The Truth about the Border Surge | Opinion

If we learned anything during the last five years, it's to think critically about language used by people in power—words have real-world consequences.

We've learned to identify the kind of racial dog whistling that came out of the White House; we know what Fox News' Tucker Carlson means when he says "not all cultures are equal." Anyone paying attention to the rhetoric of the Trump-era understands that language is loaded with power and prejudice. And it is our responsibility to sort out the truth of every sensational story.

Take the current dynamics around immigration to the United States.

You may have noticed the many headlines from reputable news sources in the last few weeks claiming a "crisis" at the southern border.

We heard elected officials claim that the U.S. now supports an open border with Mexico. Trusted newspapers declared that President Joe Biden's roll-back of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies is "a disaster." There's the incredible myth that the vast majority of asylum claims are bogus.

But the biggest narrative dominating our newsfeeds right now is that our country is facing an "unprecedented surge" of migrants at the border—one that is the direct result of new immigration policies from President Biden.

It's time to get the story straight.

First off: Let's consider our sources. When a story quotes noted racist and architect of Donald Trump's family separation policy Stephen Miller, it's safe to assume we're getting some biased information.

Second, migration is cyclical. We're in the middle of spring, right before the weather gets too hot for people to safely cross through the desert. There is almost always a seasonal uptick in migration during this time of year. When you see a headline claiming that that's an unprecedented border surge, stick to the facts.

But we should note: last year, President Trump took advantage of the coronavirus crisis to bar asylum seekers at the border and summarily expel hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including nearly 16,000 children migrating alone, without due process.

President Biden only partially reversed that policy, allowing unaccompanied children to stay in the country. Any adult who comes to the border today and talks about the persecution or torture they face in their home country will be expelled, with no chance to make their case. These are called "Title 42" expulsions and resulted in 530,000 mostly Black immigrants being removed from the country.

It should come as no surprise that we may be seeing more unaccompanied minors than usual asking for help at the border—after a year without refuge, there is a backlog of children seeking sanctuary.

Border wall
In a photo taken on March 28, 2021, a ranch owner stands before a portion of the unfinished border wall that former President Donald Trump tried to build, near the southern Texas border city of Roma. ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

As three UC San Diego academics put it: "The current increase in apprehensions fits a predictable pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020's coronavirus border closure."

Third, watch out for how politicians and the press frame the circumstances of border crossings.

Migrants do not make the incredibly dangerous trip to the border because of changes in U.S. policy—if they did, we would expect Trump's aggressive anti-immigrant policies to have prevented asylum-seekers from reaching U.S. soil. Instead, they hit a 12-year high in 2019.

When a family decides to pick up their entire life and look for protection in a new country, it's because they have no other choice. They are often fleeing torture, domestic violence, political or religious persecution. When parents help their children cross the border, it's because they are desperately trying to keep them safe.

The language painting the situation as both unprecedented and as a result of "liberal" policies is designed to prevent Biden from really undoing Trump-era damage and moving the country forward toward the immigration system we really need. If we have to fight in D.C. about whether or not children should be provided safety, it doesn't allow us to pay attention to the mothers who right now are being put on a plane to Haiti because Biden continues to stand by Trump's Title 42.

When you read a news story that describes U.S. immigration policy—a policy that currently denies all adult asylum-seekers entry—as "incentivizing people to come across," take a moment to reflect on the willful ignorance in that interpretation.

Let's not get swept away by the hysteria being pushed by pundits who are eager to point fingers at a new presidential administration. Let's not accept the lie that President Trump stabilized the border and President Biden's gestures toward a more humane immigration policy led to crisis.

Instead, when the press repeats Republican rhetoric around the "Biden border crisis"—let's flex the fact-checking muscle we built up during four years of Trump and remember what's really important: building a new immigration system that treats everyone as human beings with rights, unites families and welcomes immigrants as part of our communities.

Marisa Franco is the director of Mijente.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.