Immigration Matters 2022

The Complexities of Politics During an Immigration Crisis

By Rishi P. Oza

The influx of migrants at the nation’s southern border is nothing new. What is new is that the humanitarian crisis is now becoming more of a political football with state governors becoming the enforcers and, in some cases, exploiters of the feeble federal response. While legislation and implementation of immigration policy is generally the purview of the federal government, the release of migrants into the United States is increasingly becoming a state and local issue with locales bearing the burden of absorbing these populations into their local fabric.

Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have turned to political grandstanding to try to drive home the point of lax federal enforcement of border policy. While this has garnered national headlines, Governor Abbott has instituted a busing campaign of transporting migrants to “sanctuary jurisdictions”, such as Washington DC, Chicago and New York, far from the border towns and interior cities of Texas that have historically borne the brunt of released migrants. Governor DeSantis, not to be outdone and ostensibly with an eye on a run for the presidency in 2024 and a potential challenger in Governor Abbott, sought out an even splashier headline – flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, a hotspot for New England liberals in the summer. By bringing the migrant crisis to the doors of democratic mayors and governors, as the logic goes, heads would turn, and the migrant crisis would be truly realized.

The sad reality of these stunts is that the mayors and governors of democratic cities and states are in no more of a position to impact federal immigration policy than Governors Abbott and DeSantis. These governors have a right to be angry – for years, they have been on the front-line of thousands of incoming migrants, most of whom are fleeing genuine crises in their home countries, but also many of whom are attracted to the economic possibilities of work in the United States. Upon arrival, these individuals and families need shelter and resources, the cost of which often falls on already-stretched local budgets.

Both Governors Abbott and DeSantis know that Mayor Muriel Bowser cannot dictate what happens at the southern border anymore than these governors can impact federal tax policy. By simply dumping migrants into DC and Chicago streets, these governors are treating migrants as a disposable commodity and not people. True leaders would not simply ship migrants to faraway places with no coordination with leaders at end destination but would instead consult with mayors and governors from Republican and Democratic cities and states and create coalitions on handling new migrants. Doing so would not only raise awareness as to the sheer numbers of those arriving but would build a national profile for these governors as genuine leaders trying to address a problem and building consensus, instead of grandstanding.

Demanding that politicians that announce their jurisdictions as “sanctuaries” are forced to put their local resources where their mouths are is fair, and border states should not be left to their own devices to care for the hundreds of migrants that arrive each day. However, these governors know that real change at the border is going to require a legislative answer. Instead of aiming for national headlines, these governors may want to start asking their state’s senators why immigration reform is not more of a priority.

Neither senators Cruz and Cornyn of Texas nor Rubio and Scott of Florida have put forth any serious immigration reform legislation or even shown an interest in engaging in immigration reform discussions with their Democratic counterparts in recent years, a failure which will continue to keep their states on the frontlines of this crisis. Absent action in the Senate, state governors should seek to show actual leadership acumen in dealing with the humanitarian crisis and put the value of a human life above Facebook Likes or Retweets. Anything less will continue to raise calls about whether these governors are interested in being leaders of their just their political parties, or for the entire country.


Rishi P. Oza is Partner at Brown Immigration Law, a firm that focuses solely on immigration law; he practices in Durham. Contact: roza@rbrownllc.com.