Politics vs. Reality at the Border

Headline from The Washington Post, March 20, 2021, for an article by three political reporters and one who covers immigration enforcement:

‘No end in sight’: Inside the Biden administration’s failure to contain the border surge

Headline from The Washington Post, March 23, 2021, for an article by three political scientists, one of whom heads the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California in San Diego:

There’s no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border. Here’s the data [that] reveals the usual seasonal bump — plus some of the people who waited during the pandemic

From the article by the people who know what they’re talking about:

Last week, at the U.S. border with Mexico, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared that the recent increase in unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the United States was a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”

We looked at data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see whether there’s a “crisis” — or even a “surge,” as many news outlets have characterized it. We analyzed monthly CBP data from 2012 to now and found no crisis or surge that can be attributed to Biden administration policies. Rather, 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.

IT’S NOT A SURGE. IT’S THE USUAL SEASONAL INCREASE.

The CBP reports monthly data on how many migrants its agents apprehend at the southern border, including unaccompanied minors. . . .

The CBP has recorded a 28 percent increase in migrants apprehended from January to February 2021, from 78,442 to 100,441. News outlets, pundits and politicians have been calling this a “surge” and a “crisis.”

But the CBP’s numbers reveal that undocumented immigration is seasonal, shifting upward this time of year. During fiscal year 2019, under the [previous] administration, total apprehensions increased 31 percent during the same period, a bigger jump than we’re seeing now. (We’re comparing fiscal year 2021 to 2019 because the pandemic changed the pattern in 2020.) In 2018, the increase is about 25 percent from February to March — somewhat smaller but still pronounced.

But was 2019 an aberration? In the figure below, we combine data from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2020 to show the cumulative total number of apprehensions for each month over these eight years. As you can see, migrants start coming when winter ends and the weather gets a bit warmer. We see a regular increase not just from January to February, but from February to March, March to April, and April to May — and then a sharp drop-off, as migrants stop coming in the hotter summer months when the desert is deadly. That means we should expect decreases from May to June and June to July.

Untitled

What we’re seeing, in other words, isn’t a surge or crisis, but a predictable seasonal shift. When the numbers drop again in June and July, policymakers may be tempted to claim that their deterrence policies succeeded. But that will just be the usual seasonal drop.

SO WHY ARE WE SEEING MORE MIGRANTS SO FAR IN 2021?

The CBP has indeed reported apprehending more migrants in February 2021 than in the same month in previous years. But that too doesn’t mean it’s a surge or a crisis. . . .

2020 was the pandemic, when movement dropped dramatically. Countries around the world closed their borders. Here in the United States, the [previous] administration invoked Title 42, a provision from the 1944 Public Health Act, to summarily expel migrants attempting to enter the United States without proper documentation.

In other words, in fiscal year 2021, it appears that migrants are continuing to enter the United States in the same numbers as in fiscal year 2019 — plus the pent-up demand from people who would have come in fiscal year 2020, but for the pandemic. . . .

This suggests that Title 42 expulsions delayed prospective migrants rather than deterred them — and they’re arriving now.

That would be consistent with nearly three decades of research in political science. Much of this research has been done since President Bill Clinton’s administration ran Operation Gatekeeper, which tried to keep out migrants by increasing funding and staff for border enforcement. Scholars consistently find that border security policies do not necessarily deter migration; rather, they delay migrants’ decisions to travel, and change the routes they take.

REASSESSING OUR UNDERSTANDING OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION

So have Biden administration policies caused a crisis at the southern border? Evidence suggests not. The [last] administration oversaw a record in apprehensions in fiscal year 2019, before the pandemic shut the border. This year looks like the usual seasonal increase plus migrants who would have come last year, but could not.

Focusing on month-to-month differences in apprehensions is misleading; given seasonal patterns, each month should be considered in relation to the same month in previous years. Knowing those patterns, policymakers may be better able to plan, prepare and to manage the border.

Unquote. Also, political reporters would avoid jumping on bandwagons being driven by politicians with their own agendas.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer summarizes:

The border situation is neither the first crisis facing the new administration nor close to the biggest — not with a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and the related economic crisis leaving 10 million out of work — but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry. Indeed, the Sunday morning talk shows — ABC even flew its panelists to an outdoor location at the border — seemed to openly salivate at a return to the days of swinging at Democrats with a club furnished by the Republican National Committee.

There is overcrowding at the border, partly because Biden’s predecessor left a mess behind him. The new administration is working on the problem, which is what we should expect.

The Government’s Statement on the Border Issue

This morning, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released this statement about the situation at the southwest border. I tend to think it’s an improvement over the bullshit statements the government issued during the past four years:

There is understandably a great deal of attention currently focused on the southwest border.  I want to share the facts, the work that we in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and across the government are doing, and our plan of action. . . .

Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together. As noted by the President in his Executive Order, “securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them.” We are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  That is one of our proudest traditions.

The Facts

We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.  We are expelling most single adults and families.  We are not expelling unaccompanied children.  We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children.  We have more work to do.

This is not new. We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well. Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the southwest border has been steadily increasing. Border Patrol Agents are working around the clock to process the flow at the border . . . To understand the situation, it is important to identify who is arriving at our southwest border and how we are following the law to manage different types of border encounters.

Single Adults

The majority of those apprehended at the southwest border are single adults who are currently being expelled under the CDC’s authority to manage the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Pursuant to that authority under Title 42 of the United States Code, single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are swiftly expelled to Mexico.  Single adults from other countries are expelled by plane to their countries of origin if Mexico does not accept them.  There are limited exceptions to our use of the CDC’s expulsion authority.  For example, we do not expel individuals with certain acute vulnerabilities. 

The expulsion of single adults does not pose an operational challenge for the Border Patrol because of the speed and minimal processing burden of their expulsion.

Families

Families apprehended at the southwest border are also currently being expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority.  Families from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries are expelled to Mexico unless Mexico does not have the capacity to receive the families.  Families from countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle are expelled by plane to their countries of origin.  Exceptions can be made when a family member has an acute vulnerability.

Mexico’s limited capacity has strained our resources, including in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas.  When Mexico’s capacity is reached, we process the families and place them in immigration proceedings here in the United States.  We have partnered with community-based organizations to test the family members and quarantine them as needed under COVID-19 protocols.  In some locations, the processing of individuals who are part of a family unit has strained our border resources. . . .

Unaccompanied Children

We are encountering many unaccompanied children at our southwest border every day.  A child who is under the age of 18 and not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian is considered under the law to be an unaccompanied child.  We are encountering six- and seven-year-old children, for example, arriving at our border without an adult.  They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them.

An unaccompanied child is brought to a Border Patrol facility and processed for transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Customs and Border Protection is a pass-through and is required to transfer the child to HHS within 72 hours of apprehension.  HHS holds the child for testing and quarantine, and shelters the child until the child is placed with a sponsor here in the United States. In more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian. . . .

The children then go through immigration proceedings where they are able to present a claim for relief under the law.

The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour timeframe for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met.  HHS has not had the capacity to intake the number of unaccompanied children we have been encountering. . . .

Why the Challenge is Especially Difficult Now

Poverty, high levels of violence, and corruption in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries have propelled migration to our southwest border for years.  The adverse conditions have continued to deteriorate.  Two damaging hurricanes that hit Honduras and swept through the region made the living conditions there even worse, causing more children and families to flee. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation more complicated.  There are restrictions and protocols that need to be followed.  The physical distancing protocol, for example, imposes space and other limitations on our facilities and operations.

The prior administration completely dismantled the asylum system.  The system was gutted, facilities were closed, and they cruelly expelled young children into the hands of traffickers.  We have had to rebuild the entire system, including the policies and procedures required to administer the asylum laws that Congress passed long ago. 

The prior administration tore down the lawful pathways that had been developed for children to come to the United States in a safe, efficient, and orderly way.  It tore down, for example, the Central American Minors program that avoided the need for children to take the dangerous journey to our southwest border.

The previous administration also cut foreign aid funding to the Northern Triangle.  No longer did we [assist] efforts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to tackle the root causes of people fleeing their homes.

And, there were no plans to protect our front-line personnel against the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was no appropriate planning for the pandemic at all.

As difficult as the border situation is now, we are addressing it.  We have acted and we have made progress.  We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time. . . .

Actions We Have Taken

In less than two months, Customs and Border Protection stood-up an additional facility in Donna, Texas to process unaccompanied children and families.  We deployed additional personnel to provide oversight, care, and transportation assistance for unaccompanied minors pending transfer to HHS custody.

We are standing up additional facilities in Texas and Arizona to shelter unaccompanied children and families.  We are working with Mexico to increase its capacity to receive expelled families.  We partnered with community-based organizations to test and quarantine families that Mexico has not had the capacity to receive.  We have developed a framework for partnering with local mayors and public health officials to pay for 100% of the expense for testing, isolation, and quarantine for migrants.  ICE has also developed additional facilities to provide testing, local transportation, immigration document assistance, orientation, travel coordination in the interior, and mechanisms to support oversight of the migrant families who are not expelled.

Working with Mexico and international organizations, we built a system in which migrants who were forced to remain in Mexico and denied a chance to seek protection under the previous administration can now use a virtual platform – using their phones – to register.  They do not need to take the dangerous journey to the border.  The individuals are tested, processed, and transported to a port of entry safely and out of the hands of traffickers.  We succeeded in processing the individuals who were in the Matamoros camp in Mexico.  This is the roadmap going forward for a system that is safe, orderly, and fair.

To protect our own workforce, we launched Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (VOW) in late January.   At the beginning of this administration, less than 2 percent of our frontline personnel were vaccinated.  Now more than 25 percent of our frontline personnel have been vaccinated.

We directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist HHS in developing the capacity to meet the surge of unaccompanied children.  FEMA already established one new facility for HHS to shelter 700 children.  They have identified and are currently adding additional facilities.  We are working with HHS to more efficiently identify and screen sponsors for children.  In two days, we recruited more than 560 DHS volunteers to support HHS in our collective efforts to address the needs of the unaccompanied children.

We are restarting and expanding the Central American Minors program.  It creates a lawful pathway for children to come to the United States without having to take the dangerous journey. Under this expansion, children will be processed in their home countries and brought to the United States in a safe and orderly way.

In addition, DHS and HHS terminated a 2018 agreement that had a chilling effect on potential sponsors – typically a parent or close relative – from coming forward to care for an unaccompanied child placed in an HHS shelter. In its place, DHS and HHS signed a new Memorandum of Agreement that promotes the safe and timely transfer of children. . . .

The Path Forward

We are creating joint processing centers so that children can be placed in HHS care immediately after Border Patrol encounters them.  We are also identifying and equipping additional facilities for HHS to shelter unaccompanied children until they are placed with family or sponsors.  These are short-term solutions to address the surge of unaccompanied children.

Longer term, we are working with Mexico and international organizations to expand our new virtual platform so that unaccompanied children can access it without having to take the dangerous journey to our border. . . .

We are developing additional legal and safe pathways for children and others to reach the United States.  While we are building a formal refugee program throughout the region, we are working with Mexico, the Northern Triangle countries, and international organizations to establish processing centers in those countries so that individuals can be screened through them and brought to the United States if they qualify for relief under our humanitarian laws and other authorities. 

For years, the asylum system has been badly in need of reengineering.  In addition to improving the process by which unaccompanied children are placed with family or sponsors, we will be issuing a new regulation shortly and taking other measures to implement the long-needed systemic reforms.  We will shorten from years to months the time it takes to adjudicate an asylum claim while ensuring procedural safeguards and enhancing access to counsel.

President Biden laid out a vision of a “multi-pronged approach toward managing migration throughout North and Central America that reflects the Nation’s highest values.” To that end, we are working with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and State in an all-of-government effort to not only address the current situation at our southwest border, but to institute longer-term solutions to irregular migration from countries in our hemisphere that are suffering worsening conditions. . . .

Conclusion

The situation we are currently facing at the southwest border is a difficult one.  We are tackling it.  We are keeping our borders secure, enforcing our laws, and staying true to our values and principles. . . .

I came to this country as an infant, brought by parents who understood the hope and promise of America.  Today, young children are arriving at our border with that same hope.  We can do this.

Border Crisis or Big Problem Being Addressed?

People in the media love a new “crisis”, even if the old crisis was worse. From Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

Republicans are convinced that attacking President Biden’s border policies will win them the midterms. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has gleefully labeled the situation there “Biden’s border crisis.”

In this, Republicans are benefiting from a media debate that has gone off the rails.
There’s a huge hole in this attack, but it’s rarely described clearly in news reports and commentary. You can read endless headlines warning of a “crisis.” But even if that’s so, a crisis relative to what, exactly?

What’s missing is a serious comparison with the pre-Biden status quo. It’s as if the current situation exists in a vacuum: Before there was no crisis, and now there’s a crisis.

That’s absurd. The situation under the former president was substantially worse from a humanitarian and a pragmatic governing perspective: worse for the migrants, worse for the rule of law and worse for our country.

It’s true that child and teenage migrants are overwhelming our facilities.

Because they can’t get released alone, they must be held at Border Patrol facilities for 72 hours before getting transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which places them with relatives or guardians. The ORR facilities are jammed, backlogging border facilities.

This is a terrible situation. But it’s happening in large part because Biden is undoing a policy that should be undone.

Due to covid-19, the previous administration turned away most asylum seekers — without hearings — under a legal provision allowing a temporary block on noncitizens from entering, in order to protect public health.

Biden is no longer applying this provision to unaccompanied children and teenagers (while keeping it for adults), helping fuel child backlogs. But that’s a move in the right direction, both from a humanitarian and rule-of-law perspective.

Coronavirus will be tamed before long, and we have a legal obligation to allow migrants to exercise their right to seek asylum. [The public health] provision is not for controlling migrant flows outside a genuine public health rationale. If anything, expelling adults abuses it.

So continuing to use this tool is not a tenable long-term solution to the humanitarian problem, and it’s not in keeping with the rule of law. That requires letting in the kids, and we will have to allow more adults to apply for asylum. The question is how we manage it.

Republicans claim we’re seeing a breakdown in enforcement, and that this, combined with Biden’s promise to reverse the former guy’s policies, is causing the migrant spikes.

Yes, we’re seeing a spike: There were over 100,000 detentions at the border in February.

But right now, the border is in large part closed: Many adult asylum seekers are getting turned away with zero due process. The decision to lift the public health restriction for children and teens [does not mean a law isn’t being enforced. It means] the administration is no longer incorrectly applying the law to children and teens . . .

On the second claim, these spikes in migrations occur for complex reasons rooted in Central American conditions. Indeed, . . . there was a huge spike in 2019, amid the former guy’s draconian policies.

Expectations of a policy reversal might play some role in spurring people to attempt to apply for asylum. But all this really means is that [the former guy] was denying them that legal right, and Biden [won’t].

[The former guy’s] “solutions” were designed to prevent people from applying for asylum at all. His “Remain in Mexico” policy — which forced thousands back into Mexico to await hearings — was the centerpiece of this.

But that was a humanitarian catastrophe. Many were exposed to violence and even kidnapping, or stranded in horrific refugee camp conditions for months.

“[That] created a much worse humanitarian and legal crisis than what we’re seeing now,” Dan Restrepo, a national security official under former president Barack Obama, told me. “It failed to meet our legal obligations and relegated tens of thousands to dangerous and inhumane conditions in Mexico.”

That was only a “solution” if you believe cruelty and fear should be used to deter people from applying for asylum. That’s the real Republican position: that those are legitimate tools to ensure that as few people apply and qualify for asylum as possible.

But continuing that approach would be worse than the present in humanitarian and rule-of-law terms: Conditions spurring migrations will continue, and it would renege on our obligations under U.S. and international law.

The question is whether Biden can make the asylum system function better.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas just released a new statement outlining what this should look like: investing in Central American countries and creating new pathways for people to apply from afar, so they don’t come to the border; speeding up processing, so asylum claimants aren’t left in the interior and kids get transferred to guardians faster; and increasing capacity and ensuring more humane treatment at [Refugee Resettlement] facilities in the interim. . . .

The real way to hold Biden accountable is to judge whether he meets those promises.
Yes, these problems are hard to solve. But that’s the point: What’s hard is actually trying to solve them. Calling this a “crisis” outside that context is absurd: It was a crisis before, too. What’s different is that Biden is attempting to tackle this crisis in a far better way than [his predecessor] did.

Two Issues of the Day

Things are looking up. The U.S. is among the world leaders in the rate of vaccination. Democrats in Washington passed a big Covid relief bill that won’t just address the effects of the virus, it will also reduce poverty and improve access to healthcare for millions of people. The Senate’s current no-effort filibuster may be on its way out. And, following our coldest February in more than thirty years, spring is just around the corner.

Maybe this is why I haven’t posted anything in four days. There isn’t enough to complain about (complaining almost always feels more urgent than celebrating).

Still, two developments seem worth mentioning. One is that some in the reality-based news media have suggested that President Biden should give more credit to his predecessor for our progress on vaccinations. This is baloney. Biden gave credit to the other guy months ago, back when the first vaccinations were given. As part of the first Covid relief bill and the subsequent “Operation Warp Speed”, Congress and the previous administration gave billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies in order to speed up the creation and manufacture of vaccines (although not to Pfizer, the company that produced the first one — the only cash they and their corporate partner got was from the German government).

So the former president gets credit for not standing in the way of a massive burst of government spending, even though he downplayed the seriousness of the virus for months — even after acknowledging in private how serious it was — and even though most of the credit goes to the scientists and others who quickly developed and tested the vaccines. 

As for the distribution of the vaccines, the 45th president doesn’t deserve any credit at all. That aspect of Operation Warp Speed was a bust. This is from Vox:

Vaccines don’t do much good if there’s no plan to get them into arms, and this is where [the previous president] really fell short. As was the case when the U.S. struggled to ramp up coronavirus testing infrastructure in the early days of the pandemic, the [prior] administration’s plan for vaccine distribution did little more than pass the buck to under-resourced states. . . . 

It’s true that [by mid-January], about 1 million vaccines were being administered each day. But Biden has nearly tripled that rate in less than two months. . . [He] has overseen the federal government purchasing hundreds of millions of vaccine doses, making possible the aggressive timeline he outlined on Thursday. And his administration has overseen the development and implementation of vaccine distribution plans that do more than just rely on the states.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo puts it succinctly (the whole article is worth reading):

On the distribution front, their record was close to catastrophic. As  [explained] here, they literally had no plan to do anything. The “plan” was not to have a plan. . . . 

The federal government would manage the relatively easy task of airlifting supplies in bulk to states at designated airports and then let the states figure out how to get them into people’s arms.

[Giving the shots] was an incredibly hard task and the best solution was to put it off on someone else, so the White House didn’t get the blame. It’s really that simple. 

The other thing I thought worth mentioning is what’s going on at our border with Mexico. The New Yorker has a fairly long article about the situation called “Biden Has Few Good Options for the Unaccompanied Children at the Border”. Greg Sargent of The Washington Post has a shorter summary:

When the administration reopened a warehouse-like facility for migrant children in Texas this week, it caused a huge controversy on all sides. . . . [Right-wingers] scoffed that Biden is being forced to resume [the unindicted co-conspirator’s] policies . . . All this is nonsense. . .

The reopening of the Texas facility does not constitute holding children at the border. It is using a warehouse-like facility to deal with overflow at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the waystation before kids hopefully get moved to a better life.

This isn’t “kids in cages” redux. That scandal arose when [the government] separated families to hold parents (rather than releasing them), creating a new class of unaccompanied children that didn’t exist before.

In this case, the overflow at ORR is being caused in part by the rise in migrant children arriving at the border alone, not after being separated from parents, [and] some of the increase is due to Biden allowing migrants to have due process after being trapped in Mexico due to [the last administration’s] policies. . . .  For now, there is no alternative to holding migrant children, because releasing them would put them in more danger. The question then becomes how to do this. . . .

“We can’t just release them,” says Wendy Young, the president of Kids in Need of Defense, . . . because they’re “incredibly vulnerable” in a “strange country.” Instead, Young said, “you have to provide them with appropriate care.” Indeed, Young noted, holding and processing children is necessary for their own long-term good, because it enables us to determine whether they’re eligible for asylum or other protections, and to place them on the correct legal path to get there.

Migration was suppressed last year during the pandemic, and arrivals are now rising due to many factors in Central America, Young said. “There continues to be a tremendous amount of violence, corruption and deprivation. Children leave because they’re forced out of their home countries.”

Thus, much of the spike is caused by “push” factors, just as previous spikes were. Biden is trying to address those factors with new policies sending aid to the region.

. . . This part of the debate has gotten badly confused. The problem is not the existence of the facility. . . The real issue is the conditions under which children are held, and for how long. And this points to the way we can genuinely hold the Biden administration accountable.

In the short term, we need to scrutinize whether the administration makes good on its promise to make the conditions under which ORR holds children, including at such warehouse facilities, genuinely more humane. Also crucial is whether the administration undertakes reforms to speed up the process of moving kids from ORR to guardians. [According to the New Yorker article, Biden is trying to expedite the process by having the government help pay the travel expenses involved in placing children. Previously, families were responsible for those costs themselves.]

. . . Comparing all this to “kids in cages” confuses the debate in a way that obscures what the Biden administration is genuinely trying to accomplish — and thus makes it harder to actually hold the administration accountable on it.

My considered opinion, given the evidence, is that the Biden administration is trying to repair the damage from the past four years in a number of ways. Dealing with the pandemic and the border are just two of them.

How Much Respect Do Authoritarians Deserve?

Someone recommended an article called “Authoritarianism Is Not a Momentary Madness, But an Eternal Dynamic Within Liberal Democracies”. It was written by two psychologists, Karen Stenner and Jonathan Haidt, and appears in a collection of essays called Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass Sunstein. I read it. .

The thesis of the article comes in two parts. The first is that roughly one-third of Americans have an “authoritarian” personality. By this, they mean that a certain percentage of human beings consider values like uniformity and obedience to be extremely important.

Authoritarianism inclines one toward attitudes and behaviors … concerned with structuring society and social interactions in ways that enhance sameness and minimize diversity of people, beliefs and behaviors. It tends to produce a characteristic array of … stances, all of which have the effect of glorifying, encouraging and rewarding uniformity and disparaging, suppressing and punishing difference. Since enhancing uniformity and minimizing diversity [affects other people] and requires some control over their behaviors, ultimately these stances involve actual coercion of others (as in driving a black family from the neighborhood) and, more often, demands for the use of group authority (i.e., coercion by the state).

… Authoritarianism is far more than a personal distaste for difference. It becomes a normative worldview about the social value of obedience and conformity (versus freedom and difference), the prudent and just balance between group authority and individual autonomy. This worldview induces bias against different others (racial and ethnic outgroups, immigrants and refugees, radicals and dissidents, moral “deviants”), as well as political demands for authoritative constraints on their behavior. The latter will typically include legal discrimination against minorities and restrictions on immigration, limits on free speech and association, and the regulation of moral behavior (e.g., policies regarding abortion and homosexuality, and their punitive reinforcement) [184-185].

Personally, I don’t think this is an acceptable outlook on life. It sounds misguided, stupid, even immoral.

The authors don’t see it that way. They view the existence of a substantial subset of human beings with this personality type as a fact of life. It’s just the way some people are. One of the authors, Linda Stenner, puts it this way in the first sentence of her book, The Authoritarian Dynamic: “Some people will never live comfortably in a liberal democracy”. By “liberal democracy”, she means a nation like ours, a “nation of immigrants”, in which we, the majority at least, celebrate individual freedoms (as stated, for example in a “Bill of Rights”) and the diversity of our fellow citizens.

This brings me to the second part of the authors’ thesis. They argue that the rest of us should treat the authoritarian minority’s views with more respect.

Democratic enthusiasts and multiculturalists sometimes make the mistake of thinking we are [all] evolving [into] more perfect democratic citizens. This is why the populist “wave” strikes many observers as a momentary madness that “comes out of the blue”, and why the sentiments that seem to fuel these movements are often considered merely the products of frustration, hatred, and manipulation by irresponsible populist leaders — certainly not serious, legitimate preferences that a democracy must attend to.

When authoritarians raise concerns about, say, the rates or sources of immigration, they are not actually saying “I’m scared I might lose my job”, but in fact, “This is making me very uncomfortable and I don’t like where our country is headed”. Moreover, “Nobody will let me say so, and only [this Trump-like figure] is listening to me”. Our sense is that if Trump had not come along, a Trump-like figure would have materialized eventually….

The gleeful reactions of Trump’s supporters to his “strongman” posturing attested to their anger and bitterness regarding the “political correctness” of the “liberal elite”, and the pleasure they seemed to derive from watching someone like “us” finally sticking it to “them” [211-213].

All right. It’s pretty clear that a third of our fellow Americans are uncomfortable living in a liberal democracy and would prefer that more of us looked and behaved like they do. In practical terms, what should the rest of us do about it?

In the case of immigration, the authors suggest that current immigration policy doesn’t take into account that millions of Americans, the authoritarians among us, would prefer less immigration or more tightly-controlled immigration.

If citizens say they’re concerned about the rate of immigration, we ought to at least consider the possibility they they’re concerned about the rate of immigration [and not racists]….Common sense and historical experience tell us that there is some rate of newcomers into any community that is too high to be sustainable… some newcomers are more difficult to integrate than others… some might, accordingly, need to be more carefully selected, or more heavily supported…. Ignoring these issues is not helpful to either the hosts or the newcomers. It is implausible to maintain that the host community can successfully integrate any kind of newcomer at any rate whatsoever, and it is unreasonable to assert that any other suggestion is racist [213-214].

One problem with this paragraph is that hardly anyone, nobody in Congress anyway, maintains that we should allow in “any kind of newcomer at any rate whatsoever”. To claim otherwise is to adopt the Republican lie that Democrats are in favor of “open borders”. The fact is that we already have lots of border security and many restrictions on who can live here. The debate concerns the amount and type of border security and the number of people who should be allowed to immigrate, from which countries, and with which restrictions, as well as what to do with immigrants who don’t have permanent resident status (“green cards”).

Another problem is that the authors suggest there is a golden mean that will be broadly acceptable to the American people, whether they have authoritarian personalities or not: “Frank consideration of these matters is the key to broad acceptance of immigration policy” [214]. It isn’t clear at all that opponents of immigration, especially immigration from the president’s “shithole countries”, would approve of immigration policy that is acceptable to the majority of the population. All authoritarians may not be racists, but a good percentage of them must be. Otherwise they wouldn’t be so uncomfortable with people who are “different”. Seriously, isn’t being uncomfortable with masses of people because they don’t look like you or speak your language a pretty good definition of “racist”. So what kind of immigration policy would be acceptable to the average authoritarian Trump supporter, racist or not, and how would it differ from current policy?

If there is one thing we could do in order to foster broader acceptance of immigration policy, it would be to make the facts about immigration clear to more people. Having a president who constantly lies about immigration and immigrants doesn’t help. Neither does having “news” channels that broadcast those lies over and over. If more people knew how legal immigration works and understood the facts regarding illegal immigration, we might achieve broader approval of immigration policy. But it will never be possible to convince large numbers of people who are made uncomfortable by “difference” that a reasonable immigration policy is a good idea. We should be able to live with that, however, as long as we have elections and our representatives do their jobs.

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