When it comes to immigration, and especially at this moment in our politics, I’m a “bothsides-er.” These days, complaining about both sides—Democrats and Republicans—invites a lot of scorn and ridicule, usually from people on one side. On some issues that scorn might be deserved. But on immigration, I am happy to seethe with contempt on the sidelines.
Consider the brouhaha over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sending 50 migrants to the tiny liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard. I’m against using poor, desperate people as political props. The fact that DeSantis may have misled some migrants about what they were signing up for is even worse—though cries of “human trafficking” and “kidnapping” strike me as ridiculous, partisan-fueled nonsense.
DeSantis’ cynical stunt did everything he hoped it would. He upped the ante on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been sending busloads of (apparently consenting) migrants to liberal cities like New York and Chicago. Abbott’s efforts have a high quotient of “owning the libs” to them as well, as he has not coordinated with local officials, preferring to drop them off by surprise, most recently at Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence. Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey, another Republican, has been more responsible, coordinating with local officials to ensure migrants find support when they get off the bus.
But it was DeSantis’ move that sent Democrats and much of the media into a frenzy of outrage—which is exactly what he wanted. No wonder Donald Trump is reportedly furious that DeSantis is stealing the limelight from him. I will be surprised if DeSantis doesn’t get a bump in the polls among Republicans. Many Democrats won’t be surprised either, because they’ve convinced themselves that “the cruelty is the point” of Republican policies.
What neither side will admit—even after the furor over the Martha’s Vineyard stunt dies down—is that immigration is a very hard problem. But we have two parties dominated by voices that claim otherwise. On one side are the Republicans who agree it’s a problem, just not a very hard one. Simply build a wall, close the border, and deport those who are here. On the other side are the Democrats who have trouble admitting that immigration is a problem at all.
Just last week, Harris insisted “the border is secure.” You don’t have to be a partisan Republican to find that insulting to your intelligence. In the last 11 months, nearly 2 million migrants have been apprehended at the border. Thousands of migrants have died on both sides of the border precisely because they rightly believe it’s not secure. A majority of Americans—including 4 in 10 Democrats—believe it’s at least partly true that America is “experiencing an invasion.” That sounds like a problem to me.
Whether you dislike their tactics or not, DeSantis and the GOP have a legitimate point. For years, Democratic politicians, particularly mayors of “sanctuary cities,” have pandered to immigration activists by proclaiming “no one is illegal” and everyone is welcome and that people who complain about immigration are just bigots who can’t handle diversity. Obviously, some bigoted Republicans have made such charges very easy for Democrats.
But New York Mayor Eric Adams made it seem like his city was overwhelmed by a humanitarian crisis when some 6,000 migrants were bused up from Texas over the course of weeks. Texas gets almost that many every few days. Moreover, the federal government has been transporting migrants around the country for years under the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations—for administrative and security purposes.
When DeSantis and Abbot do this, the media calls it an outrage, and yes, it’s meant to spark outrage—but it also calls attention to a national crisis. If you tuned in to media reports, you’d think the crisis is what Republicans are doing with a tiny number of migrants, not the millions of migrants who’ve been arriving at the border for years.
We got to this point because about a decade ago, both parties decided it was in their interest to have the issue to rally around rather than solve the problem via some compromise. Both parties benefited from demonizing the other and both shared the same faulty assumption that Latinos were somehow destined to vote for Democrats. Both sides have preferred to exploit the dysfunction they caused.
For years, when asked what my preferred immigration policy would be, my standard answer has been “to have one.” I agree with Sen. Elizabeth Warren when she says, “It is cruel to treat human beings like pawns in a political game.” But that is precisely what Republicans and Democrats have been doing for a long time.