Immigration extremists rule red states

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Well, well. The 2024 State of the Union is behind us. As I expected, President Joe Biden was ready and roaring to enter the fray. He tackled his opponent in the proverbial end zone and brushed aside MAGA supporters as if they were linebackers on a junior high school squad. As expected, the southern border was center stage, amidst a gazillion other gigantic topics.

Given that most Americans thought Biden would slump into a stupor while standing behind the podium, they must have been astounded that exactly the opposite happened. Vice President Kamala Harris seemed thrilled, smiling and clapping like a cheerleader at a National Championship Game. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson looked puzzled and confused, turning from glum to dispirited to angry with each tick of the clock.

The camera flashed on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the 82-year old Senate minority leader, who looked aghast. The scan didn’t get to Senator Chuck Grassley, the 90-year old senator from Iowa, but I’d like to have seen his wonderment at Biden’s vigor. The entire hour of Biden’s speech is online. Give it a listen.

Biden even had an opportunity to put the inappropriately clad Majorie Taylor Greene in her place. The Republican representative from Georgia demanded the president utter the name of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student murdered last month, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant. Biden had no trouble saying the young woman’s name, and expressing the kind of empathy he is known for.

Senator Katie Britt of Alabama delivered the Republican response to Biden’s speech. As characterized by The Guardian, Britt spoke “with a wavering voice” as she described meeting a migrant woman who told of being “sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12 and who, Britt said, spoke of being repeatedly raped “on a mattress in a shoebox of a room.” (Reporter Jonathan Katz determined within 24 hours that the woman was abducted during George W. Bush’s administration, and in Mexico—nowhere near the border. In addition, she was sex trafficked by a pimp, not drug cartels.)

It’s exactly that kind of abuse, brutality, and disregard for humanity that accounts for an ongoing rise in the number of migrants fleeing Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle — comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Ironically, Britt was one of the Republican negotiators who came up with, then rejected, legislation addressing the immigration crisis.

It’s like a simple ninth-grade science lesson

As any kid who paid attention in ninth-grade General Science knows, if you apply enough heat to a beaker of water, the water turns to steam. If the beaker is stoppered, and there’s no escape for the steam, the pressure will cause the beaker to explode. If the steam gets relief through a tube, let’s say by one leaking into a second beaker, the steam will cool as it moves through the tube and condense to water and drip into the second beaker.

If the tube is really, really long, like from El Salvador to El Paso, the steam will, of course, cool along the way. Before the water drips into a second beaker in El Paso, it might settle at the lowest points of the tube, maybe at a place just south of the Rio Grande, like in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. 

Stay with me here. 

What then happens to the water stuck in Mexico? Will it flow back to El Salvador? 

No. There are mad scientists back in El Salvador incessantly boiling water, savagely creating more and more steam, more pressure to drive out the unfortunates — enough steam, they hope, to drive them across the Rio Grande into Texas or Arizona or wherever.

In El Norte, there are other mad scientists trying to turn water back into steam and send it, and migrants with it, hissing back down the tube to El Salvador or Guatemala or Honduras or Venezuela — any place other than the USA. Red states specialize in this technique.

Except, the migrants don’t want to go back to the danger, corruption, death, rape, brutality, gang warfare, poverty, injustice, and inhumanity they escaped. Think about Senator Britt’s poor immigrant woman. It’s hot in Texas but cool compared to the torturous heat in El Salvador, et al. These are real dangers, as Britt‘s migrant woman knows better than the humblest, least secure of any U.S. citizen — and especially more than the privileged Britt or any red-state governor.

Red States

The theory of Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other red-state governors (and the GOP presidential candidate) is that if a state applies enough heat — ie, stringing razor wire, building high fences, employing more guards, busing migrants to New York City, separating families, caging children, or locking up able bodied men and women — it will make life in the U.S. so miserable the migrants will scamper back to the hellholes they’ve left. 

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has deployed state troopers and National Guard personnel to help intimidate new arrivals at the Texas border. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, once a Republican presidential candidate, visited the Texas-Mexico border in 2023 and promised to “fully deputize all state and local governments” to enforce immigration law if the federal government refuses to. He said a state like Texas should be able to “deport across the border 100%.”

I’m reading the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s article on a bill Iowa Senate Republicans approved. The goal of Senate File 2211, apparently, is to make life so miserable for migrants coming into the state, they’ll leave. According to the Gazette, Republican State Senator Jeff Reichman said the bill (which makes it a crime to enter Iowa illegally) is needed because he believes Biden’s administration has not sufficiently enforced federal immigration laws at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Reichman should have been more truthful: It’s what Donald Trump told him to do. MAGA hearts boil when they hear Spanish music played in their neighborhoods or see images of brown-skinned migrants in long lines wending their way through the Mexican desert. Would this bill ease MAGA’s pain? Hell no.

What Reichman doesn’t get, or doesn’t want to get, is that Biden is enforcing the law, which allows a stranger at our gates to request asylum and a hearing on the stranger’s refugee status. When the law was written, no one expected that much of the Western Hemisphere would be going up in flames. 

Meanwhile, Iowa House Republicans approved a bill that would establish a new crime (“smuggling” an undocumented immigrant). The bill’s floor manager, State Representative Steven Holt, asserted that House File 2608 would address “The very real and profoundly serious crisis on our southern border. It demands we stand up as a state and protect our citizens and our sovereignty.” Holt said his bill would discourage human trafficking, labor trafficking, sex trafficking and all of the garbage that is happening on our southern border and transferring into our state.

Holt, a retired Marine drill sergeant, must watch FOX News a lot. Otherwise he’d know that the stream of migrants heading north through Mexico is composed largely of children and their families, all fleeing “all that garbage” he fears so much. I’m afraid Holt loses his Christian charity when he leaves Denison for the vengeful confines of the Iowa capitol.

Immigrant workers and Catholic charities worry that the bills being advanced by Iowa Republican lawmakers would criminalize and could lead to the closure of faith-based migrant shelters and civic engagement organizations to house or transport asylum-seekers. (Many Latinos and volunteers involved with charities spoke against House File 2608 at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on March 12, but Republicans advanced the bill anyway.)

Ironically, there’s a flip side to the immigration fear mongering, CNBC reported in early March.

The share of immigrants in the U.S. labor force has steadily increased for more than a decade, and that growth is poised to continue — a trend economists say benefits the American workforce and economy.

In 2006, 15.3% of the civilian labor force was made up of “foreign-born” workers, or those born outside the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That share hit a record 18.6% in 2023.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the increase in foreign-born workers is “taking pressure off the economy.”

“In fact, it’s probably one reason why the economy grew so strongly last year,” he said.

U.S. gross domestic product, a measure of economic output, grew by 2.5% in 2023, beating expectations and increasing from 1.9% in 2022.

A book Holt and his cohorts should read

I’m reading a new book by Jonathan Blitzer entitled Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central America, and the Making of a Crisis. Blitzer is a journalist, writer, and immigration expert, a staff writer for The New Yorker. As per the New York Times, Blitzer profiles a cast of characters that includes migrants, activists, and politicians, unspooling their stories across a half-century in three acts: the Cold War counterinsurgencies in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which displaced millions and helped remake U.S. immigration policy; the growth of gangs in Central America, bolstered by deportation; and the rise in asylum seekers as a mass movement of the dispossessed.

The book’s New York Times reviewer Matthieu Aikins says:

Yet despite the incantations of politicians who promise to restore the integrity of borders and the nation-state, migration is an increasingly global phenomenon, and migrants from Asia and Africa make up a growing share of those apprehended at the border. Like climate change, the rich world’s migration crisis cannot be properly understood at the national scale. Instead, it raises fundamental questions about what it means to be an ethical citizen.

Last week, Jon Stewart interviewed Blitzer about his book and the crisis Blitzer describes in meticulous and vivid detail. The book surely does raise the fundamental questions about what it means to be an “ethical citizen.” Excerpt. Suggest reading.

Photo by Aaron Wells of migrants who entered the U.S. in July 2023 near Sasabe, Arizona is available via Shutterstock.

About the Author(s)

Gerald Ott

  • remarkable to read that

    book and not realize that it is our brutal and extractive policies that have created (and continue to create) the dehumanizing conditions in play here. Many people have been raising the alarms about these issues for decades (including in hearings in Congress) so absurd to say that “When the law was written, no one expected that much of the Western Hemisphere would be going up in flames.”
    Also worth noting that Steve King’s (and his White Christian Nationalist cohort’s) White Replacement Theory is now mainstream in the Repuglican Party embraced by all our elected officials and the party machines around them and shame on us for not doing more to stamp out those sparks before they could become a blazing inferno. This goes for the less explicit but still deadly modes of wrecking the nascent civil rights social contract too: