As we head into the 2022 midterm elections, the Trump-controlled Republican Party is stepping up its anti-immigrant hysteria with warnings of an alleged invasion of undocumented migrants wearing expensive clothes and carrying Gucci bags. This is no joke.
“We had 40,000 Brazilians come through the Yuma Sector alone headed for Connecticut wearing designer clothes and Gucci bags,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told Fox News on Oct. 12. “This is not economic migration anymore.”
Asked by The Washington Post for evidence, Graham’s office handed over a picture of a handbag, but the newspaper concluded that it was most likely not a Gucci bag. Graham’s office also provided the Post another picture of a person wearing fairly clean Puma tennis shoes without shoelaces.
When I asked a Brazilian official about his country’s Gucci-carrying undocumented migrants, he laughed, and said that he’s willing to bet that it wasn’t an original brand bag. In Brazil, people buy fake handbags at flea markets, or — much like in New York — from illegal vendors on the street, he said.
But the alarm over the alleged growth of middle-class undocumented migrants is just the latest version of the Trump Republicans’ scare tactics to make Americans believe that their livelihoods are threatened by an avalanche of dark-skinned Third World immigrants.
In fact, as I have written in this column many times, the United States desperately needs more immigrants, not fewer.
America has an increasingly aging population and a shrinking workforce, which means that we badly need more young people to fund the Social Security payments those who retire.
According to the World Bank, U.S. fertility rates have dropped from 3.65 children per woman in 1960 to 1.73 children per woman in 2021, which is below the rate of 2.1 children per woman needed to replace annual deaths.
And right now, there are labor shortages everywhere in America. A record number of U.S. workers — 4.3 million, or almost 3% of the workforce — quit their jobs in August, as people demand better pay and more flexible work hours as they return to the workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former President Trump and other anti-immigration zealots will tell you that they are not against immigration, but only against illegal immigration. But that’s another big lie.
During the Trump administration, the United States administratively reduced legal immigration by almost 50%, according to the National Foundation for American Policy.
The whole U.S. immigration problem is being mislabeled as a “border crisis,” when it’s really a “Latin American crisis.”
Unless we address the root causes — government corruption, drug-related violence and droughts caused by climate change — Latin Americans will continue moving to the United States, legally or illegally.
Even in Argentina, the country in the region that’s farthest away, seven of every 10 young people say they would prefer living in another country, preferably the United States or Spain, according to a new poll by the Voices consulting firm and UADE University.
Frank Sharry, head of the America’s Voice pro-immigration advocacy group, told me that, “We need a hemisphere-wide approach that comprises a serious attempt to stabilize countries that generate migrants,” as well as expanded legal pathways so that people can come legally, and a serious attempt to crack down on traffickers.
If we want to reduce migration, helping improve conditions in Latin America is a must.
I used to think that the best way to do it was creating a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone. But that’s politically unfeasible nowadays, because short-sighted protectionist interests, both in the United States and Latin America, have prevailed.
But there is another way for Washington to promote hemisphere-wide progress and match China’s growing influence in the region: Give incentives to U.S. multinationals to diversify their supply chains away from China, and move them to Latin America.
That would produce a flood of U.S. investments to the region, and slow down illegal migration. Biden should turn that into the cornerstone of next year’s Summit of the Americas, to be held in the United States.
I seriously doubt that there are hordes of undocumented migrants with Gucci bags crossing the southern border. But even if that were the case, we will never solve the wrongly labeled “border crisis” until we start attacking the “Latin American crisis.”
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