Pres. Joe Biden is making the hard, but correct, call on Haitian refugees and others camped near Del Rio, Texas.
What is the greatest threat to liberal democracy in the world? Far-right populism. And what is driving far-right populism more than anything else? Immigration. More accurately, not so much the normal, regularized immigration between nations, but the flow of refugees. Refugees put strain on social service systems, challenge the settled culture and activate nativist and xenophobic tendencies that otherwise lie mostly dormant.
And populists take advantage of that opening.
So, while it’s hard to see innocent people in need sent back to face the problems in their home country, in the long-run it’s the right thing to do. America is the strongest force in the world for liberal democracy and we’re now recovering from four years of a near-fascist government under Donald Trump. Moreover, Trump got 75 million votes last November. One way to look at it is that Biden won the Electoral College by only 44,000 votes spread over three states, including Wisconsin.
So, we’re at a key moment in history. Liberal democracy — another phrase for freedom — is very much in doubt. We’re nowhere near being out of the woods yet. So, anything that would threaten it has to be fought or defused. And nothing threatens liberal democracy like uncontrolled immigration. Biden’s first job is to strengthen democracy here and around the world. And to do that he must tamp down populism.
So, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas struck the right tone yesterday when, while acknowledging that the situation was “heartbreaking,” he also said, “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”
Of course there are exceptions. Americans are overwhelmingly (for now) in support of asylum for the thousands of Afghans who helped us in the war there. But that support may erode as time goes on and as issues may arise with some of those immigrants. Also, there’s a big difference between Afghans who face the likelihood of death or torture back home and Haitians who are fleeing natural disasters and the manmade disaster of their own government.
In fact, we could hope that the Haitians themselves, with nowhere else to go, might work to rebuild their country, not just physically, but they should also work to establish democratic institutions and norms. The U.S. should do all it can to help. As I’ve written before, we should not give up on nation-building.
It’s a tough call, but the greater good in the long run is to send the Haitians back home.
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