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U.S. Border Policies: It’s not just political power that’s at stake, it’s human lives.


San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, a friend and member of my Harvard Kennedy School 2014 Crisis Leadership Class, briefs the press on the deaths of 53 people and injuries to 12 additional presumed migrants, including four children, found inside a tractor-trailer abandoned in deadly Texas summer heat.
Forty-six people were found dead at the scene, seven died later in hospital.
Texas, like America, is torn by partisan divisions. Clowns, morons, misfits, and mental defectives inhabit left and right extremes in Texas politics. The recent Texas GOP convention, par exemple, produced particularly unhinged and cruel positions on issues. In a depressing electoral conundrum that I fear will repeat itself over coming years, in November I’ll be forced to chose between the GOP nominee, the current Governor Abbott, in his reelection race against his leftist progressive Democrat opponent, Beto O’Rourke, who I have elsewhere characterized as an exploitive opportunist manifestly unfit to lead. An alternative I trust with the future of Texas won’t be on the ballot.
To his credit, at least in his first response, Beto, restrained himself from the immediate left/right Trump/Biden finger-pointing. Abbott went right for the political jugular by tweeting arguing, “These deaths are on Biden. They are a result of his deadly open border policies. They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
President Biden’s border policies have been a failure and disaster, but he does not deserve Abbott’s response, especially as the circumstances are still under investigation.
Beto instead spoke to a greater truth by saying “We need urgent action — dismantle human smuggling rings and replace them with expanded avenues for legal migration that reflect our values and meet our country’s needs
Given our political divisions, Beto is, however, characteristically naïve that such a transformation can be done quickly or easily. He also shows a blissful ignorance in thinking that changes in U.S. immigration policies will dismantle human trafficking and smuggling rings.
The fact is that the primary fault for the deaths of migrants in a suffocating trailer rests with callous and murderous human traffickers.
We don’t yet know whether, or to what degree, this tragedy is a consequence of Biden’s failed border policies, and/or the larger leftist combination of soft-headedness and calculated exploitation that attracts migrants beyond the capacity of the system to handle them. Disasters like this happened long before Biden took office.
We also don’t know the role Trump’s MPP policies where tens of thousands of non-Mexican asylum-seekers are forced to live in camps on the Mexican side of the border play into this tragedy. The camps conditions make asylum seekers easy prey for cartels, kidnappers, and human traffickers.
We don’t yet know the facts. Yet, the finger-pointing and posturing started before the bodies could be fully counted.
The vast majority of migrants — legally in the U.S. or not — seek only a better life for themselves and their families. Yes, there are criminals in the migrant mix but name any subpopulation free of that pox. Drug dealers and malicious criminals, however, don’t climb in the back of tractor trailers in sweltering Texas heat.
Even assuming the trailer’s refrigeration units were operative and turned on prior to the trailer being cruelly and murderously abandoned, it still took a leap of faith to climb into a sealed container and put your life — and the lives of your children — into the hands of others in such a way.
Nothing could better attest to the desperation of people seeking a better life for themselves and their families in the United States.
Right now, vulnerable migrants are dehumanized into political footballs as the United States border policies swing between overly permissive and overly restrictive extremes.
We also need to collectively shoulder the blame every time we — or employers in our communities — exploit cheaper labor performed by migrants illegally in the country.
I would hope that people on both the left and right in American politics would look at this tragedy as a reminder that shaping a cogent and consistent border policy that maintains U.S. integrity, discourages illegal migration, and protects us from the worst in other societies is important. It is equally important to treat genuine asylum seekers with dignity and treat those who simply want to work with the basic protections and security green cards provide. In sum, we should strive for policies that are both humane and emblematic of a great nation substantially built by people from other lands.
It’s not political power that’s at stake in formulating of border policies, it’s human lives.
This essay was updated on 1 July 2022 to reflect a  higher death toll.
Photo: Screenshot from a BBC coverage of a press briefing by San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, June 28, 2022.
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