Invasion Rhetoric Is Radicalizing the Right
It's also making non-military solutions to immigration impossible
Today, I published a CenterClip—a short commentary piece in audio form—on the topic of the right’s increasing use of “invasion” talk to describe migrants crossing into the U.S. from the Southern border.
You can find the audio on my CenterClip author page.
The transcript is below.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is once again upping his rhetoric to describe the situation on the southern border. He’s calling the surge of migrants Texas is experiencing an “invasion.” He has summoned the Texas national guard to put up barbed wire fencing to stop these alleged invaders. The Biden administration has begged him to take this fence down so that federal border patrol, whose constitutional responsibility it is to mind the border, can do its job. But Abbott is not budging.
Many commentators have pointed out the absolute absurdity of comparing poor and destitute migrants escaping persecution and destitution to invaders. They don’t have weapons, don’t belong to an organized military, and have no intention of seizing any U.S. territory. To the contrary, they are coming to the U.S. in search of security themselves—and of course jobs.
That they are doing so is a vote of confidence in the U.S. economy. Their presence lowers the prices of all kinds of goods and services: child care, senior care, lawn mowing, hospitality, many areas where Americans don’t even want to work. All of this immeasurably improves the lives of American consumers while helping the migrants put food on the table. It’s a win-win. In a sane world, Abbot would roll out the red carpet and hand them instant work permits—not erect barbed wire to rip their skin.
Economist Michael Clemens has shown that if Western countries would relax their border controls just a little and allow merely 5% of the people living in poor countries to move, they would expand the world economy by several trillion dollars every year. Every year! The immigrants would be richer and the host country would be richer.
But that’s a topic for another day. Today what I want to point out is that the kind of rhetoric that Abbot is deploying is radicalizing the right and making it impossible to forge a reasonable immigration compromise that does not involve the total militarization of the border.
Rush Limbaugh, you will recall, single-handedly turned amnesty into a dirty word and killed many an immigration reform effort by affixing the “a” word on it for offering legal status to some undocumented immigrants. But the undocumented problem exists because the demand for foreign labor exceeds the legal channels available. The rational and humane way to deal with it is not to build walls and launch deportation raids. It is to create more legal avenues.
But Limbaugh wanted an “enforcement first” approach. And now Abbott and Donald Trump have upped the ante and moved to an “enforcement only” approach.
And they need even more inflated rhetoric to service their more radical agenda. Like Abbott, Trump has doubled down on the “invasion” metaphor in his stump speeches. He just told congressional Republicans to back off the bill that they’ve been working on for months to hand aid to Ukraine in exchange for enhanced border security. This bill gives Republicans almost everything they want on the border from more Border Patrol agents to more deportation flights.
But when you are selling the idea of an invasion, anything short of a line of soldiers—standing shoulder to shoulder all along the Rio Grande—with machine guns in hand ready to shoot is not going to be enough. If Trump is reelected, the upshot of this kind of radical talk will be that he and Abbott will unleash unspeakable brutality on the border. They will launch an ever-escalating war against an enemy that is not even fighting back. This will be sad—a tragedy.