El Paso, TEXAS – Immigration has long been a flashpoint in American politics. But, the U.S. has grown increasingly polarized in the first two years of the Biden administration, during which the nation experienced historically high levels of illegal migration, widening the fissure between pro- and anti-immigration factions.
Since President Joe Biden was sworn in, more than 6.3 million illegal aliens have entered the U.S. For context, this two-year number is more than twice the amount of illegal migration that occurred during all four years of the Trump administration combined (3,004,925).
Amid the spike in migrants entering the country illegally, conversations surrounding the issue have been given new life, as Americans weigh the cost of illegal migration against the desire to allow foreign nationals in disadvantageous circumstances to pursue a better life within our borders.
Many of those who have entered the U.S. are seeking a better life, hoping to find work and to be able to sustain themselves and their families better than they could in their home countries.
Rodney Pierre and Wander Jerome, both 25, are two such young men.
The pair originate from the Republic of Haiti, which has been afflicted by political, social, and economic turmoil for decades.
“I am here for a better opportunity and for security, because my country is in a bad political situation,” Jerome told Timcast News. “In Chile, we don’t have the opportunity to work. I think here in the United States there is a better opportunity for me to work to support my family.”
Years ago, Pierre and Jerome emigrated from Haiti and have been living in Chile, which was rocked by violent protests in 2019 and 2020 as people nationwide called for reforms to the country’s healthcare, pension, and education systems.
The unrest was so fierce it resulted in the military taking to the streets for the first time since the oppressive rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet, who led Chile from 1974 to 1990.
According to the two, they met roughly a year ago and the journey to the U.S. was “not easy.” But they are pursuing a government program that will allow them the “security of a better life to live.”
Jerome is waiting to fly to his final destination, Orlando, Florida, where he has family who are awaiting his arrival.
Thousands of other asylum seekers have similar stories. Yet, because of America’s broken immigration system, the process to enter the country legally, find work and shelter, and pave a pathway to citizenship can be daunting, leaving a trail of confusion, angst, and misery in its wake.
The week Timcast News spoke with Pierre and Jerome, black Chicago residents protested and took legal action to stop the city from housing migrants in multiple locations, including a neighborhood high school.
“Members of the Black Community Collaborative, South Shore constituents and stakeholders are extremely dismayed by the city of Chicago’s inability to control and develop safe parameters around housing migrants that have been transported here from the border,” ABC 7 quoted local resident Natasha Dunn as saying.
Since August of last year, Chicago has received more than 8,000 migrants, overwhelming police stations so the city can open new shelters, ABC reported.
Black Americans, many of whom are still living in violent, poverty-stricken communities that were intentionally destroyed by the government, often balk at the idea of illegal aliens coming into the U.S., in particular, their local communities.
Research going back decades shows that illegal migration decimates black communities, robbing black American workers of employment opportunities. And it’s not only black Americans who have been shown to suffer measurable harm from illegal migration.
New findings released in May 2023 show that for U.S. born workers without a bachelor’s degree, median income is higher when immigration is lower.
Overall, the fiscal burden of illegal immigration is substantial. As of January 2023, the cost of illegal immigration to the U.S. at the federal, state, and local levels exceeds $150 billion annually — each illegal alien or U.S.-born child of an illegal alien costs taxpayers $8,776 per year.
These factors are often cited as reasons to oppose illegal migration to the U.S. and to re-evaluate the nation’s system for determining which and how many migrants are able to become naturalized citizens.
However, the negative impacts that both illegal and legal immigration have are rarely acknowledged by pro-immigration advocates calling for a streamlined process to admit foreign-born individuals into the U.S. Neither addressed are the chaos at the southern border, and concerns that the U.S. has the right to determine the circumstances under which foreigners enter the country
“First of all, let me say that all of us want a more orderly process of integration,” Bishop Mark Seitz of the El Paso Catholic Diocese told Timcast News in an interview.
“We in the church have been calling for that for years and calling for a reform of our immigration system, so that those who have to claim a right of asylum — which is an international right, supported by our own government — can have that opportunity,” he said. “But, the opportunities for people to come haven’t nearly corresponded to the need because we haven’t adapted our immigration system for more than 30 years.”
The Diocese recently opened up five shelters to provide aide to migrants coming across the U.S. southern border where the Mexican city of Juarez meets El Paso along the Rio Grande. Seitz says that years ago the Diocese launched the Border Refugee Assistance Fund, which collects donations to provide financial resources for counseling and medical programs supported by the church.
Seitz added that the Diocese works with organizations and shelters on both sides of the border, specifically, “whomever is caring for immigrants.”
The Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc. (DMRS) is a ministry of the El Paso Catholic Diocese and provides legal assistance to migrants who want to legalize their status in the U.S.
Imelda Maynard, Legal Director for DMRS, told Timcast News she believes that Congress hasn’t passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill because many within the U.S. prefer to have illegal aliens as a permanent underclass.
“We like cheap labor. And immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, provide cheap labor,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] laws, you don’t have to worry about the [Fair Labor Standards Act] or anything like that because are [migrants] going to say something? Of course not. They’re too worried about being deported.”
She added, “That’s my cynical view, but I think it’s probably correct.”
Division over the issue of immigration, specifically migrants illegally making their way across the U.S. southern border, is widespread, but not limited to conversations between Americans. A large number of foreigners who endured the tedious and expensive process to become U.S. citizens have spoken out, criticizing those who aren’t seeking a legal pathway into the country.
Maynard expressed frustration with foreign-born individuals who take that position.
“There is no right way to do things, especially when we’re talking about asylum seekers. If you look at the actual asylum statute — so like the plain letter of the law — it’s very clear that you are entitled to seek asylum regardless of what your status is, or how you entered the country,” she explained. “So the fact that you’re even applying for asylum, that is the right way to do it under the law. You just have to be on U.S. soil to seek it.”
Various types of amnesties have been passed over the past few decades that provided certain illegal aliens a pathway to legalized status in the U.S., Maynard explained. She cited the nation’s first sweeping amnesty bill signed in 1986 by Republican President Ronald Reagan and the Cuban Adjustment Act as two of several examples.
“And for people to say, ‘Well, I did it the right way,’ it’s like, right, because Congress passed a program and gave you a pathway to do it, the ‘quote, unquote’ right way,” she said. “And that’s what we’re asking for now.”
Less than a week after Title 42 expired, New York City officials announced a plan to allow migrants to be housed in at least 20 city public school gyms, as part of an emergency plan to cope with the thousands of migrants being bussed to the Empire State from border states where they entered illegally.
Following an executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017, New York is one of 11 states that has pledged to be a “sanctuary state,” which supports illegal aliens at the state government level, while also refusing to cooperate with federal immigration, detainment, and deportation efforts.
Parents and students protested the policy of turning schools into shelters, with some parents going so far as removing their kids from school.
Despite the toll that illegal migration is taking on American citizens, many El Paso residents retain deep sympathies with asylum seekers.
“There’s probably some bad actors coming over and illegals, yes. They’re not following the format, but, for the most part from what I’ve seen, people are leaving a very bad situation in their home countries and they just want a new life,” Richard Lewis, an El Paso resident, told Timcast News during an interview at the U.S. southern border wall. “That’s no different than Ellis Island back in the early 1900s.”
Lewis, who is working toward finishing a Ph.D program in history, says this issue is political and has been “blown out of proportion,” acknowledging that there is a legal process that should be followed, but adding that migrants are already here, so we need to “deal with it.”
He said, “Right now something needs to be done. And so I understand the legal part of it, but I understand what’s more important in my mind is the human part of it, despite the fact that there’s bad actors coming in.”
Lewis explained his position:
What should be brought to attention is the totality of this situation. And so we’re gonna have to deal with it. And it is true, people are coming over. There’s different organizations that are busing some of these migrants to people they know, whether they have families across the country or like Texas’ governor is doing, shipping them off and just dropping them off in New York City and say, ‘Here deal with them.’
I mean, I’m sorry, that’s BS. I’m not gonna say the word, but that’s BS. That’s not how you treat human beings. That’s a political statement. And that’s just my opinion. We shouldn’t be treating fellow human beings like that, even if you’re trying to make a point.
After the end of Title 42 enforcement last week, video footage shot by U.S. House Rep. Tony Gonzales showed an overcrowded government facility holding migrants in El Paso. Since then, authorities have been releasing asylum seekers with court dates to see a judge scheduled as far out as 10 years.
And with the prospect of millions more migrants making their way into the U.S., the debate over illegal immigration will not be settled anytime soon.