I was confused last month by posting a friend who appeared on my Facebook. “I guess the pandemic is over now because we have open borders. No? “After I had just returned to the United States after five years of living in Canada, I knew first hand that the American border no open – at least not for routine passengers.
Since March 2020, the Trump and Biden administrations have consistently extended land travel restrictions to both the northern and southern U.S. borders, restricting only land access to “basic” traffic. (Traveling by plane is another matter). The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that fully vaccinated Canadians and Mexicans could enter the U.S. “to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” starting in November.
However, two significant restrictions for our land borders will remain in force after the current restrictions are eased: (1) Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitors will not be allowed to enter; (2) Title 42, which severely restricts access for asylum seekers entering from Mexico, shall remain in force.
At first I thought that my friend from Facebook must have been wrong. Then I saw a billboard sponsored by a conservative club near where I live and criticized President Biden for “open borders”, among other things. Shortly afterwards, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis condemned U.S. “open borders” at a news conference announcing an executive order he issued to “protect Floridans from the dangerous consequences of the Biden border crisis.”
Obviously my friend was more than wrong. A coordinated disinformation campaign is underway, amplifying xenophobic concerns on the right and sacrificing foreigners for many of America’s current problems. The central figure leading this story is Tucker Carlson.
He went on to blame Mexico and Mexicans for the deaths of 100,000 American teenagers with fentanyl, the inflated U.S. real estate market, and the 1990% increase in U.S. population since 1990 – all in the range of one program.
In mid-September, Carlson claimed in his show that “under Joe Biden, hundreds of thousands of immigrants come to the United States every month.” He went on to blame Mexico and Mexicans for the deaths of 100,000 American teenagers with fentanyl, the inflated U.S. real estate market, and the 1990% increase in U.S. population since 1990 – all in the range of one program. He also confirmed that Democrats are keeping the southern border open because, in the end, they plan to retain power by essentially importing a new electorate consisting of unskilled workers and gang members MS-13 — a strange accusation he later repeated without a shred of evidence.
More recently, Carlson and other right-wing figures have used the “open border” claim to cover up the increase in COVID-19 infection to this alleged influx of immigrants, refugees and international tourists. And they succeed. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation opinion poll found that 55% of Republicans and 40% of unvaccinated Americans attribute the latest wave of COVID-19 to foreigners spreading the virus. Anthony Fauci spoke directly and unequivocally rejected this explanation in an interview with CNN on October 3.
‘Encounters’ are not people they let in
The source of this accusation is an “open border,” including the hyperbole that “hundreds of thousands” of immigrants arrive in the country, monthly U.S. customs and border protection reports documenting an increasing number of “encounters” in the U.S. and Mexico borders.
Tucker Carlson used the term “encounter” in his statements, and when I asked my Facebook friend about his open border post, another Facebook user responded and referred me to a Pew Research Center report analyzing this data. The Pew report confirms that the U.S. Border Patrol counted 199,777 migrants in July, the highest in 21 years. In August, those numbers exceeded 200,000. Pew’s analysis also shows that the number of expulsions from the southern border has been steadily declining since President Biden took office.
The definition of the term “encounter” is key to properly understanding the implications of these reports. U.S. customs and border guards define “encounter” as arrest or expulsion. The table presented in the Pew Research Center report includes a note explaining: “Migrants who have been arrested are being taken into U.S. custody pending sentencing. Migrants who have been expelled immediately return to their homeland or last transit country without being detained. ”
Nothing in these reports, therefore, suggests that 200,000 migrants entered the U.S. in July or August. Quite the opposite, in fact: 200,000 migrants were detained while trying to enter the United States. They tried to cross the border, but were intercepted and arrested or expelled.
It is true that a number of those caught at the border, especially unaccompanied minors, are then released into the U.S. after a hearing or while awaiting trial. What will happen depends on the status that border crossers receive from American agents.
Policy reform is needed
The recent increase in migrants from Haiti and Central America who tried to enter America in 2021 has obviously overwhelmed the capacity of the U.S. border patrol and burdened the entire immigration system. Some migrants reported to NBC News in March that they were released by border patrol agents before they were given a specific date to appear in court.
There is an obvious need for additional resources and policy reform. However, claims that immigrants “flood” the United States as if the borders were “open” are wrong at best.
The motives and internal logic behind that claim are clear.
In the highly charged and ideologically rooted political environment of our time, the existence of such a disinformation campaign should come as no surprise. The motives and internal logic behind that claim are clear.
For those who supported President Trump’s border wall and his now-lifted travel bans, the story of “open borders” offers confirmation of their position. For those who hail anti-maskers and anti-vaccineists as patriots fighting for freedom, it offers a satisfactory explanation for the victims of COVID that is not contrary to their beliefs. Strangers are to blame. But foreigners cannot be blamed if a large number of them do not enter the country. Therefore, the borders must be “open”.
Strategically, this right-wing narrative is quite brilliant. It strikes with perfect energy for a particular political base. However, deeper and disturbing currents are operating here beyond the political expediency at the moment. Of particular concern is the white overlay.
“Open Borders” is essentially a 2021 remake of Donald Trump’s 2016 fantasy of “bad hombres,” which itself was a variation of generations of the old “dirty stranger” motif. Foreigners beat us abroad and destroy us from within. Mexico exports its waste materials and imports our jobs. Now these “dirty strangers” are killing us with COVID, threatening our women and destroying our children with drugs. In the biblical sense, they are unclean.
Fear is the genre of this “story”, and its language is prejudice, clear and simple. It should be rejected, especially by those who profess Jesus. Faith rooted in love of God and love of neighbor cannot tolerate a policy based on ideological convenience and fear of the other.
Todd Thomason is a gospel minister, advocate for justice, and a recovered white moderate, who recently served as a senior minister at Kingsway Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He earned a Ph.D. from Candler Theological Seminary at Emory University and a master’s degree in divinity from McAfee Theological School at Mercer University.
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