IMMIGRATION IMPASSE: It's America's great paradox. This is the land of immigrants, and yet Americans have never liked immigrants. Today, we don't just have a broken border and a broken system. We also have a broken discourse. It's no wonder we can't solve our immigration problem. We don't even know how to talk about it. When Americans look at the U.S.-Mexico border, or peek into the kitchens of their favorite restaurant, or come clean about who is doing the chores in their own homes, they see different realities. This series -- written by the grandson of a Mexican immigrant who has covered the issue for 30 years -- takes a clear, honest and unflinching look at why America's grand promise to take in the "huddled masses" and "wretched refuse" has been so difficult to keep.

SAN DIEGO — Let's talk about refugees.

I'm not referring to those desperate and deserving souls from Central America, the masses now huddled on the U.S.-Mexico border. Those folks seek safe haven in the United States, this fabled nation of immigrants that has never liked immigrants. If they can just make it past the gatekeepers, they would almost certainly benefit American society.

My mind is on those desperate and deserving souls in Afghanistan, the masses now huddled at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Those folks also seek safe haven in the United States, this fabled nation of immigrants that has never liked immigrants. If they can just make it past the gatekeepers, they would almost certainly benefit American society.

Despite the obvious similarities between these separate groups of castaways, there are people on both the right and the left who are going out of their way to find differences — the kind that might help us justify treating them differently. At least that way, we can claim that our decision to discriminate was about them and not us.

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Some Americans think we should let in Central Americans because that's what good neighbors do and because we caused much of the strife that made countries like Honduras and El Salvador unlivable. But some of these same Americans don't feel an obligation to put out the welcome mat for Afghans who come from halfway around the world.

Others argue that we should let in Afghans because many of them who were helpful to U.S. military forces over the last 20 years are now in danger of being killed by the Taliban because of their efforts. But at the same time, they want to keep out Central American migrants who they fear will only speed up the process of America becoming largely Latino.

Talk about a silver lining. Afghans have at least one thing going for them. There is still a system in place to handle those Afghans who wish to claim asylum. They're likely to have the chance to plead their case to judges in immigration court.

That is not the case for would-be refugees from Central America. The Biden administration — which talks a good game about welcoming immigrants and refugees even as it turns away immigrants and refugees — plans to forgo due process for those gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Folks from Central America don't have to go to court, say administration officials. They can have their chances for asylum judged on the spot by the same border patrol agents who are tasked with keeping them out of the country. How's that for efficiency?

The politics of the refugee issue aren't simple either. For example, as Americans debate whether to accept Afghan refugees into the United States, we find Republicans on both sides of the argument. There are those in the GOP who — staying loyal to their party's brand — are giving in to nativist instincts and pulling up the drawbridge. But other Republicans want to see Afghans rescued from the crisis of their country's collapse and flown to the United States. A recent CBS News/YouGov poll found that 76% of Republicans would welcome Afghan refugees.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is weighing in. The medieval thugs said this week that they were "not allowing the evacuation of Afghans anymore." It could be that they don't want to lose their country's best and brightest. Or maybe they just want to maintain what little control they have on the movement of the Afghan people. Or perhaps they want to needle the Americans in the final days leading up to the Aug 31 deadline for withdrawal.

Of course, the Taliban doesn't get a vote. But Americans do. And, as an American, here's my vote about what we should do in Afghanistan.

America should take in 100,000 Afghan refugees who are "yearning to breathe free" and ready to work hard in another country to build new lives. In return, we should round up and deport the same number of whiny and selfish and entitled Americans who think that wearing a mask to ward off a deadly pandemic constitutes too much of a personal sacrifice.

That's a great deal. At least, it would be for the United States. But for whatever country got stuck with our refugees, well, not so much.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

© 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group