May 16, 2023 - 9:00 pm
I just can’t … That’s what my 18-year-old daughter tells me with an exasperated smile on those frequent occasions when I say something that strikes her as crazy.
What I find crazy is that — even with so much being written and said about immigration now that the Biden administration has complied with the order of a federal judge to stop using Title 42 as a public-health pretext for keeping out migrants and refugees — the discussion is still full of misinformation.
Such as the popular but inaccurate narrative that Democrats are the good guys in the white hats, always defending immigrants and refugees from racist and petty Republicans who want to deport them.
Take it from someone who has studied and written about immigration for more than 30 years — there are villains in both parties.
Republicans and Democrats want the same thing: to get elected. So it becomes a perverse contest: Which party can be tougher and meaner on the border?
Because President Joe Biden has now hijacked a handful of Trump policies meant to make applying for refugee status nearly impossible — including forcing migrants to apply from theirhome country or from the first “safe” country they get to, both of which are illegal according to human rights lawyers — we can declare the competition a tie.
Just how complicated the immigration debate really is was driven home for me recently when my favorite news program — “CBS Sunday Morning” — went searching for someone to defend migrants and found, of all people, Cecilia Muñoz. The first Latina to serve as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Muñoz was the chief apologist for the Obama administration’s immigration crackdown, and every immigration reform advocate in the country knows it.
Whenever President Barack Obama did a badthing — such as splitting up Central American families at the border or putting kids in cages or deporting so many people (about 3 million in eight years) that Janet Murguía, Muñoz’s former boss at what was then called the National Council of La Raza, labeled Obama the “deporter in chief” — Muñoz defended the White House in English and Spanish media.
I’ve watched many of Muñoz’s interviews in both languages. In Spanish, the daughter of Bolivian immigrants was compassionate toward people who want a better life. But in English — when her audience was mostly white — she was a hard case, talking about the rule of law and how people had to come to the United States the right way and how human suffering was inevitable.
That is essentially what Muñoz told Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa in a powerful episode of PBS’s “Frontline” called “Lost in Detention,” which aired in October 2011. Hinojosa told heartbreaking stories of immigrant families callously broken apart by the Obama administration.
In response, Muñoz said, “Even if the law is executed with perfection, there will be parents separated from their children.”
Is it cold in here, or is it just her?
In 2014, Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, criticized Obama’s rapid-return policies at the border: “We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death.” O’Malley called upon the administration to treat the refugee children better, describing the holding facilities as “kennels.”
According to CNN, the governor got an angry call from Muñoz. The two got into a “heated discussion” about his remarks. At one point, Muñoz suggested that the administration might house some of the border kids at a former Army Reserve center in Westminster, Md. Quoting a Democratic source, CNN reported that O’Malley pleaded with Muñoz: “Please don’t send these kids to western Maryland.”
Muñoz would probably prefer that her critics forget all that ever happened.
Politicians and their lackeys always hope we won’t remember their failings. This time, no such luck. Latinos never forget anything — especially being stabbed in the heart by one of their own.
Now, all these years later, CBS’s Lee Cowan interviewed Muñoz for a segment about the end of the Title 42 border policies.
“It’s not about politics,” she told him. “It’s not about ideology. It’s about helping people in need at a time of crisis. It’s really what we do when we’re at our best in this country.”
At our best? On immigration, Muñoz hasn’t been at her best for a long time. And we’re supposed to swallow this nonsense?
I just can’t.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.