Putting the immigration "crisis" in historical perspective : Code Switch President Biden just issued an executive order that can temporarily shut down the U.S.-Mexico border to asylum seekers once a daily threshold of crossings is exceeded. On this episode, we dig into how the political panic surrounding what many are calling an immigration "crisis" at the border, isn't new. And in fact...it's a problem of our own creation.

100 years of immigration policies working to keep out immigrants

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Heads up, this episode contains a mention of sexual assault.


PARKER: Hey, everyone, you're listening to CODE SWITCH. I'm B.A. Parker. Every couple of years, you hear the same thing from politicians - Democrats, and Republicans alike - over and over again. We've got to do something about immigration. We've got to do something about immigration.


MIKE JOHNSON: America is at a breaking point with record levels of illegal immigration, and today...

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border. Do not come.

DONALD TRUMP: Nobody has ever seen anything like we're witnessing right now. It is a very sad thing for our country. It's poisoning the blood of our country.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But American border problems won't be fixed until Congress acts.

PARKER: But we've been trying to do something about immigration for over 100 years. And yet, we haven't made any concrete reforms to our immigration policies since 1990. So, this week, we're looking back at that history, starting with a notorious law that would forever entangle immigration and racism - the Immigration Act of 1924. And we're going to get into what's happening at the border and how the political panic surrounding what many are calling a crisis isn't new. And in fact, it's a problem of our own creation. Stay with us.

We're back, and we're talking about the role racism has played in shaping the U.S. immigration system. Now, to get into that history, I spoke with Jasmine Garsd. She covers immigration for NPR.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: And in addition to covering stuff that's happening now, I'm a really big history nerd of the history of immigration. So I'm really excited that you invited me today to talk.

PARKER: Well, that's exactly the perspective that I need because on this episode, we're looking back at the last 100 years of immigration in this country, starting with the implications of the Immigration Act of 1924.

GARSD: So, yeah, I think it's important to understand kind of the context of it...

PARKER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GARSD: ...Which is - so, you know, Europe is a mess, and it's very poor, and it's on the brink of another war. There's massive European immigration. There's panic in the U.S. about the amount of European immigration. You know, at the time in the U.S., I think it's also important to mention, it's - by the 1920s, it's the second coming of the KKK, the second resurgence. There's the American Eugenics movement, which really believes in racial superiority and inferiority on a pseudoscientific level.

And so there's this idea that people like Italians, Greeks, Polish, sure, Europeans, but they're, like, a lesser European than, like, white Anglo Saxons - right? - than the British. And so there's this fear of, you know, we're not going to be able to preserve the homogeneity of the U.S. as, like, a white Anglo-Saxon nation, and language is a really big fear. Stop me if this sounds familiar.

PARKER: A little bit, a little bit.

GARSD: So the U.S. starts freaking out, and by 1924, they passed this law. It limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter into the U.S. through a national origins quota. So suddenly, there was a quota.

PARKER: And who was the quota trying to keep out?

GARSD: It was trying to keep out mostly Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans. Asians are fully banned. There's not a quota for Asians. So for context, between the 1870s and the middle of the 1910s, about 23.5 million people emigrated to the U.S. And the idea with the 1924 act was, let's try and revert back to a time in which we were not a nation with so many southern and eastern Europeans and Asians. What it does is it consolidates decades of fear and panic over Asian immigration and preexisting laws about Asian immigration, you know, stuff like the Chinese Exclusion Act - right? - in the late 1800s.


GARSD: Yeah. It also excluded Asians from pathways to citizenship. And, you know, it's trying to hark back to an Anglo-Saxon America. It was very concertedly racial.

PARKER: But there are a couple less known consequences that that act set in the precedent for, right?

GARSD: Yeah, absolutely. It cemented the visa system, and then shortly thereafter, a few days later, border patrol was created. I didn't know this, but I was recently speaking to a historian who told me when border patrol was created in the '20s, it was actually because of a concern over Chinese immigrants coming in undocumented over the border.

PARKER: We've had border patrol that long?

GARSD: Yes. Yes, border patrol is created in this environment.

PARKER: So we're currently in what people call a quote-unquote "crisis," even though I think I kind of - well, I kind of flinch at the word crisis when we talk about what's happening with immigration. What would you say it is?

GARSD: I mean, I flinch at it, too, because of the way it - I see it weaponized and the making of hysteria, which is not to say - like, I work a lot on the border. It's definitely not working well, and there's a critical humanitarian situation. I mean, I think that part of the crisis is also, like, the level of xenophobia that is being expressed right now. I think...


GARSD: ...That someone, like a presidential candidate saying that immigrants are poisoning the blood of the country is part of a crisis. It's a cultural crisis as well.

PARKER: Yeah, more so like a cultural and humanitarian crisis.


PARKER: Not so much an immigration crisis.

GARSD: Yeah. Well, I would also bake in the word - 'cause there's words that we're using, like unprecedented, which...


GARSD: ...I'm also, like, a little wary of, 'cause anyone who reads a history book is like...

PARKER: It's very precedented.

GARSD: This is very precedented.


PARKER: Jasmine will be back later in this episode. But first, I want to delve a bit into what Jasmine just said - the idea that this isn't new. I've recently read a book about the causes of our current quote-unquote "immigration crisis," and in it, writer Jonathan Blitzer walks through the history of the multiple administrations that have gotten us to this point.

JONATHAN BLITZER: I'm Jonathan Blitzer. I'm a staff writer at The New Yorker, and I've recently written this book called "Everyone Who Has Gone Is Here."

PARKER: Oh, boy. In your book, you take a look at the history of immigration policy in the U.S. and what led to this current crisis that we're in. Can you tell me about the policies that dominoed into what we currently see now?

BLITZER: Yeah. I mean, I would say there are kind of two broad ways of understanding how the history kind of snowballs. You know, one is the history of the border and asylum practice because, for the most part, when we talk in the United States right now, especially in an election year, but almost always...


BLITZER: ...When we talk about an immigration crisis, what we're talking about is the fact that large numbers of people are showing up at the southern border in desperation, either seeking protection 'cause they've been persecuted, seeking opportunity. And so the border itself kind of hijacks the larger conversation about immigration always.


BLITZER: And the history there, I mean, to kind of give a very quick summary of it...

PARKER: Please.

BLITZER: ...Is, you know, until fairly recently, the lion's share of people showing up at the southern border seeking asylum were from what's called the northern triangle of Central America - so Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. And the moment in recent history when that population really kind of announced itself as this sort of new population to deal with at the southern border seeking relief was in 2014 when Obama was president.

And seemingly overnight, tens of thousands of children - unaccompanied children and families started showing up at the southern border seeking asylum. Before that, it was mostly - I mean, again, this is a huge generalization. But the overall profile before that moment tended to be single Mexican adults crossing the border for work.


BLITZER: And so the infrastructure that the U.S. government had set up at the southern border was not prepared or was not aimed, really, to deal with this broader population of people who legitimately were seeking protection, who had a legal right to seek protection...


BLITZER: ...And who were fleeing all kinds of violence in the wider region that the U.S. had a large hand in creating. That sort of set this bigger story in motion. It's what created the first waves of people coming to the United States and setting down roots in a major way. And then fast-forward another decade in the 1990s, all of the gangs that Trump and others have made so notorious, MS-13 and the like.


TRUMP: And gang members. MS-13. You know about MS-13? It's not pleasant for them anymore. That's a bad group.


TRUMP: Not pleasant for MS-13. Get them the hell out of here, right? Get them out.

BLITZER: That, you know, if we were to believe the way politicians talk about this, we would think, oh, all of that started in Central America. It's a Central American problem. Those gangs started on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s and they spread through the region as a result of U.S. deportation policy in the 1990s. And so the circumstances that people were fleeing that we saw in 2014 were really set up in the - first in the '80s, then in the 1990s. And so, you know, at no point through all of this has there been a serious conversation about what it would mean to reform, improve, enhance the asylum system to deal with people fleeing persecution when they arrive at the southern border.

PARKER: OK. But many of the migrants trying to come to the U.S. were coming from Central America, where the violence and persecution they were fleeing was, as you said, often bolstered by U.S. foreign policies and intervention. So which U.S. policies in particular are you talking about?

BLITZER: So, I would say the first way of trying to wrap your head around it is - looking at the United States and Central America, is starting in the 1980s, and identifying sort of two things that were happening simultaneously. On the one hand, you have in 1980 the U.S. passing the 1980 Refugee Act, which is the first time in American history, if you can believe it, that the U.S. actually codified refugee and asylum policy in an actual statute, in an actual law. And the idea of this, of course, was a laudable one, a noble one.

But at the same time you have the passage of this 1980 Refugee Act, you have the Cold War raging in Central America. And the U.S. was completely obsessed with the prospect of leftism and communism spreading through the region and reaching the United States. That was something that Democratic administrations, even the Carter administration, was not immune against.

You know, there was this kind of thoroughgoing geopolitical anxiety about that, and so what that meant in the region on the ground was that the U.S. backed the governments - the military governments of El Salvador and, eventually, Guatemala - at times when those governments were absolutely brutalizing their populations and driving huge numbers of people to flee. And so at a time when 20% of people showing up at the southern border seeking asylum got asylum in the 1980s, you had 98% of Salvadorans having their asylum claims rejected; you had 99% of Guatemalans having their asylum claims rejected, and the reason for that was because the U.S. State Department presided, essentially, over the asylum process, and for them to acknowledge that people fleeing those countries were fleeing actual repression meant acknowledging that U.S. allies were doing the repression. And so you had, kind of baked right into the idea of asylum from the earliest moments, this kind of original sin of geopolitics interfering, and the rest is history as we've lived it. You know, there have been very few moments in which the legal immigration system has been updated to respond to the world as we live in it. I mean, the last time the immigration system actually was reformed in a thoroughgoing, serious way was 1990, and...

PARKER: Really?

BLITZER: Yeah. And so what's striking about it is, you know, lawmakers throw up their hands and say, until we get the border under control, we can't deal with, you know, increasing legal avenues for people to come in the United States to reunite with families, to work legally, all of those things. And yet what's so painful to anyone who studies this history is the border has become the main pressure point for people coming to the United States, because other legal avenues have been closed and haven't been updated to respond to the world as we know it. And so you're kind of in this catch-22, where the border is going to sustain all of the pressure of the wider system because the wider system hasn't been reformed, but the people who can reform it won't reform it because they'll point to the border, and so we're kind of stuck in this circle.


PARKER: But what made you want to write a book about this ongoing immigration crisis?

BLITZER: Yeah. There were a few things. The first thing is just a human fact of it, which is you meet people, and their lived experience, their family history, their - just their personal accounts of what they've been through, what loved ones have been through, all point back to this bigger history, and the other, quite honestly, was this feeling, as an immigration reporter, of being kind of trapped in this doom loop of, you know, every time there was a so-called immigration crisis, you know, all of the national press flooded to the southern border and, you know, posted up there and described how American authorities were overwhelmed and how there needed to be, you know, more decisive action taken in Washington.


BLITZER: And I kind of felt like, wait a second; these are all - you know, every time we're getting a description of the latest crisis, it's attaching itself to the president in office, so it was like Obama's immigration crisis, Trump's immigration crisis, Biden's immigration crisis.


BLITZER: And with the story of the U.S. and Central America, that's one story, and these are different chapters of that story, and so I really felt like there needed to be some way, kind of narratively...


BLITZER: ...Of breaking the lock of the present moment on an understanding of the wider history.


PARKER: Your book was told through the personal stories of a variety of people, and one of them is Eddie Anzora. Can you tell me about why you chose to follow Eddie's story?

BLITZER: I mean, Eddie is one of the most compelling people I've ever met in my life.

EDDIE ANZORA: Hello, guys. My name is Eddie Anzora. I'm an English teacher-slash-marketing guy.

PARKER: We actually reached out to Eddie to talk to us about his story.

BLITZER: I should probably start at the beginning of when he and I met. I had been hearing about this phenomenon that was, you know, playing out in Central America, but especially in El Salvador at the time.

ANZORA: He was doing a story on call centers, and somebody had told him, hey, there's a guy, Eddie, who's involved in call centers.

BLITZER: And there was a moment in the kind of late 2010s when, as a result of mass deportation from the United States, the call center industry really exploded in Central America, catering specifically to American customers in the U.S. who were calling for customer service help.


BLITZER: And one of the reasons this industry exploded at that moment in time was you had large numbers of people who had spent many years living in the United States who spoke idiomatic, American-style English who had recently been deported, and who were trying to build new lives for themselves in countries that, in many instances, they barely knew.

ANZORA: And then I started telling him about my story, and how I'd been surviving in in the call center world.

BLITZER: Eddie was someone who emerged because he had actually capitalized on an even more kind of nuanced trend that was playing out, which was as the call center industry was growing, there was also a demand to teach people in El Salvador English that was used in the call centers, so people could get jobs at these call centers. Eddie's claim - his pitch to prospective students - was, look, come study English with a native speaker; I grew up speaking English.

ANZORA: I was born in El Salvador, and when I was 2 1/2 or 3 years old, my mom took me to the U.S. I would ask my mom, how's El Salvador? And she would be like, hey, El Salvador is a beautiful country, and I'd go, like, how? How is it? Well, just think like an island, like a paradise with a lot of flowers and a lot - and it's real green, we have beautiful beaches. So that's the way I grew up knowing about El Salvador.

BLITZER: His family basically left the country because it was the moment right before the civil war broke out in El Salvador, and so Eddie arrived in the United States in California in 1980. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles at the time - amazingly witnessed the beginning of some of the gangs that later took root in Central America.

ANZORA: The idea of Salvadoranians representing this gang called MS - I saw that when I was a kid in South Central. I had already started seeing these guys who looked not like gangsters, like cholos, but more like rockers. They were, like, wearing Vans, stonewash jeans, heavy metal shirts. Well, they represented MS.

BLITZER: This later became MS-13. Eddie's never really involved in the gangs himself. He's a tagger. He's into, you know, graffiti.

ANZORA: I mean, my brother was getting caught all the time tagging on the buses. We were, like, bad kids. We sneaked out at night. I mean, my mom, she would go to sleep, and we would even fix up our pillows and put a blanket over just so we could go tagging.

BLITZER: And he gets in trouble a lot. And at a certain point, his mom says to him, you know what? You're getting in trouble so much that I'm going to scare you straight, and I'm going to send you to live with my brother, your uncle, in El Salvador - in 1991.

ANZORA: So my mom's idea of sending us back was kind of like, these guys are not appreciating the U.S.

BLITZER: You know, at that point, Eddie and his family had green cards, and so they could easily come and go.

ANZORA: When I came to El Salvador, it was kind of like a reality check 'cause you see my uncle, who I went to go live with, he didn't have a fridge. So every day, he would have to buy the food. Every day has to be cooked fresh. In the U.S., my mom at least Fridays and Saturdays or whenever, my mom used to take us out to eat somewhere, eat out, and all that. Even though we were, like, not rich, I mean, the poverty level was different than the U.S.

BLITZER: Eventually, comes back to the United States, and what happens to him very tragically is he becomes the victim of a 1996 law that the Clinton administration passed that really toughened enforcement of immigration laws in a very kind of cynical way that was calculated to help improve the Democratic Party's chances going into the 1996 elections. And one of the premises of this law was to expand the list of certain types of crimes, known as aggravated felonies, that could trigger someone's deportation.

And so, in Eddie's case, he was caught with someone who had drugs on them. And as a result, that was an example of an aggravated felony. He retroactively lost his green card, was stripped of his green card, and ended up having to go on the lam for many years because the U.S. government was trying to deport him.

ANZORA: I always felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulders. Like, I always felt that I was, like, I can never, like, do things 100%.

BLITZER: He was first chased by INS, Immigration Naturalization Service, before it became ICE. And Eddie would joke to friends, you know, I was the first person that ICE came after.

ANZORA: When I would talk to people, yeah, these guys are looking for me. They're called ICE. And everybody's laughing, you know? It was like a joke. They didn't understand the name at that point. When I went on the run, when they went to go chase me, it was two days before 9/11.

BLITZER: He's eventually deported in 2007 and had to start making a life for himself in El Salvador.

ANZORA: Now, it's cool living in El Salvo. Now, it's nice. Now we can walk out. Now we go to the beach. I went to the beach the other day at 11:00 at night with my wife. We just went out there, like, you know? Those type of things, you would never do that back in the day.

BLITZER: He is very mindful of the vulnerability of other people who have lived through similar circumstances or who themselves are vulnerable to have their lives upended at any moment as a result of politics and as a result of immigration policy.

ANZORA: I met a lot of younger deportees that never came to El Salvador. These guys were taken just like me. They don't do too good here. It's been, like, a struggle, but you don't look back. You just continue to move forward. That's the way I've been living. Like, when people talk to me about the States and everything, I don't miss the United States or anything like that. You know, I guess I was lucky enough to - I worked at an animal hospital. I went to Las Vegas. I've been to Hawaii. So I had fun. I had fun in the U.S.


PARKER: When we come back, more on how law is meant to discourage immigration and punish immigrants are impacting the lives of people in the U.S.

GARSD: And it's created a climate in Florida that's really scary.

PARKER: That's coming up. Stay with us.


PARKER: Parker. Just Parker. CODE SWITCH. And I'm back talking to one of NPR's immigration correspondents, Jasmine Garsd, and writer Jonathan Blitzer about his book, "Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here," and about the disconnect between immigration policies and the people they impact.


BLITZER: The greatest tragedy of covering this and seeing this up close is the fact that there is always going to be the most disorienting mismatch between what the policy aims are and what the human lives look like on the ground.


BLITZER: The premise of immigration law, the premise of sort of lawmaking around immigration, is all that there are very clear kind of unerring dividing lines between someone's legal status - so, well, they either came the right way or the wrong way. There are all of these assumptions built into policy-making.


BLITZER: And obviously, you meet people in the world, and their lives are so much more complicated than the terms of these laws ever allow, but, you know, the second part of this is when you see the people making these policies, they are, by necessity - by institutional necessity, they are insulated from the lives of the people whose, you know, outcomes - whose fates - they're shaping.

PARKER: They never have to interact.

BLITZER: They really don't. And, you know, again, just taking the kind of ugliness out of it for a second, it makes sense to me that the system is built that way. I mean, if you want certain kinds of outcomes, you need to have people making abstract decisions...


BLITZER: ...About how human beings live and move through the world, and part of those abstract decisions are assumptions about deterrence, for instance - the idea that if we treat people harshly enough at the southern border, the word will get out...


BLITZER: ...That it's not worth coming - that, you know, the costs outweigh the benefits, but when you kind of...

PARKER: How's that going?

BLITZER: Yeah. And it's never worked. And that's - I think my aim in this reporting and the aim of a number of colleagues of mine whose work I really admire, has often been to detail, in vivid, clear, human fashion, the failure of that logic, because that logic exists in a vacuum. It's a reflection of this disconnect between the people who are pulling the levers of policy and shaping the language of policy and the people whose lives are affected by those policies.

PARKER: Your book is kind of a testament to the fact that deterrence as an immigration policy doesn't work, and yet presidents keep pursuing it as an answer to immigration. Why?

BLITZER: The problem with deterrence, as you see it kind of play out on the ground, is that if someone is fleeing their home country, they are doing it because they are desperate to, and so no measure of harshness at the U.S-Mexico border is going to change someone's calculus if it's desperation that's driving them to leave their home in the first place.

There is a political consensus that you need to be harsh at the border in order to communicate, kind of, what the general policy aims are of an administration, and I do think that there is an acute problem - and we can't pretend it's not there - which is the number of people showing up at the southern border at any given time has become so weaponized politically that it's a real liability for an administration - particularly Democratic administrations, although interestingly, Republican administrations have dealt with the same problem, and often have dealt with it directly as a result of failed deterrence policies. I mean, I do think people forget that in 2019, some of the largest numbers of people showing up at the southern border followed the Trump-era family separation policy.

PARKER: So, like, shocker - deterrence doesn't work. So then what's the way forward?

BLITZER: The only way to actually manage the system in a meaningful sense is to open up other legal pathways for people to come to the United States. The problem is there's no path forward on that politically in Washington - Congress is just too deadlocked. And so you only have the enforcement side of the equation, because that's the only element of the equation that, by and large, Congress can agree on. That is relatively uncontroversial as far as these things go.

What's become controversial is the idea of reforming the immigration system, or modernizing the immigration system. Of course, it's insane that that's the problem, because, you know, you look across the country and you have labor shortages - you have people - you have communities desperate for immigrant labor, for one thing. You have communities that are aging, populations that need to be rejuvenated with the arrival of immigrants. There's no mystery around that, but the politics, again, are just such a dead zone that you have kind of only one side of the equation every time, and what happens over years and years of it is you have the accumulated fallout of enforcement-only thinking around immigration and nothing on the other side to compensate, and so people are trapped in that dynamic and there isn't a kind of - there isn't a release point in any way.

PARKER: Well, there is this irony of, you know, the United States being founded as this, quote, "nation of immigrants," somehow making it really hard for new immigrants to come in. And I guess - why? Like, you touched on this a little bit, but why is immigration such a political football?

BLITZER: The bottom line, sadly, is it's politically a lot easier to play on racism, fear of demographic change, confusion about the vagaries of the immigration process, confusion about the wider dynamics in the world. It's so much easier to exploit those things than it is to encourage people to stop and think and empathize and actually kind of game out some of the ways in which supporting immigration actually supports this country not just in a kind of moral, human sense, but also in an economic sense.


BLITZER: And so it's sort of like, on one side of the divide, there's a kind of almost one-syllable punch line, you know, against immigration, and on the other, it just takes a second to make the case, and in that mismatch, you see - you know, you see cynics really gaining an edge, and it's painful to see.


PARKER: Jonathan Blitzer - he's the author of "Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here." Thank you so much, Jonathan.

BLITZER: Oh, thanks for having me.


PARKER: So with Blitzer, I got to deep dive into the history of U.S. immigration policy and how we got here, but I wanted to circle back with NPR's immigration correspondent, Jasmine Garsd. She's been reporting on how people are coming to the U.S. in spite of our current immigration policies.

GARSD: There's two things that I really love to ask when I speak to migrants. One of them is tell me about the conversation you had where you sat down with your family back home and you said, this is it - we're leaving. And, you know, there's always a conversation like that.

PARKER: 'Cause it's not a light decision.

GARSD: No, and sometimes it's a split-second decision, and sometimes it's a conversation that happens over weeks and months. It's always a conversation that is very cognizant of the fact that you could get killed en route to the U.S. You could get raped if you're a woman, and it's likely, and that the U.S. is a very difficult place to make it as an immigrant, especially right now. I talk to people all the time who are like, I was going to get killed. My daughter was going to get killed...


GARSD: ...Or I had to choose between giving my kid lunch or dinner.

PARKER: I know from your reporting that last year, Florida approved some of the toughest immigration laws in the nation. Can you explain what those laws were meant to do?

GARSD: So Florida passed a law about a year ago. It's called SB 1718, and it is one of the harshest immigration laws in the country. Among other things, it punishes employers who use undocumented labor. It makes it illegal to have a driver's license and, therefore, to drive, if you're undocumented. It requires hospitals to collect information about immigration status. And if you are coming into Florida with undocumented people in your car or bus, that is considered the crime of human smuggling.


GARSD: Yeah. So your mom wants to visit your brother. You guys want to come from Georgia. Mom is undocumented. You drive her. That's human trafficking. I went to several immigrant communities in Central Florida, which is kind of a farmland, just to find out the impact. And people I spoke to, community leaders, everyday people I spoke to, they told me that they estimate 30 to 40% of the community has left.


GARSD: Yeah. That's...

PARKER: That's a lot.

GARSD: It is a lot. It's hard to quantify exact numbers with undocumented people because, you know, people don't want to get quantified. But I heard this over and over again, and it's created a climate in Florida that's really scary. And it's not just undocumented people who picked up and left. A lot of people I was told who left, it's like, well, dad is undocumented, you know, or my wife is undocumented, or I'm undocumented, my kids, they were born in the U.S., but what happens if I go to work one day and then I get picked up and I can't come back?


GARSD: You know, one really interesting person I met in Florida is Marie (ph).

MARIE: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

GARSD: She's a (non-English language spoken). And (non-English language spoken) are an informal transportation system. It comes from the word ride.

PARKER: Oh, that makes sense.

GARSD: And so (non-English language spoken) it's like a ride share, but it's cheaper, and it's off the grid. In this case, in Florida, what this woman was explaining to me, this (non-English language spoken) is that she started to do tasks, like take kids to school because the parents are scared to.


GARSD: 'Cause they're undocumented.

MARIE: (Through interpreter) My clients are illegal immigrants. They're not welcome in Florida. So they started leaving Florida. And those that are coming now to the States don't want to come to Florida. Why? Because of the laws. They are scared to drive in the state.

GARSD: And one of the things she does, which she saw a huge spike in after this law was passed is transport people out of Florida. So families will come to her and say, I need to get out. I'm worried about how to do this. Get me out. So the Florida Policy Institute estimates that this immigration law could cost the state economy $12.6 billion in the first year.

PARKER: Billion?

GARSD: Well, yeah. I mean, like - so I spoke to this economist, Ron Hetrick from Lightcast - it's an analysis company - and he was like, look, I'm an economist. I'm not going to get into politics. I'm not going to get into, like, what's ethical, what's not ethical. Let me just tell you about numbers.

RON HETRICK: You know, back in 2022, Florida, alone, had roughly just under a million undocumented workers. So let's say that 70% of them were working. You've got 700,000 people that may disappear from a labor force in a quick period of time at a time that you already, you know, are - we have a lot of fast-growing cities here, so you need all of the support industries to service those cities.

GARSD: He was telling me, think about who is building all these new condos.


GARSD: Who's picking the crops? Who is manning the kitchens?

HETRICK: How do these cities get built? How do the houses get built? And I think, you know, there's always been this kind of tacit understanding that we all know very well how these things are being built.

GARSD: And it goes back to this conversation of, you know, like, the political expediency versus the economic reality.

PARKER: Are those states looking at Florida as a model for what they could do? Like, are there policies being exported out of the state?

GARSD: I think there's a general kind of attitude among conservative states of we are going to treat this like we are in charge of border policy and immigration policy. You know, the line that you hear, like, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, is, you know, well, Biden isn't doing anything, so we have to take it into our own hands. This isn't new. Arizona did this back in the day, California did this with Prop 187 in the '90s, where undocumented people couldn't go to the hospital all of a sudden. And it's a very concerted and strategic effort. You know, when you hear Governor Greg Abbott in Texas talk about immigration, you might notice he uses the word invasion a lot.


GREG ABBOTT: This is something completely different that has never happened before in the history of the country. This is an invasion. But people, we don't know who they are, where they're coming from or the danger they may pose.

GARSD: He's using invasion not just, you know, to rile people up, but because of a constitutional clause that speaks of if a state is being invaded, that state has a right to defend itself. And so it is very much part of this fight between the federal government and states. And so definitely Florida is part of a trend. And I would say Texas is, like, you know...

PARKER: Neck and neck.

GARSD: ...Front and center.

PARKER: Yeah. I mean, you know, there's the way that Governor Abbott in Texas is referring to migrants as invaders, or New York City's Mayor Adams calling immigrants excellent swimmers. And in Blitzer's book, he mentions the Department of Homeland Security calling immigrants without legal status removables. So, like, there can be this loss of humanity in how we talk about immigrants. Why does that seem to be the prevailing language?

GARSD: I think we're living in this moment where the rhetoric is - it's true that we're always in a cyclical nature, but I think the rhetoric is getting very dark and very extreme. And it's not just me saying it. There's an interesting body of research from Stanford University about rhetoric. And this research shows that the rhetoric - especially the Republican rhetoric - about immigrants, it's - it measured 150 years of political speeches. And it measured certain words - words that referred to people as, like, animals, cargo...


GARSD: ...Herding in - like, these very dehumanizing words. And they found that not since the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s has it been this heightened. And you hear that. You know, as an immigration correspondent, you know, I suddenly am covering, you know, former President Donald Trump literally saying, they're poisoning the blood of our country. It's also, I think, a historic moment. And I think there's something about how - this historic moment that's also - I find interesting and exciting.

PARKER: How so?

GARSD: I think - I mean, I get pretty depressed on this beat sometimes. I don't know about you.

PARKER: Oh, for sure.

GARSD: (Laughter).

PARKER: I'm not going to lie.

GARSD: But sometimes, like, you know, when I interview migrants in New York and in shelters, like, I go to, like, the one where everyone arrives, the Roosevelt Hotel. And I think about conversations I've had, like, with my landlady or with, you know, I happen to have a lot of contact with Italian Americans. And I think about their stories of Ellis Island and of coming to America, and I think, wow. Like, I'm kind of in Ellis Island right now. It's just the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. And, you know, maybe then, you know, you're in New York and you go for a New York slice, and I think, well, in 30 or 40 years, I'll go for a New York arepa.


GARSD: And I am seeing this shift. And I'm seeing the hate and the ugliness, but I'm also seeing, like, this tectonic shift. And I think that's something, like, that I hold onto to not go (laughter) crazy. No, but it's like you're seeing the shift. You're seeing the change. You're seeing something budge.

PARKER: OK. But what is this budge that you're seeing? What's this shift?

GARSD: I think we're seeing a cultural shift, and it's, like, almost like a birth process, and it's painful. And these tectonic shifts, you know, they're painful, sometimes a lot more painful than they need to be but it's also, like - I don't know - I think in 30, 40, 50 years, we're going to talk about this moment. And you and I and many people will get to say I was there when it shifted.


PARKER: Thank you, Jasmine, for being here.

GARSD: Thank you for having me.


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This episode was produced by Xavier Lopez. It was edited by Courtney Stein. Our engineer was James Willetts. And a big shout-out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - Christina Cala, Jess Kung, Leah Donnella, Dalia Mortada, Veralyn Williams, Lori Lizarraga and Gene Demby. Special thanks to Estefania Mitre. I'm B.A. Parker. Hydrate.

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