SAN DIEGO -- Now that both sides have had their bouts of deflection and denial, we must untangle the mess at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As you know, a big part of that mess is that -- before they could plead their case for refugee status -- more than 2,500 children were separated with no plan to reunite them with their families.
America doesn’t play fair. It insists that those who seek refuge follow the rules -- then it changes the rules. It tells the desperate to only come through designated ports of entry; but, when people do so, it turns them away.
We say that asylum-seekers must show “credible fear” of persecution, then we declare -- as the Trump administration did recently -- that victims of anti-LGBT abuse, domestic assault and gang violence need not apply.
Before liberals get all high and mighty, a similar crackdown occurred in 2014. The Obama administration made it harder for those seeking refugee status to get asylum by narrowing the definition of what it means for someone to face a “significant possibility” of persecution.
This much we learned in the last few weeks: Neither of the two major political parties cares about immigrants or refugees. They only care about their own interests.
After all, fear is a bipartisan affliction. Democrats are afraid that foreigners will take jobs from their union buddies. Republicans worry that newcomers -- as Fox News host Tucker Carlson said last week -- want to “change your country forever.” So everyone’s first instinct is to pull up the drawbridge, some more obnoxiously than others.
At least the media is paying attention to the evil done by government -- if, that is, the evil is committed by Republicans. Contrary to what uninformed and dishonest reporters and anchors told you about how all this inhospitableness toward foreigners began two months ago, it was more like 200 years ago.
We should also have learned this: Families have been separated at the border, in one form or another, for the last 25 years under presidents from both parties. Consider how the federal government works. Presidents, senior staff, and Cabinet officers come and go. But career bureaucrats can stay in these agencies for life. So policies can remain the same no matter who occupies the Oval Office. There’s your deep state.
Another lesson: Border enforcement is not child’s play. The Department of Homeland Security is a blunt instrument that isn’t equipped, or inclined, to run daycare centers for children -- whether unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
Yet the political extremes are no more equipped, or inclined, to engage in much personal introspection.
Liberals have a lot of emotion invested in the narrative they’ve created over the years that claims they’re better, more enlightened and more compassionate than conservatives; and if you challenge them on any of that by pointing out their indifference to the abuses committed just a few years ago by Barack Obama’s administration, they’ll come out swinging. They won’t defend immigrants or refugees, but they will defend their pride.
Meanwhile, conservatives are advancing a narrative of their own and hoping images of brown-skinned foreigners entering the United States will scare people into voting for the GOP in November. Instead of offering a solution to the current crisis, Trump simply accuses Democrats of wanting an “open border” and being eager to -- as he recently told delegates at the Nevada Republican Party convention -- “let MS-13 all over our country.”
The left needs to stop running away from recent history and accept that it only cares about refugees from Central America when it uses them as a club to bludgeon the right. Conservatives need to stop deflecting attention away from what Trump is doing wrong by pointing to earlier wrongs committed by Obama -- which, by the way, those same conservatives said nothing about at the time.
Whether Obama supporters will ever admit it or not, the 44th president was a restrictionist who resorted to racist imagery (the word “gang-banger” for instance) to facilitate massive numbers of deportations -- many without due process. On the border, he carried out many of the same abusive policies toward refugees as his successor, albeit more discreetly and less abrasively. He damaged our nation’s reputation as a haven for the persecuted and picked on. Those are the facts.
Obama failed at the border, but at least he seemed to aspire to what he promised the American people: hope and change. All the GOP offers, when uninvited guests arrive at the front door, is terror and nightmares.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.