The spectrum of “right ways” to enter the U.S. have narrowed over the last few years. Credit:

The irony of President Biden’s is that it might . That’s because, as we’ve repeatedly reported, there frequently exist rifts between long-time immigrants and more recent arrivals, with the former claiming they came in the “right way.” That being said, there’s also frustration among Latinos about empty promises when it comes to immigration reform and paths to legalization for their family and friends. 

So here’s a reminder for folks on how we actually should be talking about this issue. I quote heavily here from civics reporter Felipe De La Hoz and the pieces he regularly writes about the hard, honest conversations we need to be having within our communities.

No. 1: It’s complicated. 

What we have to understand is that the spectrum of “right ways” to enter the United States have very quickly narrowed over the last few years. It’s been 3 ½ decades since the last time Congress passed and a president signed an amnesty for unlawful presence, and in the interim the laws have just gotten tighter. A pair of laws signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996 made it much easier to deny immigration benefits and deport people, and a series of Trump administration policies — including the “Remain in Mexico” program, so-called Safe Third Country agreements, slashing the refugee program, and the Title 42 expulsion policy — severely restricted avenues to reach the U.S. and petition for protections.

The folks who have reached U.S. shores have weathered quite the menu of adversity, including often crossing through the dangerous Darién Gap in Colombia and Panama; heading north while often being targeted by gangs and criminal groups; reaching the southern border and managing to avoid being expelled; all to make it in and be deceived by someone in a position of power, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who took to loading migrants onto New York-bound buses with false promises of assistance.

No. 2: We’ve been scapegoating migrants for all the wrong reasons. 

Let us count the ways we are blaming migrants for a host of woes in ż and the country overall, from budget crises to a perceived increase in crime. 

Our coverage last fall: “You’d be forgiven for thinking that migrant arrivals have single-handedly blown a hole through the hull of the rapidly sinking city budget, based on both Mayor Eric Adams’ public pronouncements and the coverage of the ongoing budget crisis. …In most communications about cuts, the administration has referenced the ongoing influx of asylum seekers, which has left it with something like 65,000 migrants currently in its care, or around half of all those estimated to have at some point gone through the city’s shelter system in the last year…Migrants and the sinister southern governors who have sent some of them north make for effective foils and easy scapegoats politically, but they are not the sole cause of the city’s budget woes. …it also feels a bit too convenient to suggest that everything would be just fine and dandy were it not for this one admittedly unusual circumstance.” 

Other culprits: police spending on radios, a fall in rent collections, lower class sizes. 

And crime? Here, Felipe and I talk about what’s happening with crime. The bottom line is that there’s no evidence of a link between migration and higher crime rates. Excerpt: “a Newsweek poll of about a thousand ż voters found 70% of people blamed migrants for the quote unquote current crime rate. Most studies though have shown that immigrants tend to commit crimes of all types, violent and nonviolent, at generally lower rates than the native born…There’s some concern on the horizon currently because of the city’s recent agreement with the Legal Aid Society to cap shelter stays for adult migrants at 30 days, or 60 if they’re under 23. Thousands and thousands of migrants just aren’t going to be able to access shelter anymore. Obviously, if people get desperate enough, there’s a chance that criminal activity will occur, shoplifting from the supermarket or something. There’s nothing to me that signals people will be engaging in violent crime.”

No. 3: Before Biden’s order, it was perfectly legal to enter the U.S. to seek asylum. 

One of the challenges of Biden’s language around immigration is his repeated criminalization of those crossing the U.S. border. As we’ve written over and over: Until last week, it was perfectly legal to enter the United States to seek asylum

As Felipe writes: “The question of who “deserves” this or that has been a pretty animating force of American political discourse basically since before the country even existed. We can debate the virtues or pitfalls of the U.S. culture of individualism as much as we want, but the practical upshot in any case is that people feel compelled to work to secure certain things for themselves and bristle at the notion that anyone might get those same things with less strife, or without deserving them in some grander moral calculus…

Let’s take this particular question in parts, starting with the end of it, the notion that someone came “the right way” and figured it out themselves. They really have been through a lot, and they did it all pursuing something that, we’ll remind you, is perfectly legal: the right to seek asylum.

Of course, the end goal of all this is to get them to a point where they could be self-sufficient, but there are significant obstacles in the way. For one thing, federal law has made it so they can’t even receive work authorization for six months post-arrival, and if they work under the table, they risk harming their ongoing immigration cases. As far as what this assistance entails, the city isn’t exactly putting these folks up in the Ritz. Before it was dismantled, migrants were slated to be , and the city is now looking at various discount hotels and shelters to house people as Title 42 is slated to end next month (as a reminder, the city cannot legally turn away people who need shelter).

People might live in the country for years until their cases are ultimately resolved, and in that time they have to find ways to establish themselves. That often means getting a helping hand until they can get on their feet, particularly as many lack the existing family and community support networks that have often helped new immigrants in the past. Think about it this way: the alternative is a lot of desperate people who don’t often speak English and have little notion of how to navigate life in the U.S. just being essentially out on the street and ending up in a situation that will be much harder to recover from, which has cascading problems for all of society down the line.”

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched ż, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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