GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican Border

Immigration And The Border – Does Anyone Actually Want To Solve The Crisis? With Uriel Garcia Of The Texas Tribune (Culture Wars)

 

Attention Mentions:

Uriel: Los Espookys on HBO Max

Claire: We’re Here on HBO Max

Nichole: A Little Bit Culty Podcast is available on all platforms

Uriel Garcia, an immigration reporter for the Texas Tribune, joins us to discuss the Mexican border and immigration. Uriel’s family immigrated from Mexico, which gives him an innate understanding of immigrant stories and influences his desire to frame his storytelling around people rather than politics. He walks us through the complexity of immigrant stories and the diverse factors that impact them, from the country of origin to law enforcement interactions. We learn about the use of Title 42 during the height of COVID as a way of turning back immigrants at the border and how it’s currently facing its expiration date. Uriel explains how the paths to legal immigration are very limited and are out of reach for people without significant resources. We end our discussion with his worry that we aren’t any closer to real momentum in dealing with immigration because politicians tend to use it as a political tool rather than proposing real solutions. Despite that, we hope that the more each of us learns, the more we will hold our leadership accountable.

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Immigration And The Border – Does Anyone Actually Want To Solve The Crisis? With Uriel Garcia Of The Texas Tribune (Culture Wars)

We have an interesting interview for you all. We are continuing with our Culture War Series. We are speaking about immigration. We have a fantastic guest expert, Uriel Garcia, from The Texas Tribune. He’s an Immigration Reporter. He lives in El Paso, Texas, and he knows what it’s like to be on the border and speak with folks who are immigrants here. He is all about understanding their stories. In his experience, a lot of immigration rhetoric in news reporting focuses on policy, economics, and politics. We agree with this too. He’s interested in the people and the stories because, at the end of the day, that is going to be long-lasting and what matters. Nichole, what are you still thinking about after this conversation?

Though he didn’t want to emphasize it, he is an immigrant himself. He immigrated to the US at the age of one before he had the choice to do so. That is also the personal part of what drives him to tell these personal stories. That is something that stuck out as we always start with people’s origin stories. That was something that I found interesting, but I did also appreciate how he differentiated between that is something that plays a role in his desire to make people’s stories the center of his work, but also he is a journalist and does not want to center himself. I appreciated that reminder of what journalists do.

Journalists are so critical of everything. Who runs the world? Journalists. I hope they run the world because we need their stories and their truth-seeking so that we can understand and frame our world on the basis of knowledge and mutual reality. Shout out to the journalists.

Democracy cannot exist without healthy, robust journalism.

For this conversation, Nichole and I had a lot of questions, but as we were talking to Uriel, we realized this was a complicated issue. Something Uriel said, “Immigration laws are arbitrary,” and I kept thinking of this image of shifting ground. Nothing’s the same. It’s very transitory and uncertain. What might have been true now wasn’t necessarily true in the past, and vice versa. The conversation took a different route than we were expecting, but still very illuminating and had a lot to think about.

It feels like a good starting point. You’ll read at the end that we realize there’s so much more that we can and would love to talk about, but this is a starting point. This will be the entry point into continuing to ask what I believe now for me will be the right questions and at least have some framework, which before, I didn’t have a framework even. Hopefully, that’s what other people can get from this. Don’t be overwhelmed. There is a lot to wrap your mind around, but it is a good starting place.

This is the beginning of our conversation, and we’re hoping to have more conversations. Sit back, and learn a little bit more about immigration with Uriel Garcia.

Thank you for joining us for this episode. We are excited to talk about immigration. We have a fantastic guest, Uriel Garcia, from The Texas Tribune. Uriel, how are you?

I’m doing well. Thank you, guys, for inviting me.

We have lots of questions. We’re so glad we got in contact with you because this is your work and what you do day in and day out. It’s going to be so great to get that knowledge for ourselves and share it with our readers. We like to start our shows by getting to know our guests a little bit more. Can you tell us, are you from Texas? Where are you from?

I am not. I grew up in Phoenix. That’s where my home base is for me, but I was born in Mexico, and my family moved to Phoenix when I was one.

Did you become a citizen later in life, then?

Yes. We went through the process much later. When I talk about immigration, it’s not something I do for work. It’s also something that has affected me. To be transparent with the readers, I am still not a US citizen now, but it’s in the works.

That’s good to know.

That’s a great flavor. I love that you have real-life experience. This isn’t something that’s theoretical for you. Is that something you feel comfortable talking about?

I’d rather not, and not because I’m worried about anything for me personally. It helps me get informed when I’m reporting, but I try to keep the story focused on the people I cover.

We’ve thought a lot about where we fall in the world of journalism, and we are not journalists. We include our personal stories quite a bit. I’m glad that you brought that up because that’s one of the lines that I forget exists when you are a journalist. It is more about telling someone else’s story rather than including your own but thank you for the tidbit so that we understand your stake in this.

Would you mind telling us how you got interested in journalism and found yourself on that path?

I’ve always liked reading and writing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that. To be quite frank, I was ushered in into journalism later. I started off at a community college. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I took a Journalism class as an elective. The professor in that class was Mexican-American. I was one of the few Hispanic people in his classroom. He pulled me off to the side one time and told me to get a little more active in the classroom and asked me if I was interested in journalism.

He wanted to mentor me and guide me into the journalism world because he felt like there wasn’t enough Mexican-American journalist in newsrooms. I was impressed. This could have easily been a Philosophy professor, and I would’ve gone into Philosophy, but it happened to be a Journalism professor. I got into it, and he helped me transfer to ASU, and I continued doing it. I told myself, “I’m going to make this my goal and see if I can get a journalism job.” It stuck with me. I’ve been doing it for several years now.

That’s amazing. One of our previous series was on public education, and we like to ask our guests a little bit about themselves. A lot of times, we hear the story of a very impactful person helping guide our guests down a particular path. It speaks to the power of educators and how they can have an impact when they invest in their students. That’s great to know. How did you get involved as an immigration reporter?

For me, the goal was always I want to be a journalist first, regardless of what topic I covered, but the more I was into journalism, the more I saw the framing of immigration stories not being the way I’d like them. A lot of people focus on the politics, the policy, and the economic side of it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those are important factors when you’re covering immigration.

I wanted to focus on people or the immigrants being affected by the policy and the way immigrants shape our culture, economy, and policies, but tell stories through the people who are immigrants themselves. As soon as I got into journalism, in the first few years, I was covering a lot of criminal justice issues, police violence, and policies around criminal justice. I had made it a goal that I wanted to be an immigration journalist or immigration reporter.

GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican Border
Mexican Border: Many people focus on the politics of the policy on the economic aspect. People should focus on the immigrants affected by the policy and how immigrants shape our culture and our economy shapes our policies.

That’s so important. Something that is becoming super clear to me as we have these conversations is that while I am interested in the politics of whatever it is that we’re talking about and the stakeholders and all of that does come back to impact, I can understand something on a theoretical level, or I can have an opinion about it, but the truth is that all of that is theoretical until I look at how it impacts, how people are living, and how it affects them. I’m glad that we’re in this conversation, especially since I have so many blind spots and questions when it comes to immigration and the border. There are so many vague impressions instead of the reality of what it is like.

As I said, my family immigrated many years ago, and it’s much different now. It has informed my reporting having that personal experience, but I have to say that even being an immigrant, I recognize how distant I am from the current reality that some immigrants are going through. I’ve talked to my parents about why we left Mexico.

Personally, sometimes I’m torn because when I visit Mexico and my cousins, I see the lifestyle, and I wonder, “Why did we leave?” It’s so beautiful here, especially when I see my parents being so happy. Their personality changes a lot from when they’re in Mexico to when they’re in the US. My parents have made it clear that it was a money issue. They wanted me to get a good education, but then that experience was a little different.

Sometimes when I’m looking at people who are migrating now and escaping from natural disasters, gang violence, or the fact that their governments aren’t letting them flourish in their personal lives, it’s not necessarily something that is why my family left, but many years ago, migrating from Mexico is different now than Venezuelans migrating to the US. It has helped me get some empathy for some of the people I cover. You need empathy when you’re covering people regardless of the topic, but I can’t imagine my family sacrificing that much now.

You need empathy when you're covering people, regardless of the topic. Share on X

With our show, we’re very interested in finding our own blind spots so that we can understand someone else’s perspective, and we are recognizing the importance of that because as long as we have this foundation of similar facts, then we can figure it out. The other things you’re talking about, like policy and economics, are important, but you have to start with people first. I’m so glad that’s your focus in your reporting. Can you paint us a picture of what it is like now at the Texas border?

It’s a little complex. On one side, you’ll have people saying it’s chaos. Chaos is upon us once Title 42 lifts. Keep in mind I’m not from a border town. I’m not from Texas. When I came to El Paso, as a journalist, I was curious, but also, in my personal life, I was like, “Is it going to affect my quality of life? Is it going to affect my family’s quality of life?”

As an El Paso resident now and someone who plans to stay here long term, it’s quite peaceful here. I don’t know how to explain it because there is chaos to an extent. Border patrol agents are overwhelmed with so many migrants, but when you look at it from the perspective of the migrants themselves, it’s chaos for them. They’re being held in custody under a bridge or setting up makeshift camps along the Rio Grande or the Rio Bravo on the Mexican side. Once they cross, there are not a lot of resources for them.

El Paso’s trying to do what it can, but it is a largely ignored issue by the federal government where they’re not acting to provide more humane resources for them. A lot of them have been on the streets for a long time, and they don’t have clothing, hygiene products, and money for food. Many of them are coming with babies or toddlers. It can be chaotic but depending on who you ask. As an El Paso resident, I can go a day without seeing a migrant. It’s not affecting my quality of life. I can get up and have dinner at a nice restaurant.

GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican Border
Mexican Border: Immigrants are being held in custody under a bridge or setting up makeshift camps on the Mexican side. El Paso’s trying to do, what it can, but it is a largely ignored issue by the federal government where they’re not acting to provide more humane resources for them.

Nothing’s wrong with my lifestyle, but when you go to the bridge or when you go to the forest side and talk to the migrants either on the Mexican or the US side, from their perspective, they’re hungry, tired, and wondering why they can’t get help, especially if they’re escaping violence or natural disasters. It’s a little complex in that way. It’s peaceful, and agents are doing a good job of containing the chaos to a very certain part of the Mexican side or El Paso side.

I don’t know about you, Claire, but I feel like I don’t know where to start in some ways when it comes to breaking this down. It’s so charged. Thinking about the border and immigration, sometimes I find that even the question that comes to the tip of my tongue, there’s judgment in it. I don’t even know whose narrative sometimes I’m starting to repeat. I don’t even know maybe necessarily what a good starting point is. I don’t know about you, Claire. What are you feeling?

I’m assuming you’ve done some stories on this. What is the daily experience like for someone who’s crossing the border? What’s that like? Are they crossing through a well-known path? Is it via a mule? Once they’re here, what’s their day-to-day like? Are they in limbo? I’m sure it’s different, but for the most part, what are you seeing as the experience of an immigrant now?

This is how complex it is. It also depends on what country they’re coming from. If we’re talking about Haitians or Cubans who don’t have direct access to the US, they have to go to an ocean to either get to Mexico or other parts of Latin America. Sometimes they do hire a guide or a mule. Sometimes they follow a crowd along the way. It all depends on the country they’re coming from.

Once they get to the Texas-Mexico border, because of Title 42, ports of entry aren’t open for people who want to seek asylum. Depending on the country they want to go through, a lot of times, they can’t get visas to that specific country to fly in. As an example, Mexico changed its immigration laws to not give as many visas to Venezuelans. Now, they’re forced to go through the Darién Gap in Panama and go through parts of South America. Sometimes crossing illegally into Central America and Mexico and finally get to the Texas-Mexico border.

In many cases, that’s the easiest part. As I mentioned, the ports of entry are closed unless you already have a visa to come in. They’re going to basically cross the border illegally or cross the river and turn themselves in. Once they turn themselves in, that’s when a couple of different things can happen. Under the usual process, what happens is you get arrested, you may or may not get charged, and depending on if it’s your first time.

You were telling us about the experience that immigrants are having at the border, and you were saying how some of them are getting arrested and released, and what’s happening next?

Once someone crosses the border illegally, a couple of things could happen. They could get arrested, held in custody, and criminally charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on if this is their first time coming into the country illegally or not. There are some exemptions. If you’re coming in with a child, it’s a little different because then you’d have to get separated from that child if federal prosecutors want to criminally charge you. There are people being arrested, held in custody, and prosecuted for crossing the country.

Another thing that could happen is they’re being released into the country, and the process of deportation starts for them while they’re free, but they’re able to have a day in court to either claim asylum, which could take up to five years to have a resolution on an asylum case or Title 42. One thing I want to emphasize about Title 42 is that it’s a relatively new policy being used as an immigration tool. It’s been on the books since 1942. It’s an emergency health order. It was never written as an immigration policy.

Title 42 is a relatively new policy being used as an immigration tool. It's been on the books since 1942. It's an emergency health order. It was never written as an immigration policy. Share on X

It was invoked in March 2020 by the Trump administration for the first time. It was used both on the northern and southern borders. The reason that they said publicly why title 42 was needed was because they needed to prevent the spread of COVID among detention centers. I mentioned when people cross the border illegally, they’re being held in these detention centers, and it’s still in place. What it does for immigration agents is that in order to start that process that I mentioned, they can immediately tell people you can’t come in. That person has to do a U-turn.

Once they cross the border illegally, they have to be either taken back to Mexico or expelled back to their home countries. It’s been used over two million times now since March 2020. A recent federal judge in Washington, DC, told the Biden administration that they have to stop using Title 42 because the way it was originally implemented was illegal. After a few years, unless something else happens with this case or any other case that’s challenging the Biden administration, on December 21st, border agents will go back to what was the usual process, arrest, detain, charge or not charge immigrants, or deport them formally.

If immigrants don’t get charged by border patrol, are they good to be here? Is that what happens?

Not necessarily. Sometimes they don’t even get work permits for a long time, but what happens is that they have to check in with immigration officials while they’re living in the US. If they want to start the asylum process, they have up to a year to request asylum while they’re in the US. If they don’t request asylum within that year, there’s most likely an order of deportation for that person.

At that point, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, it’s their job then at that point to look for or apprehend that person. Usually, the immigration knows where they are because they already have the records once they come into the country. They’re not good per se. They don’t necessarily have a work permit or any other immigration benefits.

It’s up to the person to request asylum at some point. It’s up to them to hire their own lawyer. In some cases, they’re in limbo because during those first few months or up to a year, they don’t necessarily have a work permit. They’re trying to figure out, “What do I do? Do I work illegally? Do I not work at all?” It’s hard for them to get started unless they already have families in the US that can take them in, house them, feed them, and that kind of thing.

They’re not due in court or anything like that. When an immigrant gets here, how do they figure all this out? How do they figure out the process they’re supposed to go through to stay here legally?

It’s hard, depending on where they’re at and where they want to go. Let’s say they go to a bigger city like New York or LA. There are nonprofits there that may or may not be able to help if those nonprofits are already not overwhelmed with their client base. By nonprofits, I mean NGOs or organizations that are helping that focus on immigrant rights and stuff like that.

A lot of them don’t necessarily know what to do. They’re hoping that someone helps them. They’re seeing a lot of legal terms that they never heard of before and trying to gather up documentation to prove an asylum case. Sometimes they lose it on their way. We’re talking about paperwork. In general, any American citizen has a hard time with paperwork as it is. For asking immigrants who crossed various borders illegally through the jungle and rivers, it’s hard to maintain all of that.

If they cross, get here, and have that documentation, and by documentation is that they made a police report in the respective countries when they were threatened by something or someone, or sometimes they hope that the US government already knows their home country’s government orders were persecuting people depending on their political ideology or their demographics.

A lot of them can’t afford a lawyer, but the data shows that if you have a lawyer, you’re most likely to succeed. If you don’t have a lawyer, you’re most likely not to succeed in your asylum case, but getting a lawyer is expensive. Any type of lawyer is expensive, particularly an immigration lawyer. For those who do provide pro bono services, they’re already backed up or overwhelmed with clients, so they’re left on their own to figure it out.

GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican Border
Mexican Border: If you have a lawyer, you’re most likely to succeed. And if you don’t have a lawyer, you will most likely not succeed in your asylum case. – Uriel Garcia

That sounds very scary. I imagine the journey to get here is incredibly frightening. What if something crazy happened here, and we had to leave our country and go to another country where we don’t know anyone, the language, or who to turn to? That sounds like an incredibly overwhelming and terrifying experience.

It does. It’s hard to wrap my mind. That’s a lot to maneuver and manage, not to mention daily survival. There’s also getting through the day and trying to make sure that you have shelter and food.

The story that I haven’t been able to do, but something I do want to pursue, is the toll that this takes on your mental health. It’s such an anxiety-driven lifestyle, obviously not by choice, but it does produce a lot of anxiety. The uncertainty of, “Am I going to be able to see my family eventually again? Am I going to be able to create a family here? What if I have kids in the US, and they’re US citizens, but I’m not?”

As like I mentioned, it could take up to five years for an asylum case to get resolved. In those five years, you already have a child, or you came with your girlfriend or boyfriend and got married here, and you have a child. What happens after those five years when the decision finally comes? Am I going to be able to stay here legally or not?

Let’s say you get asylum. It’s not suddenly you become a US citizen. You get a green card, and there are provisions for that green card. You still have to abide by the laws. If you break the law during that time that you have the green card, that green card gets taken away. There are a lot of uncertainties about being an immigrant, whether you’re undocumented or seeking asylum.

It’s something that some immigrant parents talk to me about. It’s the anxiety that they produce in the household that affects the children when they go to school. They then fall behind in school and have their own anxieties at school, not knowing what’s going to happen to their future as children and feeling that hopelessness of being a child and not being able to do something more for their parents.

GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican Border
Mexican Border: The anxiety they produce in the household affects the children when they go to school, and then they fall behind. They have their anxieties at school, not knowing what will happen to their future as children and feeling hopeless being a child and unable to do something more for their parents.

Powerlessness is no joke. One quick thing is that I did have the opportunity to look up Title 42. To backtrack, Title 42 was first created in 1944. I noticed something that you said, and it stuck out to me, but I don’t know that it would stick out to you, which was that the people are coming in not by choice, but I hear somebody saying, “They did come by choice.” Can you break down what you mean by coming not by choice?

There are various circumstances. I wrote about a Guatemalan woman. I’m going to backtrack here a little. She originally came to the country illegally and settled in Minnesota. She met a man who was also in the country illegally, and he was Mexican. They got together, had two children, and they’re US citizens. They separated and had a hard time in their relationship. The man moves back to Mexico, and she stays in Minnesota, raising her two daughters.

Her ex has a tragic accident in Mexico. She was torn between not doing anything and staying in Minnesota because, in her mind, she didn’t have any papers to come back and forth from any country if she wanted to stay in the US or have her daughters see their dad one last time before he passed away. She didn’t want her daughters to not see their dad one last time. She took the risk and moved to Mexico so her daughters could spend some time with their dad before he finally passed away.

She decided to stay in Mexico after he passed away, but she was in a part of Mexico where the drug cartel was targeting regular citizens and residents. One day during work, she gets stopped by a group of men who tell her that they know that she’s not a Mexican and that her daughters are US citizens and that if she wanted to stay in the community she was living, she had to pay a quota.

She ignored it and continued with work. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t alarm anyone. She was alarmed herself, but then they came again, and this time they gave her the names of her daughters to make it clear, “We know who you are. If you don’t pay, something’s going to happen to you.” That scared her. She’s not in her own country, her daughters are not even in their own country, and so she had to decide, “Do I stay here and risk my life and my daughter’s lives, or do I go back to where my support system is?” At this point in her life, her support system is in Minnesota.

She decided to get up and leave, got to the El Paso Jaurez Border, and they didn’t let her in because of Title 42. In that very specific case, she felt forced to come back to the US. Was it her choice to get up and leave to come to the US? Of course, but we’re talking about does she risk her life or her daughters’ lives or does she get up and risks going to the US illegally. One of them is going to most likely keep their family intact and alive. The other choice is who knows what could happen. To emphasize, that’s what I meant by some of them feeling forced to come or it’s not by choice to come to the US illegally.

What happened to that family? Do you know?

Yes. I’m going to tell here a little bit about the impact of journalism. After I wrote about that family, she got legal help. Someone read the story and contacted the shelter she was at. They asked her and got her an exemption from Title 42. She’s in Minnesota now. The last time I talked to her was a couple of months ago, and she told me she had an upcoming court date to start the asylum process.

That’s amazing. I’m curious, how did you even find that story?

I believe I was calling shelters on the Mexican side. I was talking to immigration lawyers in El Paso. I asked them if they had a client affected by Title 42, and they said they did. That person didn’t work out. They told me, “You should talk to this woman. She has a great story to tell. You should highlight it.” She was willing to tell me her story. It was talking with lawyers who eventually led me to the story.

The complexities are many. People’s needs to immigrate are also complex and varied. What I’m wondering is why wouldn’t someone remain in their home country and “do it the legal way?”

Again, it depends on what country you’re from. Some countries are excluded from any legal way to come to the US. It might be a little comical to think about this concept, but the US does have a lottery-based system. Anyone from certain countries will put their name into this lottery, and the US will pick out the name to be able to come to the country. Usually, the US government only does that for countries that have a low number of immigrants from that country in the US. Some of the countries that need the most relief have already historically been coming to the US. Their countries wouldn’t be able to have that pathway to get into the country legally.

In some cases, there literally isn’t another option.

The other legal way that you can come in is if you get a tourist visa to the US. Once you get that tourist visa, you can start the asylum process. That’s technically the legal way, but in order to get a tourist visa, you have to be able to prove that you’re not coming to the US to stay permanently. You have to show that you have resources in your home country and that you’re living comfortably because there’s no need for you to come to the US. You’re coming here to spend money and visit tourist sites.

That’s an option that’s excluded for a lot of the migrants who are coming in because they don’t have the resources to prove, “Yes, I live comfortably. I’m literally visiting the US,” but the other thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the immigrants who are here undocumented were able to get that tourist visa and decided to stay because they figured, “There’s no other way for me to get to the country legally.”

There are other options to come legally. We’re talking about student visas or work-related visas, but again, those are options only afforded if you’re a student or if you have a very specialty skill that the US companies are looking for. If we’re talking about people who want to come here and work non-skilled labor, there isn’t that option. I get that question a lot. “Why don’t they come here legally?” There isn’t one. Depending on the circumstances and the country you’re from, there are quotas, or you have to have money in your bank account. The people who want to come here to work don’t have the money in their bank account because if they did, why would they want to leave?

It’s easier to come here if you are in a less desperate situation, it sounds like.

Yes.

There is so much to unpack. Countries that are ineligible for immigration, is that written out somewhere? Is there a list of countries? Also, is it clear who isn’t on that list and why?

For the list, it’s for the lottery-based system. There are listed countries that are eligible for those residents to be able to participate in the lottery system. We’d have to look it up, but I don’t have the list of countries.

I don’t know why, but this shocks me.

For other countries who want to come here legally, that’s not necessarily that they’re being excluded. It’s so much that the criteria to be able to come here legally is so high. As I mentioned, you need the resources to be able to come here legally. Many of them don’t have the resources, especially during COVID.

Some countries had visas, or there was an understanding between Mexico and between countries in Latin America that residents of third-world countries, like Venezuela, could easily get a visa into Mexico and then get to the US-Mexico border, but Mexico changed its visa rules to prevent fewer Venezuelan citizens from getting that visa. For those who are desperate and had enough money to get that visa but are desperate to still leave, that option is cut off from migrating from Minnesota to Mexico legally.

It’s not a US-Mexico problem or a US-Latin American problem. This is a global phenomenon that we’re talking about. It’s not the US that is getting a lot of asylum seekers. There are other countries in Europe that are also dealing with these issues. It’s much of a destabilized problem that is forcing people to leave, whether it’s oppressive governments that historically weren’t there before or natural disasters that are forcing a lot of farmers who once lived off their land and can’t because of climate change affecting their land. It’s not just an economic issue. It’s a persecution issue for a lot of these people. To answer your question, there’s not necessarily a list of countries that are excluded from people coming. It’s that the criteria are so high that it’s almost impossible for certain people to be able to migrate legally.

GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican Border
Mexican Border: It’s not just the US that is getting a lot of asylum seekers. Other European countries are also dealing with these issues.

Thank you.

A lot of times, you’ll hear dialogue around immigration from people who don’t understand the complexity of it like, “Why don’t you come legally?” It’s like, “Do you know what that looks like?” Probably not. I’m learning what that looks like. Do you come up against this difficulty in having a conversation with the public about immigration and a lack of knowledge about the complexities of the issue?

Yes, a lot, particularly, when someone says, “My wife did it legally. My family did it legally.” It’s hard to know what they’re talking about unless they’re talking about their cases. Let’s say, for example, historically, in the ’80s and ’90s, there were a lot of Mexican people who came here illegally, and I don’t want to say a lot, but now, some of those people who came here illegally are US citizens now. Sometimes they’re the ones calling for the border wall. They’ll say, “I did it legally.”

What people confuse is that you had a pathway to get your green card and citizenship, and that pathway doesn’t exist for everyone. That’s what people get confused about in the ’80s, saying, “We did it legally,” when they don’t realize that their path to their green card or path through citizenship was available depending on the policies and the laws of the generation you decided to migrate.

One of the prime examples was Cubans. For a long time, as long as they were able to get a Florida, regardless of how they got there, once they stepped on US land, they were automatically given immigration benefits that allowed them to work and live in the US permanently. Something that is not afforded to Mexican citizens.

Politics plays a lot in this. It’s not just, “I was able to do it legally.” At the time, the US and Cuba had tense relationships that the US government decided to accept asylees and refugees from that country. Other countries don’t necessarily have that. As an example, the Mexican government isn’t seen as a dictatorship even though there is a lot of corruption and issues that are going on in Mexico. The US simply doesn’t recognize those issues as something that’s going to affect migration to the US.

The one thing that I emphasize a lot with people is that you have to realize immigration laws and rules are so arbitrary. They’re not necessarily based on natural things, the demands of what the country needs, or what the world needs. It’s literally politics. Whether we want people from certain countries to come in legally, we can do that. The US can do that. We just choose not to.

Immigration laws and immigration rules are so arbitrary. They're not necessarily based on natural things or the natural or the demands of what the country needs or what the world needs. It's just politics. Share on X

They’re not set in stone. They’re set by people. People can make it easier or harder, is what it sounds like.

The amount and the rate of change are also unpredictable. What was true several years ago may not be true anymore. Arbitrary, as you said, is the perfect word to describe all of this. There’s nothing that is hard and fast. That’s my struggle as I’m listening to this, and I keep putting my head in my hands because I’m trying to wrap my mind around it. I feel like in the conversations that we’ve had and our episodes, my goal is always by the end is to feel like I’ve wrapped my mind around whatever it is we’re talking about. I don’t feel like I can do that here. There are so many factors.

There are these world economic and political factors that cause people to flee. There is so much that sends people away from their home countries. There’s not one general thing. There’s also what happens once they reach the border. Are they even able to get to the US border? What happens if they are able to cross? What were they able to do in that case? What happens in the meantime until they can get hearings? This is incredibly complex. Also, throw in the mix of changing political tides and rules, and from my amateur citizen point of view, nobody seems to want to sit down and tackle this.

Do you get the sense that there is momentum to work towards solutions for this problem, whether at the Texas state or national level?

Before I answer that question, one point that I want to make is the federal government doesn’t catch up to what the private industry needs are. There are certain employers who need higher employees, but if you’re established in the US, you’re not necessarily seeking those jobs. There are people desperate enough to work jobs that have a lower salary to get started and get their basic needs. It’s surprising that sometimes the reality of politics is not the reality of the real world.

To segue into your question, is there momentum? It’s hard to say. I may be cynical, but the momentum now doesn’t feel real. We’ve seen these problems for many years, the issue of illegal immigration, yet there’s always an excuse not to solve the issue. The common excuse that I hear a lot is that, “We need to secure the border first before we do anything.”

What would that even look like, do you think? What does that mean?

It means something different to different people. For some, it means literally a physical wall. Sometimes it means having the National Guard out there. Sometimes it means don’t let anyone in at whatever cost. What it doesn’t mean is, “Let’s have it in an orderly fashion. Let’s open processing centers. Let’s welcome people in, and we’ll process them right then and there.” Border security has been about enforcement, more border patrols, more technology, and barriers to block people from coming in.

Over the last several years, the border has had more technology, more agents, and more prosecutions of people crossing the border illegally. For some, that’s not a solution or that’s not enough. People want more, but it almost sounds like an excuse. Democrats and Republicans or politicians, in general, will use a social issue to drive up their vote base to come out to vote, and I feel like immigration is one of those issues that both parties use, “Vote for me because I’m going to vote for the DREAM Act. Vote for me because I’m going to make sure that the illegal immigrants are deported,” but yet neither party has been able to solve it.

Democrats and Republicans, and politicians in general, will use a social issue to drive up their base, to come out to vote. And immigration is one of those issues that both parties use. Share on X

The general public knows what the solutions are, but nothing gets done. We also realize that there’s a labor shortage. There are a lot of asylum seekers who are willing to work at a hotel, restaurant, farm, or anywhere to get started. We don’t seem to want to solve that issue either. It’s always a talking point, and it’s a great political talking point during campaigns. That’s why I feel like I may be cynical about this question, but I don’t feel the momentum now that any of this is going to get resolved anytime soon.

Nichole and I also like to think about what’s the fastest path to course correct in all of these big issues. Our idea is mandatory voting. We think if more people voted, we would see more solutions because people would have that pressure to push forward the will of the people, which we think is to solve problems. That’s our idea.

We’re bringing that up again, everybody. I’ll get the memes loaded for mandatory voting.

As we’re wrapping up, are there any misconceptions about immigration or maybe myth-busting that you would like our audience to know so that they have a factual understanding of this issue?

There’s a lot, but if there’s something that I wish now that I’m a border resident, I hope people realize that the border is not out of control for the majority of people. People live comfortable lives, are able to get up and go to work, take out their families on the weekend, and it’s an American city like any other city in the US. I’m not saying that I had these misconceptions coming in, but now that I see and live here in El Paso, a border resident myself, and my family’s here, it’s nice. It’s a beautiful place to be if you like the outdoors. A lot of people have this misconception that border towns are dirty or there’s chaos because of all the immigrants. It’s far from reality, and the rhetoric does not meet reality.

Any final thoughts, Nichole, before we move into our last part of the show?

There are so many. I wish for simplicity, but that’s not what this issue invites. It’s not here, so no. Thank you so much for the knowledge and the fact-based information.

There is so much more we could talk about, maybe in a future episode. We didn’t even get into Operation Lone Star, which is a big thing and is an initiative of the governors that we would like to know more about, but that’s for another day. Before we let you go, Uriel, we like to do our attention mentions, which is where we lighten the mood a little bit and talk about something culturally that has our attention. It’s like a show, podcast, movie, or event that you went to. I’ll start off because I have something that is related to this conversation. I was scrolling through my streamers and landed on HBO Max, and I found this show called We’re Here. Have you all heard of this?

I have.

It’s delightful. Three drag performers, Bob The Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race, go to small towns in America and put on a drag show. The episode I watched took place in Del Rio, Texas. I have lived in Del Rio, Texas. My mom and her family are from there. They immigrated from Mexico to Del Rio. I lived there twice. There’s an Air Force base there. I was like, “Del Rio? Are you serious?” It was interesting to see them put on this show there. It’s the border which is what we’re talking about, so check out We’re Here. It’s an interesting show on HBO Max.

That’s interesting. I’m curious to watch that now. I hadn’t heard about it before.

There you go. It’s a good one.

What’s funny is that that show came up in a conversation with a friend, and it’s the episode where they go to Granbury because there’s been so much happening here in Texas. I’ll have to go and watch all these episodes. Do you know yours, Uriel?

I’m going to stick with TV shows here and particularly HBO. One TV show that I’ve been watching a lot is called Los Espookys. I just learned, and I hate the fact that it was canceled. It was one of my favorite shows because it showed a lot of subcultures that Hispanic people in the US and Latin America. It didn’t feel forced. It’s a bilingual show. One of the issues that I have with a lot of bilingual shows is that sometimes it feels forced. They have certain people in mind, and they want to teach more than show.

This show showed a certain type of culture that it’s not necessarily seen a lot in American mediums. For me, I love TV show. If you love absurd comedy, this is up there. It’s harder to explain. It’s the TV show that you have to watch and have an open mind because, as I said, the subculture is there and the fact that it was bilingual. If you like horror-type movies or horror culture, not that it’s a horror TV show, but it’s that type of show that people who love that type of stuff will love this show.

I saw the first season, and that’s a good reminder for me to go back and watch the rest of it, but maybe they’ll bring it back. Maybe the people will be heard and they’ll be like, “We made a mistake.”

It does happen. To not do another TV show, but I was quite tempted. I will name a podcast which is A Little Bit Culty. It is hosted by Sarah Edmondson and Nippy Ames, who were featured in the documentary, The Vow, about the ending of NXIVM and the trial of Keith Raniere.

They co-host the show, and they’re a married couple. They talk to survivors of cults, and sometimes they will also have guests who educate them about what personality traits people demonstrate who are cult leaders. Sometimes it’s educational, but it’s mostly personal stories of people who have been in a cult and then escaped.

That sounds interesting too.

I’m obsessed with cults. I’m finding a lot of parallels around me in the current world, so it helps me understand.

It’s true. I feel like, in this day and age, the distrust of real information is such a hallmark of cults. It’s making you question your reality and have the ground be very unsettled underneath you.

Leadership puts themselves between you, your own intuition, and beliefs in what is real and what isn’t. It is all over the place.

It’s good stuff. Again, thank you so much, Uriel. We appreciate this conversation. Hopefully, we’ll have perhaps another one in the future because there’s a lot here for us to understand. This is a great place for us to at least get a little bit of a framework, so we can move forward and understand this more accurately, which is what we seek to do here in this show. We appreciate your time.

Thank you, guys, too. I’m glad there’s a platform to have a little more of a conversational tone about complex issues.

We need it. Thanks, everyone.

 

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About Uriel J. García

GBTB - DFY Uriel Garcia | Mexican BorderUriel J. García is an immigration reporter based in El Paso. Before joining the Tribune, he worked at the Arizona Republic where he covered police violence and immigration enforcement. He started his journalism career at the Santa Fe New Mexican where he focused on covering the city’s immigrant community and criminal justice issues. Originally from Mexico, he grew up in Phoenix.

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