Over the past two years, the U.S. government has admitted hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Most of these people are Venezuelan nationals, and they applied for asylum at the crossing points on the southern border. Republican governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida transported many of these asylum seekers, on buses and even planes to cities governed by Democrats, primarily Washington D.C., New York, and Chicago, often under false pretenses. The arrival of these migrants presents us with an opportunity to demonstrate how citizens and the different levels of government in the richest country in the world can provide dignified and humane treatment of people in vulnerable situations. Nevertheless, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people who lack family and social support networks has exposed the serious flaws in the social welfare of all people that comprise U.S. society today. The arrival of asylum seekers should invite all people of goodwill to improve the living conditions of all people so that when we are called upon to extend our helping hand, we can do so from a position of strength.
These are our talking points, meant to analyze the causes of the challenges these cities are facing and possible alternatives to address them.
It is not a migration crisis, it is a welfare crisis.
- As migration trends change, so must our policies and strategies. The intensification of flows of people forced to migrate throughout the Americas is evidence of a crisis of economic, social, cultural, and political welfare.
- The absence of public policies in the United States to tackle the consequences of years of unaddressed inequality affects all individuals living in the country, irrespective of their immigration status. The lack of proper public policies aimed at guaranteeing the well-being of all people is the root cause of so many of the unmet basic needs of Americans, not the arrival of foreigners seeking protection, as the anti-immigrant narrative suggests.
- One of the examples of the absence of public policies has to do with the systematic and decades-long weakening of social welfare in key areas such as well-paying jobs, decent housing, physical and mental health, and education for all people in the U.S. The existence of hundreds of thousands of people lacking secure housing in large U.S. cities is palpable evidence of this great absence.
- It is the federal government’s responsibility to respond to the needs of asylum seekers and parolees entering the United States. However, the government has failed to fulfill this function, leaving it overwhelmingly to non-governmental organizations who operate with limited resources. If these organizations were to receive sufficient resources, they could provide comprehensive services that would directly reduce the integration period and improve the economic autonomy of new arrivals.
- Cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago face an enormous challenge given the lack of policies aimed at the economic, social, political, and cultural integration of newcomers seeking humanitarian support and protection. Despite the absence of federal public policies, local authorities can and should do more to welcome and integrate newcomers into their cities.
- The strategy of transporting asylum seekers to Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago is intended to create division and chaos. The Republican Party is trying to use this political maneuver to promote an anti-immigrant agenda and instill fear and hatred of immigrants in the cities where they are settling. These actions reflect contempt for people living in poverty and denote a white supremacist vision of American society. The governors of Texas, Arizona, and Florida serve this political strategy of the Republican Party.
- Unfortunately, the United States has played a crucial role in maintaining the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that have made life so precarious for most people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The factors that are currently driving many people to leave their countries in search of a place where they can live with dignity and respect for their human rights are, in part, due to the foreign policies of the U.S.
- The U.S., as one of the most powerful countries in the world, , has failed to play a leadership role in promoting and implementing comprehensive policies (economic, social, political, and cultural) in Latin America, the Caribbean, and other regions of the planet that lead to the development of conditions that promote the well-being of their societies. The consequence of this neglect is that the well-being of people in Latin America and the Caribbean has been deteriorating steadily over the last few decades. This trend worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing Systematic Inequality in the United States
- The lack of public policies in the United States that ensure a sustainable and stable way of life does not only affect migrants. All people, regardless of their place of birth or immigration status, must demand significant reforms to welfare systems that include all individuals. No one should experience living in poverty and facing so much hardship, especially in the wealthiest country on Earth.
- Those who make the claim that foreigners arriving in search of support and protection are responsible for people being unhoused, lack of access to jobs and decent pay, and lack of access to quality healthcare, in fact seek to conceal the history of exclusion and discrimination that has affected racial and ethnic minorities as well as low-income people in the U.S. By raising awareness of the need for a change in the narrative about the impacts of the lack of a social safety net, we can help change the public perception of who and what is responsible for unmet basic needs such as housing and decent jobs for both existing US residents and for newcomers.
- The issue of public finances, including tax policy, needs to be reconsidered. Creating a society where well-being is a priority requires robust and well-considered public investment. It is crucial to revamp tax policy in a way that ensures the wealthiest individuals pay the most taxes. Additionally, tax collection mechanisms must be improved to guarantee that the public sector has sufficient resources to promote the well-being of all people.
- There is a false narrative that cities cannot accommodate and support migrants at the current rate. However, this is a scarcity mindset reflecting an egotistical individualist perspective. In reality, when cities prioritize affordable housing, efficient transportation infrastructure, and community well-being, they can ensure that they are prepared to integrate migrants into their communities.
Immigrant reception and integration policies
- The economy of the United States requires a steady supply of labor, and migrants can effectively fulfill this need. Asylum seekers should be granted a work permit as soon as possible, enabling them to support themselves financially and start the process of integrating into society. In addition to the federal government’s efforts, states and cities can play a supplementary role in expediting this process, which can often take months, if not years. It is important to recognize the responsibilities of state and local authorities in the integration of migrants, and the need for allocation of adequate resources by the federal government to support these efforts.
- Migrants seeking asylum in the United States often face the immigration system without legal representation. The federal and local governments should appropriate resources for universal legal representation for people in deportation proceedings.
- It is important to recognize that the challenges posed by migratory flows are not caused by migrants themselves, but rather by negligent policies, and more specifically our failure to invest in the well-being of people. We need to rethink and work towards a more dignified future for people not only in the United States, but also in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. By investing in policies and processes that move us in the right direction, we can reduce the number of people who feel the need to leave their countries.
- The historical evidence shows us that migrants have been and are a net gain, in every way, for the U.S., as well as for millions of people residing in the migrants’ countries of origin. However, the leadership of the Democratic Party has been, at best, inconsistent in challenging head-on the racist, anti-immigrant narrative that has emanated from extremist leadership within the Republican Party.
In the immediate term
- Cities and states, which have been negatively impacted by the Republican campaign that promotes division, hatred towards foreigners, and chaotic situations, should come together and convene a national conference. This conference should focus on finding innovative solutions, both in the immediate and long term, to overcome the non-responsiveness of the U.S. Congress and address the diverse issues that have arisen due to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in their cities.