For the last several months, since the influx of asylum-seeking migrants from the Texas-Mexico border spiked in San Antonio, I’ve been asking people here how they’ve been affected personally. The overwhelming answer has been, in various phrasing, “well, not personally.”
San Antonio, thanks to city leaders and their nonprofit partners, has humanely processed hundreds of thousands of legal asylum seekers in recent years as they arrived here in buses sent by federal border agents on their way to meet family or friends in other cities and states.
Yes, a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S. is doing more than any other major city in providing food, clothing, shelter and services for some of the hemisphere’s most vulnerable people. Perhaps our own vulnerabilities make us more sensitive to others suffering the plight and perils of exodus.
Despite anecdotal evidence of neighborhood opposition and some criticism of operations at the migrant resource center established by city staff and now managed by Catholic Charities, the city’s years-long effort to help migrants dating back to the start of the Trump administration and accelerating in the post-pandemic Biden administration has helped enshrine San Antonio’s reputation as a welcoming city.
Yet “migrant” has become something of a dirty word in many political circles, especially in the red states of Texas and Florida, a cruel irony in a country founded by people leaving their European homelands for new opportunities and constantly replenished over nearly 250 years by new waves of immigrants.
In general, people’s lives in mainstream America have not been changed at all. Yet demonizing immigrants and attacking the Biden administration are key strategies for Republican candidates in Texas, resulting in the kind of political stunts devised by Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in busing or flying asylum-seekers from Venezuela, Cuba and other Latin American countries to Democratic cities and enclaves.
Such political posturing — blaming outsiders for homegrown ills — is an effective way to distract voters from the Uvalde school massacre, rising gun violence and the refusal of the state’s top elected officials to take sensible steps to keep assault weapons and other firearms out of the hands of teenage boys and others who present a high risk of mass violence.
Such anti-immigrant posturing by Republicans riles up the base of extremely conservative voters who celebrate the mythic roots of Texas as a place founded by pioneers seeking freedom and better lives while also insisting that the gates now be closed to newcomers.
Such posturing provides fodder for countless television commercials, stump speeches, media sound bites and campaign mailers that help drown out any rational conversation about women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies, about family planning and about equal access to health care.
Such posturing leads to the present political campaign where Republicans refuse to engage in a post-mortem of the pandemic and the terrible human toll it took in Texas that would have been lessened had elected officials listened to infectious disease experts and mandated mask use throughout the pandemic and aggressively promoted vaccines.
Such posturing enables elected officials to offer superficial claims of energy grid protection while largely ignoring the state’s attacks on renewable energy sources, the blind eye it turns to regulatory responsibilities, the high cost to ratepayers of price gouging amid a statewide emergency and the certainty that the state remains poorly prepared for continuing climate change and future extreme weather incidents.
The right to flee political persecution, violence and torture has been international law since the end of World War II and the advent of the United Nations’ International Refugee Convention, further strengthened by the UN’s 1967 Protocol. The U.S played a leading role among the nearly 150 nations that supported the establishment of these international norms.
The basic premise is that those seeking refuge deserve to be welcomed by stable and prosperous nations obligated to share the burden of people in flight, with the promise to treat them with dignity until they can return home safely or be naturalized as citizens in their adopted home countries.
The cost to taxpayers can be measured mostly by the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the federal policing and detention of asylum seekers, policies largely put in place during the Trump administration.
If political status could be measured in a DNA test, all of us would turn up as immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, save for those with Native American lineage who somehow survived extermination and disease by European populations that established the United States.
Xenophobia, a symptom of the political pandemic, infects many in Texas. The only known antidote is a turnout of voters seeking a cure.