Republicans are politicizing the border and children's lives

Republicans are politicizing the border and children’s lives

Originally Published in CNN

Opinion by Julián Castro - April 12, 2021

Editor's Note: Julián Castro is a former presidential candidate, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN) Like the children arriving at our border every day, my grandmother came to the US from Mexico at seven years old seeking a better life. She worked as a maid, a cook and a babysitter to provide for her family. Two generations later, one of her grandsons is serving in Congress and the other had the opportunity to serve in President Barack Obama's cabinet.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro
The children arriving at our border today are seeking the same safety and opportunity she sought. Instead of treating them like national security threats, we should treat them humanely, and work to improve the conditions in their home countries so that more families aren't compelled to follow in their footsteps.
Over the last month, several Republicans in Congress have traveled to our southern border to try to draw attention to an increase in asylum seekers presenting themselves to border patrol. Texas officials like Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Gov. Greg Abbott have used these trips to fear-monger constituents about children seeking asylum and gaslight Americans about who really created the challenge at our border today.
They're spreading lies about what's happening on the border, about migrants spreading Covid-19, and about which president is to blame for the current influx of unaccompanied children seeking refuge. Their hypocrisy is disturbing and detached from reality, but it's not at all surprising.
Republicans' trips, floor speeches, and statements are nothing more than cynical political stunts that attempt to rewrite the history of former President Donald Trump's failed immigration agenda. Republican lawmakers and leaders in Congress and in Texas, like Abbott, are selling a bill of goods that, unfortunately, many in the media have been eager to buy.
As a lifelong Texan and as the grandson of immigrants, I won't be gaslit into forgetting the damage Trump did to our immigration and asylum systems. For four years, the Trump administration worked against providing asylum, attacked documented and undocumented immigrants, froze aid to Central America, and reduced our capacity to care for those seeking refuge from violence and disaster. And what did Republicans leading the current outcry do? Nothing. They were with Trump every step of the way.
In 2018, Republicans supported Trump's "Zero Tolerance" policy, which mandated that all migrants be criminally prosecuted and thousands of children be separated from their parents. That same year, Trump instituted the 'Remain in Mexico' policy, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols, that directed non-Mexican asylum seekers to return to Mexico as they awaited hearings in the US.
Also in 2018, the Trump administration enactedmetering policies to grind the asylum process to a halt and leave thousands of refugees in tent cities along our border. I saw the human tragedy of these policies when I traveled to Matamoros, Mexico, in 2019. I spoke to a mother with a 20-day-old baby on her lap, who told me the story of her long journey to the United States while she swatted flies off of her newborn. And the inhumanity didn't stop there.
In 2019, Trump froze hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to Central America, a decision that then-former Vice President Joe Biden said would "increase migration to our Southern border, not reduce it." Last year, while Trump bungled the federal response to the coronavirus, he used the pandemic to invoke Title 42, an obscure public health provision allowing US Customs and Border Protection to turn away over thousands of migrants at our border. Trump used the resource to expel more than half a million would-be asylum seekers without due process according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, including 15,000 children who arrived alone seeking our protection. It was unprecedented, immoral, and ruled illegal by a federal judge who ordered the Trump administration in November to accept minors seeking asylum. The Biden administration has continued expelling most single adults and families at the southern border, but it is admitting migrant children.
However, the same Republicans, including Abbott, who are demagoguing our border did not make a peep in Trump's last nine months in office, when there was a 359% increase in border encounters and a 690% increase in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. While some immigration reporters may have called attention to the increases at the time, there was no wall-to-wall cable coverage or debates about the use of the word "crisis." The increase in asylum seekers only got attention when Republicans started attacking President Biden, and many in the media bought their misinformation and fear-mongering hook, line, and sinker.
The truth is: the Biden administration is picking up the pieces of a humanitarian catastrophe Trump left at our doorstep. While combating a global pandemic, an economic recession and a dramatic rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, the Biden administration is reassembling our asylum system and replacing Trump's cruelty with compassion and common sense.
Instead of expelling children and leaving asylum seekers in tents along our border, they're working to build capacity at the Department of Health and Human Services facilities, standing up asylum systems in Central America so families aren't forced to journey to the border, and they're more quickly vetting sponsors so unaccompanied migrant children can be placed in loving homes as fast as possible.
As Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said, the conditions in CBP facilities are unacceptable, and I believe the media should have better access to ensure the administration is keeping true to its word. Additionally, I'm hopeful that in short order the Biden administration will work to end Title 42, which has essentially suspended our nation's asylum system for more than a year and runs counter to our values. We cannot allow Trump's racist and short-sighted policies to become our default.
In the long term, the Biden administration is working to address the root causes of migration and improve conditions in Central America so that families can find safety and opportunity at home, instead of making the dangerous journey to the border. President Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to oversee these efforts.
As a friend and fellow presidential hopeful, I saw firsthand the passion and expertise she brings to these difficult issues, and I know she will approach them earnestly. The Biden administration understands that the challenges at the border don't start at the border, and certainly can't be solved by walling ourselves off. It takes a sober, whole-of-government approach that puts diplomacy first.
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Instead of spreading lies and pointing fingers, Republicans in Congress and governors of our border states like Abbott should work with the Biden administration to fix our immigration system and invest in Central America. If they're serious about these issues, they should do the work to pass immigration reform, instead of using the issue to inspire fear and divide Americans.


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