, fortified, militarized borders melted away amid a new global consciousness and solidarity.

So, I looked at Juan Carlos, who needed that lift to the nearest town and knew that, to get to such a world of solidarity and global consciousness, it would be necessary to break the law. And though after that morning, I never saw him again — somehow, he remains with me to this day.

Copyright 2021 Todd Miller

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Todd Miller, a TomDispatch regular, has written on border and immigration issues for the New York Times, Al Jazeera America, and the NACLA Report on the Americas. His latest book is Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders. You can follow him on Twitter @memomiller and view more of his work at

Biden-era reunions of migrant families marks dramatic departure from Trump's 'cruel' separation policy: report

So far, Joe Biden's presidency has marked a return to the U.S./Mexico border policy of the Obama years. Biden and others in his administration have stressed that border security is a priority but firmly rejected the widely criticized policy of separating families at the border that former President Donald Trump installed. Biden's change in policy, according to reporting by the Daily Beast's Scott Bixby and CNN's Kate Bolduan this week, is reflected in the reunion of some families that were separated at the border under Trump's presidency.

"Nearly three years to the day after the Trump Administration first forcibly separated thousands of undocumented parents from their children in order to discourage others from seeking asylum," Bixby reports, "the Department of Homeland Security has begun reunifying families torn apart by the policy — four families, to be exact, with a few dozen more expected in the coming weeks."

Bixby points out that the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" policy at the U.S./Mexico border resulted in "an estimated 5500 families" being separated.

According to Bixby, "Advocates warn that it may take years to reunite parents and children separated by the policy — and could add to the rising crush of undocumented people seeking to enter the United States via other means. The Biden Administration announced, in February, that it was creating a task force in charge of reuniting families separated under 'zero tolerance' and other Trump-era initiatives intended to discourage migrants from coming to the United States."

On Monday, Alejandro Mayorkas — secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — announced, "The Family Reunification Task Force has been working day and night, across the federal government and with counsel for the families and our foreign partners, to address the prior administration's cruel separation of children from their parents. Today is just the beginning. We are reuniting the first group of families; many more will follow, and we recognize the importance of providing these families with the stability and resources they need to heal."

Wednesday on CNN, Bolduan reported that one of the Biden-era reunions had taken place in Philadelphia — where a Honduran mother who arrived at the border with her two sons in 2017 was reunited with her two sons. The woman was deported from the U.S. and separated from her sons, and they have been staying with extended family. In Philadelphia, the sons saw their mother for the first time since the separation.

Bolduan discussed that reunion with Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants Rights Project.

Speaking to Bolduan from Philadelphia, Gelernt said of the reunion, "I almost don't have the words to describe it. It was so emotional, really just gut-wrenching, these boys hugging their mother for what seemed like an eternity — all of them sobbing, the extended family sobbing…. If you could see this family and the hardship they had gone through — and then, the joy in being reunited. That's what it's ultimately all about."

Bolduan pointed out that when the Honduran woman was separated from her sons, they were teenagers. One was 14, the other 15; now, they are both in their late teens.

Gelernt told Bolduan, "I think anybody who has teenage sons — you know, these were 14- and 15-year-olds — knows how difficult a period that is. These boys came to another country, to another culture, had to learn a new language. And they had to navigate all of that without their mother. It's just unimaginable. They've stayed strong, and for them to see their mother was just unbelievably joyous."

Bolduan asked Gelernt what will happen to the family now that they have been reunited, to which the ACLU attorney replied, "So, she will be allowed to stay for a minimum of three years with work authorization. But the more important thing is the ACLU is negotiating with the Biden Administration for far more than that. It's not enough just to reunify these families; we need to get them compensation. We need to get them social services, including mental health services. And we need to get them legal permanent status."

Gelernt added, "We'll never make these families whole again, but we need to try at least try — and that's the minimum. So, these are the first four families. It's a long haul."

Watch the video below:

CNN/Family separation

Biden is on the path to repeat Obama's 'mistake'

Rights group United We Dream warned Tuesday that unless he takes immediate steps to improve his administration's treatment of immigrants, President Joe Biden is at serious risk of repeating the destructive failures of former President Barack Obama, who deported roughly three million people during his eight years in office.

Despite Biden's characterization of Obama's mass deportations as a "mistake" and pledge to usher in a more humane immigration system, United We Dream estimates that the administration has deported just over 300,000 people since January—largely using a Trump-era policy called Title 42.

The policy was first issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last March—at the start of the coronavirus pandemic—and has been kept in place by the Biden administration. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) explained earlier this month, "The Title 42 expulsion policy has effectively closed the U.S. border to nearly all asylum seekers based on the misapplication of an obscure, 75-year-old public health law."

"That law, the Public Health Service Act of 1944, was designed to confer quarantine authority to health authorities that would apply to everyone, including U.S. citizens, arriving from a foreign country," HRW noted. "Quarantine authority was never meant to be used to determine which noncitizens could or couldn't be expelled or removed from the U.S."

In a statement on Monday, Cynthia Garcia of United We Dream stressed that "Title 42 was designed under one of the most anti-immigrant administrations in modern history."

"President Biden and the Department of Homeland Security must be reminded that their inaction to protect vulnerable immigrant communities seeking refuge in the U.S. is not only putting lives on the line; it upholds a white nationalist immigration system that seeks to expel and keep Black and brown immigrants out at any cost," said Garcia, who voiced dismay at the Biden administration's deportation of vulnerable Haitians and others.

According to a report (pdf) released late last month by the Haitian Bridge Alliance and other advocacy groups, the Biden administration used Title 42 to deport more Haitians during its first weeks in power than the Trump administration did in all of Fiscal Year 2020.

"Reflecting on his time as vice president, President Biden acknowledged that the Obama administration was wrong in deporting over 2.5 million people and vowed to never make that mistake again when he took office," Garcia continued. "President Biden is well on track to repeat history. Now, he must make a choice: repeat the mistakes of the Obama administration or do everything in his power to end the cruelty of detentions, expulsions, and deportations and show that he is a president of his word."

National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), a coalition of more than 40 immigrant and refugee rights organizations, echoed United We Dream's concerns about continued mass deportations during the first 100 days of the Biden administration.

While pointing to positive steps Biden has taken since January—such as ending Trump's Muslim ban and pushing for a path to citizenship for Dreamers—NPNA noted that "there are many changes that the Biden administration can pursue with little to no congressional action, including ending the use of Title 42 expulsions, redesignating [Temporary Protected Status] for Haiti and other countries [that] are set to expire, and increasing the number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle as part of the presidential determination."

"These are literally life or death decisions that will impact millions of lives," the group said. "The administration can also take action to expand access to citizenship and justice and to bolster due process protections through an increase of legal representation for those in detention and removal proceedings."

US Supreme Court rejects Texas-led lawsuit seeking to protect a Trump immigration policy

"U.S. Supreme Court rejects Texas-led lawsuit seeking to protect a Trump immigration policy" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it won't hear a case filed by Texas and 13 other states that seeks to revive a Trump-era “public charge" immigration rule, stating they need an opinion from a lower court first.

The issue before the courts stems from the Trump administration's decision to broaden the definition of the term “public charge" in 2019 to include noncitizens who rely, or will likely rely, on Medicaid, food assistance such as food stamps, housing assistance, and prescription drug benefits through Medicare Part D.

Under current law, a public charge is any noncitizen who will likely become “primarily" reliant on certain government assistance programs — meaning that the programs provide more than half of their income. Immigrants deemed a public charge cannot receive a green card for citizenship.

In March, the Department of Homeland Security under President Joe Biden announced that it would no longer defend the Trump policy in court, dropping appeals originally filed by the Trump administration in several courts.

In 2019, New York led a coalition that filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to block the expanded public charge rule. After a judge ruled for the plaintiffs, the Trump administration appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which also ruled in favor of the coalition.

The Trump administration appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to review the case before Biden's DHS decided to drop the appeals.

A separate challenge to the Trump policy, led by Cook County, Illinois, and an advocacy group, led to it being struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2020.

“The 2019 public charge rule was not in keeping with our nation's values. It penalized those who access health benefits and other government services available to them," Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said.

Texas and 13 other states filed a lawsuit last month in the 7th Circuit, seeking to uphold Trump's expanded public charge rule and arguing that the Biden administration rescinded it without following the Administrative Procedure Act.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also claimed that without the Trump rule in place, “our Medicaid budget and other vital services will explode and be spread too thin, costing taxpayers millions more and reducing the quality of service we can provide."

After their lawsuit was denied in that court, the 14-state coalition took the case before the nation's highest court. The Supreme Court's decision Monday means that it won't immediately take up the case led by Texas, at least until a lower court weighs in.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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Trump's legacy is being humiliatingly defeated by $5 ladders: 'Unlike the wall, these are functional'

Former President Donald Trump's purportedly impenetrable border wall is reportedly getting beaten by the simplest of means.

A new report from Texas Monthly claims that the United States Border Patrol finds itself constantly having to destroy cheap $5 ladders that it finds left on the side of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In fact, the Border Patrol destroys so many ladders that it regularly has to call the city of Hidalgo, Texas to haul away the piles of lumber that are produced by the destroyed ladders.

Scott Nicol, a local artist and activist, tells Texas Monthly that the ladders used by undocumented immigrants to enter the United States show just how useless Trump's most beloved infrastructure project really is.

"Unlike the wall, these ladders are functional," explains Nicol, who adds that "border walls are just backdrops for politicians who want to rile up their voters."

Chris Cabrera, a McAllen-based Border Patrol agent and local spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, nonetheless defended the border wall in an interview with Texas Monthly and said that the structure at least slows down undocumented immigrants and gives Border Patrol agents more time to apprehend them.

Immigrants aren't the real threat in the United States — ICE and the Border Patrol are

President Joe Biden has been lauded for his empathetic comforter-in-chief responses to the ravages of the coronavirus, economic pain and gun violence. But anyone worried about the fate of non-citizens in the US, or at the border, has observed not empathy but a toxic mix of indifference and willful commitment to pointlessly punitive policies.

From a failure to rescind the former president's Title 42, causing almost all recent asylum-seekers to be expelled from the US, to his equivocation on the 2021 refugee cap, it's almost impossible to find good news about immigration policy in 2021.

Biden isn't exceptional. For Democrats, "border security" is a familiar posture, whether or not immigration reform is on the table. Bill Clinton presided over the creation of a legal architecture leading to mass immigrant incarceration. Barack Obama pushed the limits of the deportation infrastructure that was built in the interim, deporting more people from this country than any president to this day.

But the very phrase "border security" is misleading, training our minds on ominous-sounding but imaginary threats from outside the US and distracting us from the very real threat posed by an enormous militarized force charged with policing immigration.

In fact, much of the devastation causing people to flee triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) is the direct result of the deportation of gangs formed in the US (notably, MS-13 and Barrio 18) as well as American interference with those three countries dating back to the early 20th century. Today, we're told we need border security forces to prevent trafficking, among other crimes. Too often, though, it is the border police themselves engaging in trafficking and related criminal activity.

Two agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), are responsible for policing immigration. They decide who gets arrested, who gets hearings, who is deported, and who will be jailed indefinitely. They are huge, awash in cash, poorly supervise and incentivized to be maximally cruel.

CBP alone constitutes the largest federal law enforcement agency in the US. Together, the two agencies consume nearly $20 billion a year, a non-trivial portion of which goes to shadowy private companies like Geo Group and Core Civic for incarceration and, increasingly, for so-called e-carceration that can transform any home or neighborhood into a penal outpost, often with very little protection for anyone's data privacy.

Even when they don't outsource their work, we underestimate the dangers posed by ICE and CBP. ICE is reported to generate thousands of sexual and physical abuse complaints each year. CBP agents are more famous for indifference to law. They are five times more likely to be arrested than other law enforcement agents. They have been found illegally cooperating with citizen militias that dress in police costumes and "patrol" areas where they think they'll encounter people they can harass and abuse.

CBP's lawless culture is likely in part an outcome of the fact that the US Congress and the US Supreme Court have affirmed a distinct interpretation of the 4th Amendment that gives CBP leeway, in many instances, to stop, search and question people without warrants or the kinds of suspicion required of all other law enforcement agents. Last year, CBP drones were seen flying over protesters in Minneapolis. ICE has also targeted and harassed journalists and lawyers who specialize in immigration issues.

Deportation and detention may sound like problems for only non-citizens and mixed-status households, but as long as deportation forces have existed, those same forces have arrested and sometimes expelled US citizens. In the case of ICE, the number of citizens targeted for deportation is quite high. The Cato Institute estimates that over the course of 11 years, it is likely that more than 20,000 citizens were issued ICE "detainers" (i.e., requests from ICE or DHS to local law enforcement to keep people incarcerated who would otherwise be released so that ICE agents can pursue them).

There are many reasons that we find ourselves living with two sprawling immigration police forces that each year encroach further on the basic civil rights and safety of everyone in the US. But one important reason is that their very existence implies threats from outsiders that do not exist. For all the money, weapons and power that CBP and ICE have claimed, they have not reduced crime rates, ended the illegal narcotics trade, prevented the flow and use of deadly weapons, or in any other way made people safer. To the contrary, all too often is the immigration police who are committing crimes, trafficking illegal substances and compromising our security.

How the right wing invented a fictional 'migration crisis' — and tricked us into believing it

Most people seem to have accepted the truth about the so-called war on drugs. By that, I mean it was never about drugs. Its true target was non-white people, especially Black people. Its goal was social control. Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, which gave way to the mass incarceration of "undesirables." Illegal drugs were merely a pretext. These days, states are legalizing drugs. Some are even releasing people convicted of drug crimes. In all, we seem to be experiencing a new age of drug enlightenment.

I hope it does not take most people as long with "border security." Like the "war on drugs," it's not about security. It's about social control. It's about having a legal reason to put non-white people in jail, kicking them out or just acting barbarously toward them. Drugs did not threaten the national interest until the government said they did. Same with the southern border. People used to pass freely, wherever the seasonal work took them. It did not threaten the national interest until the government said it did.

If it isn't already, please permit me to make it clear. When the Republicans talk about "illegal immigrants," they're not talking about illegal action. They're giving voice to their real objectives. They want to punish immigrants for who they are. They can't outlaw them outright, of course. The Congress, the law, the courts and popular opinion would prevent that from happening. But they can expand the scope of political conflict so that legal behavior seems illegal, thus forcing the government to respond. The result is billions spent every year on securing a border that will never be secure. The result is billions wasted annually on punching down on the poor, the weak and the brown.

For instance, "unlawful entry." That's the offense of crossing the border without proper authorization. It's a misdemeanor. (I'm serious.) So is overstaying your work or student visa. These are crimes, to be sure, but hardly serious crimes. They don't rise to the level of a felony. They are not deserving of being ripped from one's family or community—presuming the point of the law is justice. It isn't for the Republicans. The point is dominance. So for a decade and more, they have expanded the meaning of a minor criminal offense so that it looks like a dangerous way-of-life threatening crime.

The same thing is being done to "refugees." Fact: Anyone traveling to the southern border to request political asylum is a temporary legal immigrant. Full stop. That's the law. Indeed, the statute requires US Customs and Border Protection to open a process by which the agency tries reconnecting refugees with family in the US. But what began with the Trump administration is being continued by the GOP. Anyone traveling to the southern border is being called "illegal," even if they're children. Another fact: Every one of those 22,000 migrant children in government custody is here legally.

The same thing is happening with respect to the "open border." Fact: There is no such thing. It is a complete fiction. The border is tightly regulated. The Democrats in the Congress are not trying to open it. The Biden administration wants nothing to do with the idea. What it does, however, is follow laws entitling asylum-seekers to a legal process. But because the Republicans have defined refugees as "illegal," that gives the impression the administration, which is following the law, is opening the border.

If 22,000 children are refugees, if they're entitled to ask for asylum and if the government is required by law to try connecting eligible refugees to family if possible, why is everyone talking about a "migration crisis"? Great question! There is currently no such thing as a migration crisis. Yet our national discourse is dominated by this fiction.

Partly, it's because the press corps is laundering right-wing talking points in order to get a reaction out of a Democratic administration. Partly, it's out of genuine concern about "social cohesion."1 But mostly, it's because the Republicans have expanded the scope of conflict by way of nonstop lying. It has made legal action seem illegal. Which brings us back to "border security." It's not about security. It's now about forcing a Democratic administration into acting in ways preferred by the Republican Party.

It nearly worked. The White House said last week it would cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at the same level established by the previous administration, at 15,000. This is almost certainly the result of the Republicans making it seem like the Biden administration was opening the border even as it was merely following the law. Fortunately, there was an enormous reaction from not just liberals but moderates like Dianne Feinstein. By Friday, the White House reversed course and did so in a hurry.

This seems to be the first step in a process that might bring "border security" to a similar level of awareness that the war on drugs has achieved. That first step is refusing to give liars the benefit of the doubt. Drugs were never a threat to the national interest. Immigrants will never be either. What is a national threat, however, is the harmful Republican pursuit of "border security" that just makes everyone less free.

'Unconscionable': How progressive blowback moved Biden on refugees

President Joe Biden angered progressives so much when the White House announced week that it would keep former President Donald Trump's historically low cap on refugee admissions despite vowing to increase the number by more than 400% after taking office that he was forced to walk it all back within hours.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had formally notified Congress that the cap would be lifted for this year on February 12. But Biden, at first ignoring growing pressure from Democrats to lift the cap, signed an emergency presidential declaration on Friday keeping the number of refugees for the Trump-era refugee cap at 15,000 just two months after promising to raise it to 62,500. The U.S. accepted nearly 85,000 refugees the year before Trump's election.

Friday's declaration was meant to speed up the processing of refugees approved for admission but an administration official told CNN that Biden will not lift the cap at all this year despite repeated assurances from the White House that the president remains committed to his promise. The move comes as the United States is on pace to admit the fewest number of refugees in modern history despite Biden's repeated vow to reverse his predecessor's policies, which Democrats decried for years as racist and xenophobic.

"It is simply unacceptable and unconscionable that the Biden administration is not immediately repealing Donald Trump's harmful, xenophobic, and racist refugee cap that cruelly restricts refugee admissions to a historic low," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement on Friday. "By failing to sign an Emergency Presidential Declaration to lift Trump's historically low refugee cap, President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity," she added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Biden's failure to keep his promise was "completely and utterly unacceptable."

"Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise," she tweeted. "Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, [including] the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong."

Biden's former presidential primary foe Julian Castro called out Biden over reports that the decision was made due to political "optics" surrounding the border influx.

"This is a bad decision," he said on Twitter. "Trump gutted our refugee program, a cornerstone of our global leadership and values. His polices can't be the default we carry on—especially for the sake of 'optics.'"

By Saturday, Biden was telling reporters: "We're gonna increase the numbers."

The White House had already backtracked late on Friday, announcing that Biden would set a "final, increased" refugee cap by mid-May. It's unclear why Biden reversed his campaign position on the refugee cap within a matter of weeks after taking office but a senior administration official told The New York Times that the administration was concerned that the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border has "already overwhelmed the refugee branch of the Department of Health and Human Services." Of course, asylum seekers at the border are processed through a wholly separate system than refugees fleeing persecution and violence overseas.

An administration official told The Times that Friday's executive action would reverse a Trump-era policy that disqualified most Muslim and African refugees and allow the administration to fill all 15,000 available refugee slots, though it will leave thousands of fully vetted refugees stranded at camps around the world. The U.S. was previously on pace to accept fewer than 5,000 refugees this fiscal year.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday the refugee program needed to be rebuilt. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Friday's action was "just the beginning."

"This step lifts the restrictions put in place by prior Administration on where refugees can come from," she tweeted. "We need to rebuild resettlement program and we are committed to continuing to increase refugee numbers."

But there are already "over 35,000 refugees have already been vetted and cleared for arrival, and over 100,000 are in the pipeline often waiting years to be reunited with their loved ones," argued David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, an humanitarian aid group.

Friday's reversal stunned refugee rights groups who expected the administration to follow through on its promise.

"We are reaching out to the White House to understand why this figure is a fraction of what the administration committed to in congressional consultations," Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, who heads the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which helps resettle refugees, told NPR. "We know we find ourselves in challenging times, but we pray President Biden will fulfill his pledge to return the U.S. to our position of global leadership on refugee resettlement."

Biden's directive came on the same day that a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who came to the US as a refugee, called on Biden to immediately lift the cap.

"Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration's full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration," the letter said. "But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also urged the administration to "recognize [its] moral responsibility" in admitting refugees.

"I think right now we have, well, it's a very few thousand, and we have to increase that number," she said Thursday.

Biden similarly argued that restoring the refugee program was imperative when he entered office, vowing to quickly lift the cap for this year and double the number to 125,000 for the fiscal year beginning in October.

"The United States' moral leadership on refugee issues was a point of bipartisan consensus for so many decades when I first got here," he said in February. "It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that's precisely what we're going to do."

The International Rescue Committee released a report earlier this month detailing the decimation of the refugee program under Trump, who slashed the cap from 110,000 when he entered office to 45,000 in 2018, 30,000 in 2019, and 18,000 in 2020. Miliband, the group's president, told CNN on Friday it was "deeply disappointing" that Biden chose to maintain one of Trump's most controversial policies.

"The rightful erasure of discriminatory admissions categories does not dispense with the need for a higher number of refugees to be admitted," he said.

Immigration groups also sounded the alarm over the Biden administration's confiscation of land across the Southern border stemming from legal battles over Trump's border wall.

Biden launched a 60-day federal review of resources used for the wall on his first day in office but the review has not been completed and there is no timeline for its conclusion despite the March 20 deadline. Mayorkas reportedly told DHS employees that Biden's halt "leaves room to make decisions" on finishing some "gaps in the wall." And the Justice Department has continued to seize land from families with about 140 pending eminent domain cases still active, Politico reported.

Biden vowed on the campaign trail that his administration would not build "another foot of wall" and vowed that he would "withdraw the lawsuits" and was "not going to confiscate the land." But the DOJ said in a court filing last month that Biden's first-day proclamation "left open the possibility that some aspects of the project may resume" and the department is still trying to seize private property. Just this week, the government seized six acres of land in Hidalgo County, Texas from one family.

"DOJ sought continuances in pending cases, including in this case, in which the government had previously filed motions for possession of land on the southwest border in light of President Biden's proclamation terminating the national emergency at the southern border of the United States and directing 'a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall,'" a DOJ official told Politico.

Jose Alfredo Cavazos, whose family's land was seized in the case, told Politico he was "very disappointed" by the Biden administration's reversal.

"I thought when he said no more wall that we would get no more wall. But apparently not," he said.

"I'm ... very, very disappointed in Joe Biden. I thought he was a man of his word but apparently he's not keeping his word," added Reynaldo Anzaldua Cavazos, another member of the family. "He said not one more foot of wall and no land forfeitures. We took him at his word and we want him to keep his word."

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