Last week, some 50 Latin American asylum seekers were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on two flights arranged by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Several people aboard the planes told reporters that a woman who identified herself as “Perla” approached them at a shelter outside San Antonio and promised that, after flying to Boston, they would receive job opportunities and assistance with the House. It was, by all accounts, an insensitive political stunt, but a similar practice has been underway throughout the summer, with thousands of people bused from Texas and Arizona to Washington, DC and New York. New York Mayor Eric Adams has threatened legal action against Texas, as has a group of Massachusetts lawyers. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, asked the Justice Department to consider kidnapping charges in the case of the people sent to Martha’s Vineyard. President Joe Biden accused Republican governors of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.” Speaking at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he said, “What they’re doing is just wrong.”
However, when it comes to refugee experiences, being put on a bus or a plane and ending up thousands of miles from a place one might have wanted to go, or intended to go, is normal. When people fleeing violence and disasters seek protection from national governments and international organizations, they learn that beggars at the citizenship table have no choice. A national government may decide to house them, for an indeterminate period of time, in a hotel, dormitory, or detention center; they may have limited or no freedom of movement; they may not be allowed to seek work to support themselves and their families. An international organization such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can recognize a person who has had to flee their country as a refugee and place their file in a giant pool of applications from which another country, some years later, can choose the person for resettlement. UNHCR currently sees twenty-seven million people in different parts of the world as refugees; twice as many, according to the agency’s own estimate, have been displaced but have not had their need for international protection formally recognized. Each year, less than one percent of refugees are permanently resettled in a country that is willing to offer them the prospect of eventual citizenship.
Hannah Arendt, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, lived in France as a displaced person, and came to the United States in 1941, observed that a refugee, a stateless person, who exists outside the framework of national laws, is dispossessed by definition. all rights. While we may affirm and believe that people have rights by virtue of being human, that these rights are inalienable, in reality, to exercise them, a person must be a member of a political community. Arendt called the stateless “without rights”. Their calamity, she wrote, “is not that they are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, formulas that were designed to solve problems within given communities, but no longer belong to any community. Their situation is not that they are not equal before the law, but that there is no law for them; It is not that they are oppressed but that nobody even wants to oppress them”.
None of this means that asylum seekers should be put on buses or planes and sent to places they never intended to go, just that the preconditions for such treatment have been in place for decades. The relative novelty is the militarization of asylum seekers. “We take what is happening on the southern border very seriously, unlike some, unlike the president of the United States, who has refused to lift a finger to secure that border,” DeSantis said, after taking credit for credit for leasing the planes from Martha’s Vineyard. “We are not a sanctuary state. It is better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction.” In other words, if the Democrats like asylum seekers so much, they should take responsibility for housing them. Texas Governor Greg Abbott was more direct. After buses dropped dozens of asylum seekers outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris, Abbott saying a Texas radio station, “She’s the Zara of the border, and we feel if she doesn’t come down to see the border, if President Biden doesn’t come down to see the border, we’ll make sure they see her firsthand. . . . And listen, there’s more where that came from.”
Abbott and DeSantis did not invent the tactic. In 2021, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka arranged for thousands of people from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, who needed international protection, to be flown to Minsk, from where they were escorted to the borders with Lithuania, a member of the European Union. , Latvia and Poland. Years earlier, Vladimir Putin’s Russia seemed to ease the passage of people fleeing Syria, where Russian troops were waging war on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, to Finland and Norway, apparently as part of a larger scheme. broad to destabilize European democracies.
Republican governors’ strategies, like those of Eastern European dictators, are based on the cynical assumption that no one wants to offer refuge to people fleeing adversity. From the point of view of Putin or Lukashenka, the tactic worked. The influx of refugees from Syria fueled the rise of far-right parties even in countries as traditionally welcoming as Sweden. Poland has created an open-air prison on its border that locals refer to as the “death zone,” where refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere continue to suffer inhumane conditions, even as the country has voluntarily taken in millions. of Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia. Yet six months later, Europeans are also starting to lose compassion for white Christian refugees.
What Putin and Lukashenka probably think they have shown, and what the Republican governors suppose they will prove, is that all the talk of welcoming people in need of protection is just that: sentiment will collapse in front of applicants. real asylum. The Trump Administration, in both rhetoric and policy, shattered the historical myth that the United States is a nation of immigrants. The Biden Administration has done little to reverse the effects of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, including the Muslim ban, the first iteration of which, in January 2017, sparked massive protests. The Administration appears to assume that assurances that the border is secure will always be more popular with the public than policies that can be interpreted as encouraging immigration.
Abbott, DeSantis and their supporters are indeed drawing the attention of the Democrats. They may succeed in fomenting tension and resentment, as Putin and Lukashenka have done in Europe. It’s not so much that residents of Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, DC quickly tire of people seeking protection; it is that the fundamental inhumanity of existing refugee and asylum policies suggests that they, rather than us, are indeed hypocrites to the core. ♦