The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, high off having diagnosed the trouble with Brexit Britain (too many French people in London!), went to the U.S. border to figure out what’s up there. The resulting column is reminiscent of David Frum’s anti-immigration opus that it cites: convinced of its liberal humanitarianism and superior connection to the Facts, while in fact being indistinguishable from and lending credence to the nasty anti-immigrant fervor that it claims to disown.
“Guided” in his visit by a U.S. Border Patrol team, an entity which definitely doesn’t have any sort of political agenda, Friedman paints a picture of a “very troubling scene” at the border. He then proceeds to describe the human tragedy of people fleeing violence and dismay, waiting in the hot desert for America to act in accordance with its supposed ideals.
Just kidding! None of that stuff. There’s no recounting of Friedman meeting any actual migrants or seeing the facilities in which they’re housed, or even with overworked immigration attorneys who have just as much experience and perhaps a different perspective on what constitutes an immigration crisis. No, the border scene was troubling to Friedman because of “drug smugglers, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.”
And roughly 30 percent of those apprehended sought asylum — up from 1 percent a couple of years ago. Asylum is a humanitarian status based on fear of persecution in one’s native land. Many of these requests are legitimate; some are economic migrants gaming the process. But once you’re in the U.S. and file for asylum, there’s a good chance for you to stay — legally or illegally.
It’s telling that Friedman can trot out statistics for the increase of asylum applications, but not for his assertion that “some” are “gaming the system,” on which his argument rests. The argument only makes sense if that “some” is actually a significant number; three people would also be “some,” but it wouldn’t be a problem. Is it a problem?
According to ProPublica, “[m]ost immigration experts say outright fraud is rare,” and cases are “usually filed by people in good faith with legitimate fears.” Many asylum seekers don’t have access to a lawyer at all, which increases the likelihood that their application will be denied. The process of applying is extremely complicated and onerous, and sometimes USCIS will just lose the paperwork. (This, too, is a problem that could have been solved if Friedman had simply been bothered to pick up the phone and call an advocate or attorney or actual migrant who encounters our bad immigration system on a daily basis.)
Later, Friedman asserts that “once you’re in the U.S. and file for asylum, there’s a good chance for you to stay — legally or illegally.” This rests on the false idea that fraudsters claim asylum and then disappear once they’re here. In fact, almost all asylum seekers do show up for their court hearings. According to Human Rights First, government data shows that “out of 10,427 decisions in fiscal year 2018 for released asylum seekers, only 160 received removal orders because they missed a court hearing.” Put into percentages, that’s fewer than 2 percent of cases where asylum seekers not showing up to their court dates. And even for those who do miss their court hearings, there are a number of good reasons for that, like the government doing a poor job of informing asylum seekers of their requirements and rights, or even failing to notify them at all.
He goes on:
The whole day left me more certain than ever that we have a real immigration crisis and that the solution is a high wall with a big gate — but a smart gate.
A big gate, but a smart gate.
A big sandwich, but a smart sandwich.
A big boy, but a smart boy.
See, Friedman would hate for you to think he’s not pro-immigration:
Indeed, if you are pro-immigration as I am, you have to acknowledge that this haphazard “system” has overwhelmed the Border Patrol and our immigration courts and contributed to Trump’s election. A May 2016 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found that 48 percent of white working-class Americans agree that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”
He’s so pro-immigration that he accepts at face value the idea that roughly half of white working-class Americans feel genuinely threatened because the Border Patrol and immigration courts are overworked, and not, say, a combination of racism and their own shitty economic situation. If they say it—and by they, I mean less than half of them—it’s gotta be real.
Like so much faux-liberal immigration rhetoric, Friedman is insistent that immigration policy could be good if we only focused on the right kind of immigrants. He says we should “celebrate the essential contribution that a steady flow of legal, high-energy and high-I.Q. immigrants make to America,” because it is not at all weird and fascist to talk about the I.Q.s of immigrants. Friedman writes:
It’s a crazy “system” that tells so many foreign students who come here legally — to learn computer science, medicine, design or engineering — to get out after they graduate, while offering myriad protections to people who arrive illegally or win entry through a lottery. We can’t afford this unthinking approach any longer, not if we want to sustain the safety nets and the health care and education promises we’ve made for the people already here.
The proposition that there are “myriad protections” for people who come here illegally is straight out of a racist boomer Facebook meme. Living in the U.S. as an undocumented person is a terrifying ordeal; I don’t think the Guatemalan man who was picked up by ICE while dropping his kids off at school would argue that there were myriad protections in place for him. And the idea that immigrants are straining the social safety net is absurd, not least because undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for most benefits and even legal immigrants have to have a green card for five years, and because immigrants pay more into health insurance than they receive in care.
And, again, we see the kinds of immigrants that matter to Friedman: Useful ones, who know things like STEM (not, it seems, the ones who know things like how to write New York Times columns). “High-energy” ones. He has nothing to say of the “essential contribution” of undocumented immigrants, who work in farming, construction, and childcare, among many other occupations. All, certainly, much more valuable jobs than his, or mine.
I’m exhausted by these sacks of shit telling me they really do care about immigrants and immigration, which is why they want to limit it and make it “smart.” I am one of your “good” migrants, Tom—I may not be a STEM graduate, which you aren’t either, but I have a Master’s degree from an American school, pay a good chunk of taxes, and have never used any of the social services that you think immigrants are threatening to strain. And dealing with immigration issues, even from my privileged position as a white British person with an education, is undoubtedly the most stressful thing I have ever gone through, and will remain so for at least the next five or so years. It should be a little easier for people like me—and it should be a thousand times easier for people who are fleeing actual violence and not steak and kidney pie. It should be easier and safer for people who want to do useful jobs that have nothing to do with STEM or Tech or Smart Flows.
Friedman says those who haven’t been to the border don’t understand that we need all of his solutions, including walls and rethinking asylum. Maybe the real problem is that going on a Border Patrol-guided jaunt around the border is actually the worst way to understand the issue. Maybe, just maybe, Tom Friedman’s infamously lazy attempts to understand and solve the world’s big problems just helped him show his entire ass yet again.