Maribel Hastings and David Torres
It’s ironic that the primary candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination—and to be seen as the most anti-immigrant—for the second time in this electoral cycle, did so in the library that bears the name of the late former President Ronald Reagan, who enacted the most recent, true amnesty in 1986. The big absence, at the physical level only, was Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant chief, who to this day is dominating the contest.
And his presence isn’t even needed, since his rhetoric—which has repeated not only falsehoods but open racism since his appearance on the electoral stage—has produced all the political clones like those debating now, trying their hardest to attract an electorate captivated by the ex-president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Indeed, it’s not the first time. In 2015, some 16 Republicans that aspired to the nomination, led by Trump, also debated at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, California, when they were warming up to try to convert the Republican Party into the home of the extremists and promoters of racist conspiracy theories.
On September 15, 2015, one day before the debate, we wrote the following: “What would the icon of the Republican Party (Reagan) say about the sad spectacle of his party, in this electoral cycle, and especially the offensive and even racist tone of various primary candidates?”
We didn’t even imagine that this was but a taste of what was to come; that the spectacle would culminate in Trump’s election in 2016; and the Republican Party as it was known and believed to be—one of family and religious values, above all—would devolve at breakneck speed. Now, it is the extremist wing that dominates the discourse, and their leaders have become a sort of hostages, although voluntary, as fear of criticizing or confronting Trump has led them to normalize the most virulent rhetoric against immigrants, and embrace a divisive and even violent discourse that has inspired more than one massacre against minorities in the United States.
In fact, today’s party has become a sort of sect that, rather than imposing its plans for policy action to benefit the nation, has decided to worship a figure who only looks out for his own interests—personal, political, and economic.
And who could beat someone like that, if he still pulls the strings of his followers’ “conscience”—something his opponents have not achieved, neither those from before or those today? Essentially, poll after poll reveal a majority of Republicans prefer Donald Trump, and Republican Hispanics are not the exception, as a survey from Univision just showed. Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed responded that they would vote for the ex-president. The situation changes, of course, when the study is extended to Hispanics in general, with some 58% favoring President Joe Biden and just 31% Trump.
On the other hand, at these moments the images of the border, with thousands of migrants trying to enter to the United States to seek asylum, are exploited by this sector that doesn’t want a real solution, but just wants to take political advantage in order to maintain support for the most extremist faction.
They demand walls, fences, wire, buoys, militarizing the border, invading México—all the while knowing that these things do not work. In fact, that same Univision survey highlighted that among Hispanics, whether Republican or Democratic, those topics are very sensitive and touch something deep inside of them when responding. For example, 90% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans are in favor of securing the border and a path to citizenship for Dreamers, while the absurd idea of taking away the citizenship of children of parents who are not citizens is rejected by 63% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans.
That is to say, there are core issues that border on humanitarian. Otherwise, ask yourself why would thousands of migrants continue to arrive, despite the physical obstacles; or why the government created an application to request an asylum appointment that seems to never work properly; or why they opened Safe Mobility offices in some countries, and even extended and redesignated TPS for Venezuelans. Because the necessity and the desire for a better life are bigger than any wall.
We didn’t even imagine that this was but a taste of what was to come.
And because of years of bad U.S. policy in the region, at the economic and political levels, including labor exploitation with poverty wages; financing civil wars; and installing and removing presidents at whim, created a wave of pressure on Latin America that is now coming back to take its toll on the organism responsible. And we can’t skip over other factors that contribute to migration: political crises in migrants’ countries of origin, climate change, and the vestiges of the pandemic.
But that’s a topic for another column, and also of another, even more profound reflection for this nation that forgets too soon and always blames others, including its very victims, for what is occurring at its borders right now.
Right now, we are talking about the degradation of the Republican Party, where Reagan himself would not be welcomed today for having legalized 3 million undocumented immigrants, although his reasons to do so were not entirely humanitarian. But the historic irony persists and gives a polite slap not only to those who are debating to receive the Republican nomination, but those who have supported the political “creed” of supremacy, with all that that means to a country that fought for civil rights.
We want to end with another excerpt from the 2015 column, because it continues to be current today: “What would Reagan say about the ‘jewels’ that emanate from the mouths of many Republican primary candidates when they talk about immigrants? At least I know what a conservative president who enacted an amnesty for undocumented immigrants with a Republican Senate and a Democratic House, and who evidenced pragmatism and positivism when talking about the topic, said.
Upon approving the measure, Reagan said, “Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people.” And, he added, “The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.”
Or Reagan who, upon leaving the presidency in 1989, explained his vision of a shining city “with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace… And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Concepts that currently have no place in the Trump version of the Republican Party.
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