Last Friday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was among a group of Republican senators visiting the U.S.-Mexico border, with the delegation led by their Texas colleagues, Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. While it was touted as an opportunity to see firsthand what is happening at the border, comments prior to the trip seemed to be more focused on blaming the current administration, with Sen. Steve Daines of Montana creating his own moniker for the situation: “The Biden Border Crisis.”

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas also led a delegation of lawmakers to visit a Health and Human Services facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and blamed the previous administration for creating the situation, resulting in the recent surge. Following her border tour, Collins made several posts on her Facebook page in reference to the trip, focusing on unaccompanied children and the discouragement of Border Patrol with “new policies.”

What is truly discouraging is the continued politicization of a serious humanitarian crisis and the perpetual failure of American politicians and citizens to first acknowledge and then effectively address the root causes for the migration of hundreds of thousands of people from Mexico and Central America over the last four decades. U.S. foreign policy in the 1980s destabilized the region and economic policy, such as the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (implemented between 2006 and 2009), created both economic dependence on the U.S. and impossible conditions for rural farmers in the Northern Triangle to remain afloat.

The result is extreme poverty and unchecked violence, exacerbated by both the pandemic and damage from recent hurricanes, and intensified by climate change. A recent article in The Washington Post determined from a study of the last 10 years of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data that while the numbers are likely somewhat higher because of the border closure as a result of COVID, the increase in border crossings this year follows the “pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration.” The current surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is not a new phenomenon, and a “more secure border” or “better enforcement” of policies put in place by whichever party’s candidate is in office will not solve the problem that keeps happening.

Public opinion, government attitudes and immigration policies have changed over time, with a general trend toward the value of justice, tolerance of diversity and acceptance of immigrants by Americans. In contrast, there is a pattern of marginalization and historical and institutionalized discrimination via government policy against individuals seeking safety, a better life or both in the United States, based on their skin color or race.

In his September 2019 TED Talk, historian Paul Kramer described the debate over immigration as a “feverish argument.” He offered his own lens for looking at the issue, which could bridge the divide between supporters of immigrants and anti-immigrant nativists. Kramer suggested that we change the way we look at immigrants. Instead of considering them to be outsiders, even once they have acclimated and integrated into the United States, we should “redraw the borders” and instead focus on workers’ rights, responsibility for the role our country has played in the reasons that people cannot safely stay in their homelands, and equality of opportunity. Kramer proposes that this three-pronged shift in thinking will subvert the nativist and nationalist view and instead embrace justice.

While America has long been known as the “land of opportunity” and destination for those escaping oppression or looking for a better life, a country that is rooted in the values of freedom and justice for all, equality of opportunity has been absent and oppression and injustices have been rampant since the first explorers and colonists set foot on what is now the United States. At this moment, political differences must be put aside and attention given to making adjustments to the asylum system that is sputtering back into action and to creating a legal pathway for Central Americans to work in the United States.

For those of us not holding political office, this issue is important on both moral and ethical grounds and we must work daily to change the public narrative about immigrants, avoid and call out dehumanizing language, practice respect for human dignity, and hear each other's stories. First and foremost, be informed! Read and research for yourself before believing any rhetoric about an “Immigration Invasion.”

Consider donating to local nonprofits such as Welcoming Immigrant Neighbors (WIN)-Bangor, which is supporting immigrants in Maine. Our family has chosen to welcome an asylum-seeker into our home as a way to make a difference in her life, learn about her indigenous and Guatemalan culture, and offer some small reparation for the centuries of oppression and mistreatment in the name of white supremacy, yet every day I am so grateful for the joy, laughter and amazing food that Rosario has blessed us with.

Immigrant rights are human rights. The mothers and fathers who make the dangerous journey to America with their children are doing so because they know that the danger to their family staying in their home country is even greater. Won’t you please join me and take action to respect, help and protect our fellow humans who are in crisis?

Amy Tice lives in Searsmont and is a doctoral social work student at the University of Southern California studying immigration and working on a project to provide public education to support initiatives for universal access to legal representation, create a counter-narrative about immigration and stop the dehumanization of immigrants.