This story was first published in Truthout.
Since the end of 2020 there has been an increase in attempted immigration, but this should not be coded as a “crisis.”
Immigration rates fluctuate based on different factors. Since 2000, for instance, attempted crossings went from a high of 1.6 million to a low of 300,000 by 2017 — an 80 percent decline. The recent rise in refugees attempting to enter the U.S. — reaching a high point of 2.5 million by 2023 — is a result of displacing factors in which U.S. government policy has played a role.
For instance, the largest percentage (53 percent) of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. since 2020 have come from Venezuela — where the U.S. government has maintained a suffocating regime of economic sanctions since 2014.
There has also been an increase in state repression and restrictive changes in policy that have reduced how many migrants attain refugee status after entering the country. For instance, while there is a recent increase in people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border — a process rooted in long-standing U.S. policy — Trump largely dismantled the practice, instead automatically expelling migrants at the border. Biden continued Trump’s policy until May 2023, deporting even more than Trump.
While 2.3 million migrants and refugees have been temporarily “paroled” into the U.S. under Biden, nearly 4 million have been denied entry or deported. Most paroled individuals are in active removal proceedings, and only a small percentage are likely to attain refugee status as Biden has capped asylum cases at 125,000 per year. So no, migrants are not “the problem.” And the U.S. has sufficient resources to settle migrants and refugees — if that were a priority.
The real threat at the border is the far right, which has fueled a civil war-like showdown between the federal government and the Texas state government by weaponizing anti-immigration politics.
Taking cues from Donald Trump’s first presidency by declaring a relentless war on immigrants, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and aligned far right Republican legislators launched the multibillion-dollar paramilitary “Operation Lone Star” (OLS) in 2021 — a multipronged offensive against refugees seeking entry through the state’s southern border. The operation is the latest and most deadly effort by the Texas state government to circumvent federal authority to carry out a crackdown on asylum-seeking people along the southern border.
The scheme designates 48 mostly southwestern border counties as “disaster zones” to weaponize emergency policy reserved for natural disasters as a smokescreen to mobilize up to 10,000 Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety (DPS) agents to arrest migrants and refugees under the charge of “criminal trespass.” This has resulted in the arrest of a half million migrants and the criminal prosecution of nearly 39,000 people to date. Abbott internally deported more than 100,000 additional refugees by bus and plane to Democratic Party-controlled cities across the U.S. since 2022 — a political ploy favorably referred to in racist and neo-segregationist terms by those involved as “reverse freedom rides.”
The most violent and deadly aspect of OLS has been the methods used by the state to fortify and close a 2.5-mile stretch of the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, where shallower water enables an easier crossing point for refugee families and children. It is in this area that the state ordered the placement of a 1,000-foot “floating wall” of buoys linked together with razor-sharp, flesh-maiming sawblades to deter refugees. This has forced people to cross deeper and more deadly parts of the river upstream. Since October 2023, 15 bodies have been recovered, including three children, and it is further estimated that two people on average have drowned each week.
‘No, migrants are not “the problem.” And the U.S. has sufficient resources to settle migrants and refugees — if that were a priority.’
If refugees get to the opposing banks, they face a secondary barrier of stacked shipping containers, fencing and concertina wire, and hundreds of state troopers who violently repress and block those attempting to cross. A DPS agent turned whistleblower leaked the directives coming from the state, revealing that agents were ordered to push groups that included “small children” and “nursing babies” back into the water, to deny water amid scorching heat and no medical treatment for those suffering lacerations from the razor wire. Abbott publicly bragged: “The only thing that we’re not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border, because of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”
The intention of Operation Lone Star has become realized as a charter of death for refugees, by design. The remains of 149 refugees have been recovered along the U.S.-Mexico border to the north of Eagle Pass in 2023 — more than double the previous year — making it the most deadly year on record. Not only have the extreme right-wing Texas Republicans made the willful murder of refugees an official policy, but they are doubling down on racist anti-immigration extremism as a strategy to force a political crisis. Trump, Abbott and their allies are taking anti-immigrant rhetoric and repressive measures to new depths — and like their counterparts in other parts of the capitalist world — are creating the conditions and circumstances where fascist ideas and movements can grow and take action.
Political Crisis and Showdown
A political crisis is now developing in South Texas after the Biden administration’s Department of Justice declared OLS unlawful and secured a federal court order for Texas to allow the U.S. Border Patrol to dismantle the buoy wall and other physical barriers. The federal government sent Border Patrol agents and heavy machinery to the area to enforce the order. In defiance, Abbott ordered Texas National Guard troops to block Border Patrol from accessing the area, stoking a showdown with the federal government. Abbott issued a statement describing the Biden administration as having failed “to enforce federal [immigration] laws,” characterizing his state’s open defiance as a constitutionally authorized act based on the right to self-defense against a “foreign invasion.”
Trump has since rushed to Abbott’s defense after winning the New Hampshire primary, swollen with despotic arrogance and vengeful purpose. He exhorted the MAGA-majority of congressional Republicans to put the kibosh on negotiations taking place with the Democratic Party over a new border policy. House Republicans had been holding up a Democratic plan to transfer $60 billion in military aid to Ukraine (while tentatively approving an additional $14 billion that Democrats desperately want to deliver to Israel to fund its ongoing genocide of Palestinians) in exchange for giving the extreme right full control over the determination of federal immigration policy — something Biden was already willing to concede without a fight.
Biden and the Democratic Party have long abandoned the administration’s 2020 campaign promises to legalize millions of undocumented people, block deportations, reunite separated families, and roll back Trump’s executive orders and policies that have caused so much harm to millions of migrants and refugees during his first presidential tenure. Biden and the Democratic congressional majority instead ramped up deportations, continued and expanded most of Trump’s racist and repressive policies, and lurched so far to the right by early 2024, that they have largely adopted the Republicans’ anti-immigration policy framework.
Biden and the Democratic leadership are now vowing to create an executive mechanism to allow for the president to “shut down the border” completely when determined to be necessary, to increase the number of Border Patrol agents, greatly reduce “paroled release” of asylum seekers into the U.S., increase surveillance technologies, and other measures while also for the first time excluding any requirement for legalization. As one Washington Post commentator stressed, “Democrats are offering something Republicans have wanted for years … tougher border security without a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country, including ‘dreamers.’”
‘The intention of Operation Lone Star has become realized as a charter of death for refugees, by design.’
Trump’s calculation in opposing this concession is that any “border deal” could help Biden in the election, and that a potentially more repressive policy to his liking could be crafted after his presumptive election victory in November. Trump is instead encouraging “all willing states” to dispatch National Guard troops to Texas to back Abbott in the power struggle with the federal government. The Texas state government’s actions and Trump’s appeals have received broad support from Republicans across the country, with many backing Abbott’s call to “hold the line” and others suggesting “that Texas use force to defend itself from an attack.” In this trajectory of compliance and submission to the far right, Biden and the Democratic Party have opened the lane for the far right to feel even more confident, intransigent and entitled to push further to the point of posturing for civil war.
Anti-Immigrant Politics and Rising Fascism
The specter of conflict erupting between state and federal forces in the U.S. reflects an intensification of the polarization already fragmenting society and political processes ahead of the fall elections. Successive capitalist crises over the last 15 years have torn at the very fabric of society, driving the immense and inexorable accumulation of wealth by the capitalist class alongside gaping social inequality; and prolonged economic instability, precarity and privation for the vast majority of the rest of society. This is further compounded by international polarization, characterized by U.S.-China interimperialist conflict, escalating war in Ukraine, and the potential for other conflagrations to break out across all regions of the globe — especially in the Middle East and East Asia. Climate change is inducing catastrophic events that are accelerating economic crises and rapidly inducing dislocation. These factors have contributed to growing rates of displacement internationally, with more than 108 million people forcibly displaced from their countries in 2022, 117 million in 2023 and a projected 130 million more before the end of 2024.
The ruling political parties, whether left or right of center, have been unwilling and unable to confront the capitalist system itself — and thus have failed to provide meaningful solutions to these deep and systemic crises. Instead, they are adopting and accommodating to the reactionary politics of anti-immigration, shepherding their entrance into the mainstream. This realignment against immigration has led to more intensive criminalization of refugees and displaced peoples as a means to hold onto or vie for power, or to cultivate a base of support among the downwardly mobile and disaffected. This shift to the hard right on migration has also created an opening for neofascist political parties to rise to power. Neofascist political parties and movements are rising across Europe by attacking immigrants and refugees, have won recent elections in Italy and the Netherlands, and are poised to take power in Germany and France.
In the United States, the racist scapegoating of immigrants has been a long-standing and recurring political feature of the capitalist two-party system, especially during times of crisis. Trump, Abbott, and a whole new generation of far right Republicans with alignments and connections to neofascist movements and ideologues are the latest iteration of this phenomenon — and are taking it to new depths. They have seized on the issue to cohere and activate the most reactionary and disgruntled elements of society — especially among the petite bourgeoisie and downwardly mobile White middle class like those who stormed the Capitol in 2021. The far right evokes the well-honed atavisms of rage and loathing against the racial “other,” giving a target and a sense of individual power and purpose to those who feel they are losing out but cannot understand why. This section of the Republican Party has become hegemonic and continues to build its capacity by attacking the defenseless, projecting power over declared enemies, and creating the illusion that this is the pathway out of the otherwise intractable and overlapping symptoms of crisis capitalism.
There is a way to stop the extreme right from committing atrocities against migrants and refugees and weaponizing anti-immigration racism in the way that is cultivating a surge in White supremacist and fascist movements. There is even a way to prevent the fascist imaginary that sees a route to power by generating some kind of national emergency that can stoke the flames of civil war — much like the showdown currently happening on the border. Biden and the Democrats could push for legalization for all undocumented people and decriminalize and normalize asylum-seeking — the exact things they campaigned for and were elected to do. But since capitalism needs anti-immigration politics to enable division and control of the working-class majority — especially when inequality is widening like never before — the Democrats are more likely to continue to appease and enable the torchbearers of neofascism than stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees.
Thus, we must urgently organize against the politics and movements of anti-immigration. This has to start with rejecting the Democratic Party’s anti-immigrant politics and complicity, building abolitionist campaigns against the state institutions of immigrant repression, taking action to oppose and resist the far right wherever it is organizing, and through building bases of support and solidarity within unions and working class and immigrant communities. We do this, or this current border showdown will certainly not be the end — but rather the starting point for something much worse.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.
Justin Akers Chacón is an educator, activist and writer in the San Diego-Tijuana border region. His recent works include The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the US-Mexico Border (Haymarket Books, 2021) and No One is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the US-Mexico Border (with Mike Davis, Haymarket Books, 2nd edition, 2018).