Bad Takes: Leaders should dump Trump over his disastrous immigration plan

Dennis Nixon, chair of Laredo-based International Bancshares Corp., criticized the border wall and Operation Lone Star yet still backs Trump.

click to enlarge U.S. Border Patrol agents talk to asylum seekers who crossed into South Texas near Eagle Pass. - Shutterstock / Vic Hinterlang
Shutterstock / Vic Hinterlang
U.S. Border Patrol agents talk to asylum seekers who crossed into South Texas near Eagle Pass.

Editor's Note: Bad Takes is a column of opinion and analysis.

Late last year, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain led his 400,000-strong union to a historic contract victory after an unprecedented simultaneous strike on the Big Three automakers.

No one was more surprised than Fain himself, who doesn't have a college degree, when he received an invitation to give the commencement address to the trade union program at Harvard University. He took the opportunity to throw cold water on the fiery nativism voters have endured this presidential season.

"Nothing pisses me off more than when I turn on the news and see that one of the top two issues this election is border security," Fain said. "It's the same thing the billionaire class always does, they divide us; they divide us over any issue they can find, whether it's race, whether it's gender, who you love, what color your skin is or where you come from."

He recounted to graduates that all four of his grandparents lived through the Great Depression.

"Destitute people trying to cross a border to find a better life are not our enemy," he said. "When I see these people, I see my grandparents."

However, politically speaking, the Grand Old Party is simply going hunting where the ducks are. There's a reliable reservoir of anti-immigrant hatred and fear to exploit. From the announcement of his candidacy in 2015 to his speech last month after defeating former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley in the South Carolina primary, Donald Trump has distinguished himself with his unabashed willingness to bogusly claim that migrants are drug smugglers, rapists, fresh out of prisons, fresh out of mental institutions or terrorists.

Evoking terminology used in Nazi Germany, he proclaimed last Christmas that immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country." If elected again, he promised mass roundups and detention camps that would render the Trail of Tears and the internment of Japanese Americans comparatively minor in scale.

The rest of the Republican Party has predictably fallen in line, and Texas has been at the disgraceful vanguard.

On Feb. 20, Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Annunciation House, a Catholic network of migrant shelters in El Paso, for the crime of helping distressed families and weary travelers.

"Under the U.S. Constitution, states have the right to defend from invasion," Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted on Feb. 23.

Ironically enough, James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, explicitly rebuked equating immigration with military invasion, since we are not at war with immigrants' countries of origin. He emphatically argued that pretending otherwise would normalize a gross overreach of state power.

"Under the idea of preventing invasion, not only an indiscriminate removal of all aliens, might be enforced; but a thousand other things still more remote from the operations and precautions appurtenant to war might take place," Madison wrote 224 years ago.

As if foretelling the future, an investigation by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology in 2022 revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement "has created a surveillance infrastructure that enables it to pull detailed dossiers on nearly anyone, seemingly at any time" — all without a warrant. What they can do to the foreign "other," they end up doing to you.

Next to the militarism of Trump and Abbott, old-school conservatives can seem downright moderate.

Take Dennis Nixon, chair of Laredo-based International Bancshares Corp., whom Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia recently interviewed with kid gloves for the Puro Politics podcast.

Although he's endorsed and fundraised for Trump, Nixon opposes the border wall, and criticized the billions Abbott is wasting on Operation Lone Star as "totally ineffective." In a January report titled "Common Sense Border Management Solutions," Nixon noted that the overwhelming majority of unauthorized migrants are looking for work and many are genuinely fleeing persecution.

"It is important to note that most of those seeking asylum are not the drug dealers or rapists the media portrays them to be," he admonished.

Oh, it's "the media," is it? Not the billionaire blowhard whose campaigns you helped bankroll?

Still, right-of-center folks who aren't completely delulu can help dispel false narratives.

Government agencies "are spending all their time processing and managing migrants on the border who simply want a better life and are crossing the border to achieve it," Nixon wrote. "These migrants make a massive, positive contribution to our economy and mean no harm to anyone. Rather than processing economic migrants, U.S. Border Patrol should be spending their time apprehending the bad guys that make up less than 10% of all encounters."

Historically, sweeping immigration crackdowns haven't accomplished much except escalating migrant deaths, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis released last year.

And would there even be a "border crisis" if there were not first a U.S. labor shortage?

"One of the criticisms, obviously, is these people are taking U.S. jobs," Nixon told Garcia. "Nobody in the construction or food service industries or in agriculture will tell you anybody's taking anybody's jobs. There's just no people around."

Indeed, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors trade association, the construction industry alone will need 500,000 more workers this year just to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, back in Down-Is-Up Land, this misleading Fox News headline is making the rounds: "7.2 million illegals entered the U.S. under Biden administration, an amount greater than population of 36 states."

But Customs and Border Protection tracks encounters, not actual border crossings. Upwards of 25% of those 7.2 million encounters may be repeat customers, thus counting the same person twice or more. And, according to the libertarian Cato Institute, the Biden administration has expelled 51% of those apprehended, compared to Trump's 47%, while Trump released 52% back into the country, compared to Biden's 48%.

An open border it is not.

What's more, talk of "open borders" itself contributes to migrants naively believing they'll be greeted with open arms. In a poll obtained by the Dallas Morning News, 1 in 4 Central Americans surveyed said they heard "the border is open."

Now, where would our hemispheric neighbors have gotten such an idea?

From right-wing propaganda, of course. Media Matters for America, a left-leaning journalism watchdog, tallied 3,282 mentions of "open borders" by Fox pundits between Nov. 1, 2020, and March 16, 2023.

Nixon's own report cited "one of the primary reasons" for migration from Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — as "perceptions of amnesty largely driven by misinformation."

Hit with an avalanche of spurious social media posts about the jettisoned bipartisan border security package he'd spent months negotiating, U.S. Sen. James Lankford chastised colleagues who fell for the bait.

"I personally have told them over and over again, they're false," the Oklahoma Republican said. "For some reason we still believe everything we read on the internet."

He also relayed a stunning anecdote: "I had a popular commentator four weeks ago who had told me flat out before they knew any of the contents of the bill that if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you. By the way, they have been faithful to their promise."

One could almost muster up sympathy for policy wonks who aim to add some order to our broken immigration system, if not completely fix it. If not for the disquieting prospect that — should another dehumanizing and cruel chapter of U.S. history unfold during a second Trump term — we'll have politicians and businessmen like Lankford and Nixon to thank for ingratiating themselves to democracy-subverting demagogues instead of, at long last, taking a stand for what they know is right: no human being is illegal.

For my money, it's still all these legals you gotta watch out for.

Subscribe to SA Current newsletters.

Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter| Or sign up for our RSS Feed


Since 1986, the SA Current has served as the free, independent voice of San Antonio, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming an SA Current Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today to keep San Antonio Current.

Scroll to read more National News articles

Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.