The Republican Trojan Horse: Bringing Migrant Havens Down From The Inside

Historically, the Trojan Horse stands as a symbol of cunning deceit—a strategic ploy that led to the unsuspecting downfall of Troy. Today, as we grapple with the complexities of the migration crisis, a metaphorical Trojan Horse seems to be making its way into the political landscape. This time, however, it’s not wooden, but rather made of flesh and blood as migrants find themselves to be unwitting pawns in a political game.

The Onset: The Worsening of the Migration Crisis

The number of migrants attempting to enter the United States through its southern border has skyrocketed in recent years with 2023 bringing in a historic high of 2.5 million migrants, linked to tensions beyond the borders.

In the Caribbean, Haitians are fleeing from violence committed by criminal groups, acute food insecurity, extreme poverty, and a dysfunctional government. In Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—the Northern Triangle countries—years of civil war and political unrest have led to low economic output and high homicide rates. Unlike Europe, where migrants can choose from a selection of wealthy nations to resettle, in the Western Hemisphere, nearly all roads lead into the United States. 

The demographic of the migrant population has transformed: previously, single men from Mexico were most commonly encountered at the border, but US Border Patrol officials are now seeing an increasing number of families with young children from across Central America. 

This demographic shift is making the Custom and Border Patrol migrant centers less suitable for long-term stays. Reports of subpar living conditions in these bases, especially for children, have pushed immigration officials to make policy changes to minimize time spent within detention centers. For instance, officials are allowing an increasing number of migrants to enter the nation while awaiting their court date, even if that date falls years into the future. 

Once in the US, migrant families typically head to cities they perceive as welcoming and economically prosperous. New York City is a popular destination among the migrant community, in part due to its right-to-shelter rules which promise every person in the city a safe place to stay regardless of citizenship status. 

Since spring of 2022, more than 118,000 migrants and asylum seekers have sought refuge in New York City. As the influx of migrants reaches unprecedented levels and overwhelms an already fragile homeless shelter system, NYC’s right-to-shelter rules have been threatened. The city is being forced to reflect on which promises it can deliver. 

The Republican Strategy: Using Migrants as Political Ploys

Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, immigration is forecasted to be a key issue amongst every voting group. 75 percent of New York Democrats expressed that the influx of migrants into their state was at least a “somewhat serious” issue they would consider while casting their vote for president. Prior to the third Republican primary debate in early November 2023, primary voters chose “controlling immigration” as the second most prominent issue that would determine their vote—“getting inflation under control” was given the utmost importance. Even 71 percent of Independents believe that current immigration policy could be improved and disapprove of Biden’s approaches.

Republican leaders are taking full advantage of the constituency’s displeasure. Florida Governor and former presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has set aside $12 million to transport undocumented immigrants out of the state. In September 2022, DeSantis orchestrated a plane of migrants to be flown into Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. It was later found that these migrants were lured with McDonald’s gift cards and promises of jobs and shelter in cities like Boston or Washington D.C. Instead, they were dropped off in a small community of primarily blue-collar residents who lacked the resources to handle such influxes. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbot and former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have each bussed thousands of migrants out of their states to New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. During his run for governor of Pennsylvania last year, Republican state senator Doug Mastriano said that he would like to use state police to bus migrants to Delaware. 

Rather than being proactive and collaborating with the current Democrats in power to develop sustainable immigration solutions, the Republican party has found a way to use the migrant crisis to its own political advantage, much like the deceptive facade of the Trojan horse. Sending migrants to already overwhelmed Democratic cities and states, with leaders who have favorably spoken in agreement of welcoming migrants, allows this crisis to be a talking point for Republicans, in which they blame Democrats for not delivering on their promises on immigration. 

The Wound: Immigration Views Becoming More Conservative 

As Biden’s first term winds down, Democrat leaders have been scrambling to find a resolution to the migrant crisis. In New York City alone, the current flow of migrants can cost the city 12 billion dollars over three years, which far exceeds the city’s financial and physical capacity. In this fiscal year alone, the migrant crisis has created a 3 to 4 billion dollar gap in NYC’s budget as the city has stretched itself thin, offering holistic care for migrants, from meals to laundry services. 

The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, has repeatedly found himself in disputes with the White House as requests for federal funding continually go unfulfilled. The Biden administration has pointed to inefficiencies in how the city has handled the crisis, including hiring an inexperienced medical services firm to move migrants out of overwhelmed city centers and into other communities in New York state. In response, Adams has repeatedly shared his displeasure with how Biden has handled immigration at the federal level, including failures to pressure Congress to expedite the work permit process for migrants

This argumentative discord is causing deep internal divides in the Democratic party. Republicans are leveraging Adams to assert that criticism of Biden’s border security lapses isn’t confined to their party. However, though the Republicans are keen on finger pointing, they lack interest in supporting congressional immigration reforms that would facilitate a more efficient migrant processing system.

Since the migration crisis has spun out of control in New York, immigration views have become more conservative. NYC officials have been distributing flyers at the southern border which discourage asylum seekers from moving there. Despite its earlier guarantee of shelter for all, the city also now requires migrants to re-apply for shelter every sixty days, to strongly encourage those under city care to find new accommodations. 

Under intense Republic pressure during the State of the Union in March 2024, President Biden called undocumented migrants “illegals”. Though he later expressed regret over his word choice, the harm was committed as soon as he reiterated the dehumanizing language of former President Donald Trump on the national stage. 

As Democrats crack under the pressure of the migrant crisis, the Republican party is making substantial gains. A majority of people across all parties reported that they view the southern border as being “open” without any enforcement of immigration laws due to the policies of the Biden administration. Nearly half of the American public (47 percent) believe that illegal immigration is a “very big problem” for the United States, a sentiment that has increased considerably since 2022 (38 percent).

As the Trojan Horse revealed its hidden occupants, shock and chaos ensued in Troy. Similarly, the Republicans are banking on the turmoil caused by the migration crisis to sway public opinion. The narrative surrounding overwhelmed cities could become a powerful weapon in their arsenal, strategically aimed at tarnishing the Democratic Party’s reputation.

The divide in American politics is no secret. The decision to put migrant families at risk by deliberately sending them to cities that are already overwhelmed, simply to bring the opposing party down, is a unique symptom of unprecedented partisanship. American politicians can benefit from retiring the use of the Trojan Horse, switching instead to a synergetic, sympathetic culture that builds up, rather than tears down.

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