Ruben Navarrette: Both parties look at immigration and ask: What's in it for me?

Summary: It seems that Central American migrants aren't the only ones who are quick on their feet. Determined not to have her presidential ambitions squashed by the immigration issue, Harris is a moving target.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

Author's Note: The 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 — The immigration issue has a magical power. It takes politicians — in both parties — and shows us who they really are, as opposed to who they pretend to be.

If you're an elected official, and you see immigrants and refugees as a threat to people like you, you're going to try to keep them out.

On immigration, Democrats can be worse than Republicans. Give me Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush over Bill Clinton and Barack Obama any day of the week.

And politicians in both parties have short memories.


Remember when Republicans like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions asserted the supremacy of the federal government? Once upon a time, they insisted that the U.S. Constitution gives Uncle Sam —- and not "sanctuary states" like California — the right to sculpt immigration policy.

Apparently, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has amnesia. The Republican is running for reelection in 2022, but he likely also plans to compete for the GOP nomination for president in 2024. He will milk the immigration issue — and what he calls Democrats' "open border" policies — for all its worth.

This week, Abbott announced that he is sidestepping the federal government and putting a $250 million down payment on a state-led project to build "hundreds of miles" of border wall along the state's international boundary with Mexico.

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the hypocrisy of Americans who complain about illegal immigration even as they benefit from the labor of illegal immigrants.

I lived in Texas for five years, in what is often called the "recession-proof" city of Dallas. Mexican immigrants helped fortify the city's economy. Since the 1990s, the Big D has been a full-fledged immigrant city with a humming economy that lures people to North Texas from around the world.

On behalf of those Latino immigrants who saved the Lone Star State, let me say: "You're welcome, Texas."

Meanwhile, you can be sure that Abbott isn't the only politician — in either party — with an eye on 2024.

In the event that President Joe Biden doesn't run for reelection, Vice President Kamala Harris is ready. She has skills, but she also has deficiencies. The immigration issue brings both to the surface.


On the positive side: Harris' political adroitness is excellent, and her survival instincts are sharp. She knows how to promote herself and her life story, as she shapes a narrative that she's "woke" enough to lead America to enlightenment and sensitivity in the 21st Century.

On the negative side: She has a thin skin, and she doesn't take criticism well. Lately, she has lashed out at reporters when pressed about why someone tasked to solve the border crisis avoids visiting the border.

This is more than just a GOP talking point. This week, a Texas Democrat — Rep. Henry Cuellar — also said Harris should visit the border to get a first-hand look at the problem.

Yet the vice president stubbornly refuses to budge. This has become a whole big thing. Now, if Harris eventually goes to the border, it'll be a media spectacle rivaling former President Richard Nixon's visit to China.

You would think Harris wouldn't be so clumsy on immigration given that she was billed to voters as "a daughter of immigrants." Harris' father was born in Jamaica, and her mother was born in India. She should have more empathy for those who aren't lucky enough to be born on U.S. soil, forcing them to give up everything to get here as fast as they can.

And when folks from Central America are fleeing violent gangs who threaten their sons and daughters, it's not helpful for the vice president of the United States to callously tell them: "Do not come" because the administration will hold the line against "illegal migration."

Who said anything about illegal? This lesson may have gotten past Harris in law school, but — as critics on the left pointed out — the process of would-be refugees coming to the U.S. to apply for asylum is 100% legal.

In an attempt to change the subject, Harris this week tried to put forth a kinder and gentler face. Pulling back from the right-wing and lurching toward the middle, she called on Congress to create a path to U.S. citizenship for the undocumented young people known as Dreamers.


It seems that Central American migrants aren't the only ones who are quick on their feet. Determined not to have her presidential ambitions squashed by the immigration issue, Harris is a moving target.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at
© 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

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