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Column

Editorial: As governors bus migrants north, the immigration debate takes a disgraceful turn

Treating human beings like unwanted kittens left on the doorstep of an unwitting neighbor's home is unconscionable, but the political stunts being played by the governors of Arizona, Florida, and Texas are more disappointing than surprising.

The Republican governors used buses and airplanes to take roughly 150 migrants they didn't want in their states to New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. They didn't alert local officials to prepare for their arrival. But it's not the first time that politics got the best of morality in this country.

The Statue of Liberty's plaque describes America as a welcoming beacon to "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." But a year before poet Emma Lazarus wrote "The New Colossus," Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Later came the Immigration Act of 1917, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, and the National Origins Act of 1924. Each law was written to stem an influx of immigrants deemed undesirable by politicians.

The 1924 law favored largely white populations by setting the annual quota for immigrants from Great Britain and Northern Ireland at 65,721; the Irish Free State, 17,853; and Germany, 25,957. Dozens of other countries, including Armenia, Cameroon, China, Estonia, Ethiopia, India, Japan, and Liberia were limited to 100 immigrants each.

America has long encouraged Mexicans to perform seasonal agricultural work here, but not to stay. Labor shortages during World War I and World War II led to "Braceros" agreements with Mexico, allowing U.S. farmers to recruit migrants for temporary work. The second Braceros program lasted until 1964.

Since then, there has been little change in immigration law other than to reset quotas and aid refugees from war-torn nations such as Syria and Afghanistan. That has left the country ill-prepared for a perpetual exodus of people from nations nearby and oceans away who desperately need that beacon Lazarus described.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott say they have been shipping immigrants north to dramatize how broken America's immigration system is. But the exploitation of these vulnerable people by those three governors only makes matters worse.

The crisis at our borders has been ongoing for more than a decade. It requires more than Band-Aid solutions like building new walls. The impact of poverty, crime, and wars on immigration will only increase as climate change makes populations even more desperate for adequate food and water.

We can't wait for that to happen. We need more temporary housing and health-care facilities now for the thousands already waiting at the border to have their immigration status evaluated. We need more hearing officers and courts to quickly determine if a person is eligible to emigrate. We need more programs to help those eligible after they cross the border.

That will be expensive, but it's more cost-effective than trying to close a nearly 2,000-mile border that will never be sealed. Ducey, DeSantis, Abbott, and others need to stop treating immigrants like a virus to be eradicated and instead acknowledge that this country has always needed immigrants, including the enslaved people who were forced to build buildings, roads, ports, and rail lines that are still in use.

Twice in the past 20 years, Congress came close to passing comprehensive immigration reform, but politics got in the way. The best effort may have been Senate legislation cosponsored in 2006 by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. That bill's proposals included the creation of a new worker visa program, but it never received a vote on the Senate floor. Then in 2013, the so-called "Gang of Eight" senators — four Republicans and four Democrats ­— thought they would prevail, but partisan rancor again stood in the way.

Sadly, the politics surrounding immigration reform has not improved. Maybe because it's not an issue that most Americans believe is their concern. That includes Latino voters, who in a recent poll by UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota ranked immigration 12th among its participants' concerns. Their top five issues were inflation, crime, jobs, health care, and abortion.

Those poll results may reflect the likelihood that people have given up on Congress doing anything about immigration. But if it doesn't, we can expect more long lines at the border, more people dying trying to cross it, and more politicians hoping to score points by treating immigrants like refuse to be discarded.

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