The governors of Texas, Arizona, and Florida have been transporting asylum seekers from the border to "sanctuary" jurisdictions, such as Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, and Martha's Vineyard. Many of these migrants have suffered persecution in their home countries and have undergone difficult and dangerous journeys to reach the United States. The governors have enticed them to travel from the border to other parts of the country by falsely promising them jobs, work permits, and other benefits. In most cases, the receiving localities have not been forewarned about the new arrivals, and so have had difficulty coordinating a humanitarian response.

Immigration advocates have referred to these transfers as a "cynical political game," a "publicity stunt" and a "political ploy." Others have called it an effort to "own the libs." While I agree that lying to vulnerable people and manipulating them is cruel and immoral, I think we on the Left are not being honest or wise when we dismiss the migrant transports as mere political theater. The issues underlying the governors' efforts are serious and we ignore those issues at our peril.

The basic problem is the border, where record numbers of migrants have been arriving this year. GOP candidates--including those from interior states--are touting their border-security bona fides in political ads, and even some Democrats are raising objections to the Biden Administration's handling of the Southern border. The perception of uncontrolled migration was a key voter-recruiting tool for the Trump campaign in 2016, and it looks to be even more effective in the up-coming mid-term elections.

What we need--and have needed for years--is a rational and honest conversation about the border: Who do we want to let in (or, in more technical terms, how do we want to define "particular social group")? How many migrants are too many? How do we balance our humanitarian obligations with national security? Sadly, such a debate is probably impossible in the current political climate.

Instead, Republicans have capitalized on the influx of migrants to bring voters to the polls. In a sense, it is hard to blame them. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that--

about three-quarters of Americans (73%) say increasing security along the U.S.-Mexico border to reduce illegal crossings should be a very (44%) or somewhat (29%) important goal of U.S. immigration policy. Nearly all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (91%) say border security should be an important goal, while a smaller majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (59%) say the same, according to the survey of 7,647 U.S. adults conducted Aug. 1 to 14.

With numbers like these, it's easy to see why Republican candidates want to focus on the border. Shipping migrants from border areas to supposed liberal jurisdictions is a logical extension of this focus, and there appears to be little political downside. The governors involved in this effort can present themselves as tough on immigration and as standing up to "open borders" Democrats (never mind that Democratic administrations have deported migrants on the same scale as Republican administrations). And they are seen as taking concrete action to distribute the "burden" of asylum seekers arriving at the border (again, never mind that Democrat-leaning states already have higher proportions of immigrants than Republican-leaning states or that immigrants tend to contribute more to the economy than they take). While some Republican voters will find the governors' actions reprehensible, given the strong support within the party for more restrictive borders, they are unlikely to suffer any serious consequences.

And what about us on the Left? Although it is obscured by cruelty, there is an underlying message in this madness and I think we need to pay attention: A significant majority of Americans want a more restrictive asylum policy at the Southern border and many of them will be voting based on their view.

Given this reality, it seems to me that we have a few options: (1) We need to more effectively communicate why a generous asylum policy is a good idea and convince more Americans on this point; (2) We can keep doing what we are doing--advocating for a more fair, more generous, and more well-funded asylum system at the Southern border; or (3) We need to change our goals.

I suppose I am not entirely convinced that Option #1 is futile. Indeed, one purpose of this blog is to engage with people who have different perspectives on immigration. But realistically, I do not envision significant numbers of Americans changing their mind about the border based on more convincing arguments, and so I think this option is out.

The advantage of Option #2 is that we are not required to compromise our principles. Otherwise, I don't see much to recommend it. Advocates have been pushing for improvements at the border for years, and things only seem to get worse. When President Biden came in, there was some expectation that the situation would get better. Instead, more and more people are arriving and entering a system that is already stretched beyond capacity. And so for me, Option #2 is also out.

As you might have surmised, I prefer Option #3, which I view as the only realistic choice. Like most people, I don't love the idea of compromise, but compromising with others is how democracy works. Given the never-ending quest for immigration reform, my feeling is that it is better to get something rather than nothing. If we agree to increase restrictions at the border in exchange for legalizing people who are already here, that will at least help many noncitizens. Further, it may help undermine Republican candidates, many of whom are actively trying to subvert our democracy. Perhaps by peeling away voters whose main concern is the border, we can prevent such candidates from being elected.

We are at a difficult moment in our nation's history. Democracy is on the line. As I see it, compromising with moderate Republicans on immigration would help some immigrants, and would also help fortify our democratic system. I hope immigrant advocates will reconsider their goals, and recognize that it is better to achieve some modest successes than nothing at all.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: