Last month, nearly 50 Central American migrants were directed onto a bus and driven almost 24 hours from Texas to Washington, D.C. The group of adults and children- including a one-month old baby- were ordered off the bus and abandoned, carrying their belongings in clear plastic bags. Confused, they sat on the concrete sidewalk in a city unfamiliar to them. They waited there until a nearby church eventually opened its doors to shelter them. The asylum-seekers were intentionally dropped off unannounced outside of the Naval Observatory, the traditional home of U.S. Vice Presidents and current residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. This instance is the latest of multiple attempts by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to detest what he calls the Biden administration’s “open-border policy.” 

This past spring, President Biden announced his administration would put an end to Title 42, a health law instated under Donald Trump’s presidency that allowed the U.S. government to turn away asylum-seekers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Title 42 was used nearly 2 million times to expel migrants since COVID began, and caused many people to cross the border and be apprehended more than once. Though Biden ran on a platform of putting an end to “Trump-era deportation policies” like Title 42, the announcement in April seemed to trigger Abbott’s plot; since April, Abbott has sent over 10 thousand migrants to liberal cities like D.C., New York and Chicago, and plans to continue doing so until Biden and Harris appease his calls to “secure the border.” 

Abbott is one of three governors that have sent migrants North. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent 75 migrants in two planes to Martha’s Vineyard, and also did so unannounced. “Every community in America should be sharing in the burdens. It shouldn’t all fall on a handful of red states,” DeSantis said at a press conference. Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has sent nearly 2,000 migrants to D.C. since May.

“Never before have state governors taken it upon themselves to bus migrants, and the move means they’ve inserted themselves in immigration processing that is typically handled by the federal government,” writes Jasmine Aguilera for Time Magazine

These antics have led to increased discourse between Republicans and Democrats, as well as charities that work with migrants. In a speech at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Biden called these efforts reckless: “Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props. What they’re doing is simply wrong, it’s un-American, it’s reckless.” Before the Texas bus arrived at Harris’ residence, she shared with Vice that these are “political stunts with real human beings fleeing harm.”

Meanwhile, some charities have argued that migrants were misled and essentially trafficked. Democratic member of the Florida cabinet Nikki Fried wrote a letter to U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland to demand a federal investigation into human trafficking. 

And as is expected, these antics have also spurred newly-energized debates about U.S. immigration policy and how to handle the ‘immigration problem'. As I read through headline after headline of articles on these Republican-backed voyages, all I could think was: Haven’t we been here before? In angst over the U.S.’s treatment of migrants, the use of human beings for political gain? We have, yet this hasn’t been referenced in debate nor in mainstream coverage. 

Not only does the U.S. have a history of abuse, violence and maltreatment of migrants (with disproportionate rates of discrimination against Black migrants), but this discrimination, abuse, violence, maltreatment—the use of human beings for political gain—is exactly in line with our nation's history. The U.S. was built out of racial-colonial violence, and this violence inspired the formation of the nation’s borders, immigration policy and treatment of migrants today. 

We do not need to look far to find evidence of U.S. immigration policy's root in structural racism. The last few years have been filled with plenty of overt, anti-immigrant rhetoric, both during and after Trump’s presidency. Cruel parental separation, racial profiling, anti-Asian violence, expulsions of Haitian immigrants and anti-Black border enforcement on horseback, are all examples of recent anti-immigrant racism. What usually accompanies racist immigration policies, however, is a particular secure-the-border rhetoric that poses the border as something that must be protected and defended against outside forces.

Secure-the-border rhetoric is popular in U.S. politics, but how did the border become a symbol of American national security in the first place? Expanding the American frontier has always been central to the country's identity. But in the early U.S., the words “frontier,” “border” and “boundary” did not hold any emotional significance and were used to describe the physical limits of the nation. It wasn’t until the U.S. government initiated campaigns to forcibly remove and exterminate Native Americans that the meaning of a “frontier,” “border,” or “boundary” shifted and became tied to the idea of a “civilization struggle.” 

The expansion of the U.S. frontier through Indigenous sacred lands was and remains a form of colonialism called settler colonialism, where “settlers come in with the intention of making a new home on the land, a homemaking that insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain.” Nearing the 1900s, the frontier had become something romantic and beckoning to a dominant white culture who saw it as a symbol of freedom; it became “a state of mind, a cultural zone, a sociological term of comparison, a type of society…a national myth.” 

In their settler-colonial pursuits, the sovereign entitlement that European settlers assigned themselves over Indigenous people laid the groundwork for determining who did and did not belong in their new society. Belonging was determined by ‘whiteness', and 'American' was conflated with whiteness. Citizenship was racial. Today, the maltreatment against Black and brown migrants can only be thought of as a part of this nation’s legacy. To separate it, or not remember its history, would be foolish on our part. 

When we look back to the U.S.’s origins, and the violence used to build the nation and declare Native American territory as its own, we uncover truths behind U.S. immigration policy: first, the boundaries perceived as definite were placed there out of colonial conquest, and even if they were definite, would never belong to the U.S. but to Indigenous people. Second, U.S. immigration policy has never valued human lives more than its control over them. And third, much of what politicians rely on today to fuel support for their immigration politics is the idea of insider vs. outsider, of who does and does not belong, which is and has always been a racist practice.

What if we didn't let them? 

For far too long has U.S. politics recycled the myth of belonging and used fear to make it catch, to teach its people to fear what is foreign, to fear what is outside of its walls. With how much U.S. citizens are taught to fear invasion, it would be a remarkably groundbreaking realization that what we’ve been taught to fear is our own nation’s history.