How Biden Can Move Voters on Immigration | Crooked Media
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March 31, 2024
What A Day
How Biden Can Move Voters on Immigration

In This Episode

  • Cesar Chavez Day was Sunday, and it’s the day when Americans honor the late Latino civil rights icon and labor activist. Chavez is most known for co-founding the United Farm Workers (UFW) — the nation’s first-ever farmworker union. He dedicated his life to the fight for better working conditions and wages for people who were part of the agricultural workforce — many of whom were migrants. And while Chavez’s track record on immigration is complicated, UFW is one of many organizations that currently advocates for the rights of undocumented workers, more pathways to citizenship, and overall immigration reform.
  • In this special episode, we host a roundtable with Dani Marrero Hi of La Uniòn del Pueblo Entro, Liza Schwartzwald of the New York Immigration Coalition, and Pulitzer Prize-winning immigration journalist Molly O’Toole. We talk about why our immigration system doesn’t work — and what’s at stake this November as both Biden and Trump make their case for how to fix it.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, April 1st. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi and this is What a Day. And on today’s show we’re doing something a little different. We’re going to spend the entire episode today talking about immigrant rights, how to address the influx of migrants at the southern border, and what President Biden can do on the issue that moves voters this November. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And we’re doing this because yesterday was Cesar Chavez Day, the day that we honor the late Latino civil rights icon and labor activist. 


[clip of Cesar Chavez] Americans who are truly interested in working for social change get increasingly looked less and less the political process for redress of their grievances and solutions to their problems. The truth is felt even more intensely if people seeking redress happen to be farmworkers, or minority group people, or just plain poor folk. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s Chavez speaking in 1991 at a conference in D.C.. But you’re perhaps more familiar with his motto that’s often used today as a rallying call for social justice, si se puede, or yes, it can be done. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, a very iconic motto. Chavez is most known for co-founding the United Farm Workers, the nation’s first ever farmworker union. He dedicated his life to the fight for better working conditions and wages for people who are part of the agricultural workforce, many of whom were migrants. But I know that his legacy is a little complicated when it comes to his stance on immigration. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, so there was one point when he advocated against illegal immigration, even going as far as to say that undocumented people should be turned into authorities. Chavez thought that undocumented workers took away from the labor movement because they were often willing to accept lower wages. They were often recruited to break strikes that farm workers organized. But the United Farm Workers Union has moved away from that stance, and to this day fiercely advocates for the rights of undocumented workers, more pathways to citizenship, and overall immigration reform. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, and I think that conversation is especially relevant right now, given how migration to the US has surged over the past few years as pandemic restrictions eased. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so. In December of last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded nearly 250,000 migrants crossing into the U.S. from the southern border, the highest monthly total on record. And we know that immigration is the number one issue on voter’s minds. A recent Gallup poll found that Americans see immigration as the most important problem facing the U.S.. Former President Donald Trump is making immigration a central pillar of his campaign and promising mass deportations and a new travel ban. He also hasn’t ruled out bringing back family separations. Meanwhile, it’s not clear if Biden has convinced voters that he’s the better option. In fact, an ABC Ipsos poll from last month showed voters trust Trump on the issue more than Biden, 45%, to Biden’s 29%. Now, I know that a lot of times when we talk about immigration, we’re so focused on what politicians and pundits have to say about it. But today, I wanted to hear from a few folks who could paint a picture of how our immigration system doesn’t work and what’s at stake this November when voters decide who’s going to take the wheel on this issue? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. So tell us more about who you spoke with about this. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. So I spoke to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Molly O’Toole. She was previously an immigration and security reporter for the Los Angeles Times’ Washington, D.C. bureau, and she’s currently writing a book on global migration through the Americas. I was also joined by Liza Schwartzwald, she’s the director of Economic Justice and Family empowerment for the New York Immigration Coalition, and her work focuses on getting migrant communities the resources they need to support themselves. And I also got ahold of Dani Marrero Hi, they’re an organizer for La Uniòn del Pueblo Entro, or LUPE for short, a group that was founded by Cesar Chavez himself, along with labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. LUPE specializes in working with migrant communities along the southern border in Texas. I started with Madero Hi, because conservatives have painted a picture of the southern border that’s pure chaos and horror with drug smugglers, human traffickers and cartels, quote unquote, “invading the U.S.” I wanted to know what things actually look like, since they’re right there. 


Dani Marrero Hi: One of the most chaotic things happening for border residents right now in this area is probably the highway that has been under construction, and it’s causing a lot of traffic for our commute. It is not the numbers of people crossing. The word crisis has been, I think, hijacked to mean, you know, whatever people’s agenda is. But from my perspective, it is a crisis because people are being forced to wait in Matamoros or Reynosa in makeshift camps that are just a storm away from being completely destroyed. These are folks that I’ve met. I’ve primarily met a lot of folks who are queer and trans individuals, who are just seeking an opportunity and a chance to safely and orderly crossover, to reunite with their families and, frankly, just a chance to live. And I think that someone who lives on the border and as someone whose parents, you know, decided to cross over 20 years ago, and someone who is also queer, I hear the stories and I sometimes feel so powerless not knowing how to help and doing my best to help. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Liza, I want to come to you. You’re joining us from New York, a state that is experiencing an influx of asylum seekers. New York City, in particular, has seen more than 180,000 asylum seekers since 2022. Tens of thousands of them were sent by Texas to you all. And New York officials have struggled to process them, give them basic necessities like housing and food. How does all of this translate into your day to day work? 


Liza Schwartzwald: Yeah, it is true, of course, that we are seeing an increase in asylum seekers here recently. It is untrue that there is no pathway forward. And I think what we’ve seen on the city level specifically is more an issue related to our particular mayoral administration and the way that they have approached this issue than it is the inability of New York to do this and do this well. Um. And we know what we need. We need affordable housing. We need work authorizations and TPS status expansions that give people the opportunity to get to work right away to stabilize their lives. And to be clear, the people who are coming here, that is what they want. They are not coming here asking for a handout. They are coming here ready to work, ready to bust their butts, to make something of their lives, to contribute to the city. We need to fund, you know, cities and states to respond to this situation in a way that allows us to both respect the humanity of the people that are coming and recognize what they’ve been through, and also recognize that they are not people who are just coming to take. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Molly, I want to bring you in here, particularly on that point that Liza just mentioned about why people come to the United States. Two years ago, you traveled through the Darién Gap, which is this roadless stretch of jungle in Panama that is extremely dangerous to cross, but that many migrants take that path to get to the U.S.. Can you tell us about some of those people you encountered making that trip? Why are they coming? Why do they say they’re doing it? 


Molly O’Toole: So I think there’s been a fundamental shift uh that we’ve seen in who is coming to the United States, how they’re coming and and why they’re coming. This is truly a global migration now. And I do think part of the problem is that the U.S. immigration system is still geared toward this idea that everyone who is coming, the U.S. immigration enforcement system, are single adult males from Mexico. It hasn’t even caught up to the reality that we have many people coming from Central America, many unaccompanied minors, many families from Central America, much less has caught up to the fact that more than 50% of people who have been coming since around 2019 have come from outside of Central America and Mexico. They’ve come from everywhere else in the world. I’ve probably met someone from almost every country on the planet along this journey. Some people are crossing more than a dozen countries. There’s more women than ever. There are more children than ever. There are more families than ever who are making this journey, um but they’re coming for some combination of things. Climate change, poverty, corruption, violence, political religious gender based persecution. Persecution based on a sexual orientation. The reasons for coming don’t fit into these neat little boxes. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You just mentioned some of those, like major factors and forces that are driving people to the border at these record rates. I wonder how Covid changed things. 


Molly O’Toole: Absolutely. Well, so this sort of shift in, in demographics and who was coming really did start maybe about a decade ago. We especially saw it in 2016. People were sort of rushing to get in. They were listening to Donald Trump saying that he was going to close the border, threatening a muslim ban. 2019 was one of the highest years that we had seen in terms of overall numbers. This is after some of the most draconian policies that had ever been put into place at the U.S. border. I mean, family separation, remain in Mexico. 2020, of course shut the whole thing down. The whole world, practically speaking, shut their borders. And there were people who were on their way, and they essentially sort of got stuck. So 2021 really opened the entire world back up again. So you had tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who were sort of stuck along the way. In addition to the fact that the pandemic itself really disproportionately devastated economies throughout South America especially. So this is really where we started to see Venezuelans especially, but also Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Colombians, South America itself becoming a region um of origin for a lot of migration. 2021 was 120,000 people crossed the Darién Gap. 2022 was more than 250,000 people that crossed the Darién Gap, and I was there alongside them in 2022. 2023, you had more than 500,000 people. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Wow. 


Molly O’Toole: Cross the Darien Gap, and this year is already on pace to exceed that, probably around the same level if it keeps up or a little bit higher than it was last year. So you’ve got this really dramatic increase in who’s who’s taking this journey. And Covid was a big piece of that. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Dani, President Biden visited the southern border last month. I want to play a little bit of tape from a speech he gave while he was there.


[clip of President Joe Biden] Folks. It’s real simple. It’s time to act. It’s long past time to act. 


Tre’vell Anderson: So after his visit, Dani, you told the Texas Tribune, quote, “every single time an elected official comes down from DC, we see the same imagery. They’re walking along the border wall, they’re wearing sunglasses. They’re talking with Border Patrol. They go on the boat ride and then they leave. We’d hoped that President Biden would do a different visit.” What did you want to see from him that day? What have you wanted to see from elected officials when they come to your area? 


Dani Marrero Hi: Those visits are so common, right? There are some politicians that come down and they go as far as to wear the bulletproof vest, right, to I don’t know, I guess they want to feel like they’re doing something really adventurous or dangerous, and they’re like, right down the block where someone’s like kayaking on the same part of the river. [laughter] But I think what we would like to see is just people come down and not just for a press conference. We want people to come and sit down with the organizations, the people that are doing this work, not just come in and kind of mirroring almost the same agenda as Trump that same day when he was in Eagle Pass. He flew in, he met with law enforcement, met with Border Patrol, and then flew right back. There were so many of us that were outside of the airport protesting because we didn’t have a seat at the table with him. And these were folks, yes, from LUPE, but also folks from like the Sidewalk school who are folks who that are providing humanitarian aid every single day, or educating the children that are waiting in the Mexican border cities, or folks like uh  Team Brownsville and Angry Tia’s and Abuela’s that are providing those the warm food, that change of clothes as folks are crossing over. And so it was very disappointing not to get that, especially because President Biden campaigned on promising a change in rhetoric and a change in legislation on how to manage immigration at the border, and the bill that he came to promote, what everyone is calling some of the toughest and most draconian anti-immigrant legislation. We thought that was extremely disrespectful because we are an area that has been historically blue, and I think a lot of Latino voters and a lot of border voters are looking for an alternative to Trump. And when President Biden comes and doesn’t provide a very clear alternative on that, I think it makes a lot of Latino voters question, well, who should we turn to? We’re a region where we have a high percentage of permanent residents who are applying for citizenship, and they’re going to vote for the first time. They really say, you know, I don’t know if Biden is someone that motivates me enough to go vote. We don’t want another Trump presidency. We saw how devastating that was for our communities. But we need an alternative. And it was just very disappointing to see President Biden use our home as a backdrop to promote anti-immigrant legislation. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I want to talk a little bit about that bill you just mentioned, because his visit did come after Republicans basically torpedoed this bipartisan bill that would have won them many of the immigration policies they’ve been asking for for years, like shutting down the asylum process altogether if too many people arrive at once. This is coming to you, Dani. What do you make of what seems to be this willingness on behalf of the Democrats to compromise with Republicans on some of these issues that they seemingly wouldn’t have before? And what would you say they’re risking by doing it? You talk about the difficulty getting younger voters, newer voters, you know, activated. 


Dani Marrero Hi: As a movement building organization, we don’t necessarily look to either party to come and save us. And even when we’re doing get out the vote work, we’re not telling people, please vote for this candidate because this candidate is going to solve all of our problems. We’re looking at electing people into office who we think we have a higher chance to work with to get the change that we need, because we do feel that for the last decades both parties have really treated immigration like a sort of political football. It’s like, it’s your turn now. It’s my turn. Now it’s your turn, and now it’s my turn. And I think this showdown now with this bill is just like the latest manifestation of that, you know, and I think for border residents, we’re used to relying on each other. And I think we’re going to continue to do that. But I think if us as border residents, regular people can give up weekends and evenings and resources to volunteer to welcome people with dignity, so can the state government and so can the federal government. And it’s a matter of willingness. But the Biden administration and the Democratic Party risks us not seeing them in a different light, or seeing there’s an alternative to someone that’s going to motivate us to actually go out in the polls or go out and get the vote out and tell their family members. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s part of my chat with Dani Marrero Hi, Liza Schwartzwald, and Molly O’Toole. We’re going to take a quick break to pay some bills, and when we come back, we’ll dive into why Congress has failed to act on this issue and what’s at stake if they don’t figure it out soon. We’ll be right back. [music break] 




Priyanka Aribindi: All right, we’re back from break. Tre’vell, where did we leave off? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. So I was in the middle of my convo with Dani Marrero Hi from La Uniòn del Pueblo Entro, Liza Schwartzwald from the New York Immigration Coalition, and Pulitzer Prize winning immigration reporter Molly O’Toole. We were talking about the failed bipartisan border bill that received heavy criticism from immigration advocates. I asked Molly why lawmakers as a whole have failed to tackle this issue for decades. 


Molly O’Toole: There hasn’t been comprehensive immigration reform for more than 30 years, so Congress loves to rail about this issue. But actually, neither party are invested in fixing it. Part of the reason it’s so difficult is we do have to recognize there is a potency to this base instinct, this politics of the other, this politics of xenophobia, this politics of racism. People tap into that with the border as bogeymen and migrants as something to be feared. Families coming to the border. The vast majority of people are asylum seekers who are coming to the border now. What you don’t have is a national security threat. What you have is a resource issue. We keep throwing more and more and more money at the parts of the border enforcement system that won’t actually address the significant number and proportion of people who are coming to the border now. We keep throwing more and more money at Border Patrol, for example, Border Patrol cannot process asylum claims. Only asylum officers can process asylum claims, and Congress is the one who designed that system. They cannot even hire enough Border Patrol agents. The floor for Border Patrol agents that Congress suggests is about 20,000. The last time that that number was hit was under the Obama administration, and in any other policy space that didn’t live in the American consciousness in the way that immigration does. American taxpayers would be up in arms that billions and billions and billions of dollars being put toward a policy and a system that is so effective and so outdated as to not be working. But this is a space in which we’re willing to throw as much money as possible without really questioning, is this policy working for the stated goal.


Tre’vell Anderson: Liza, there is this base, in theory, the Democratic Party and swing voters that Biden needs to speak to to regain their confidence, particularly on this issue. We’re hearing Dani say that just saying that Donald Trump will be worse is not enough. Molly is speaking to the fact that many of these policies just haven’t been working. They’re not effective. What is your vantage point in terms of, you know, what any politician, but particularly the Democrats, should be thinking of when we’re having this conversation about what next looks like? 


Liza Schwartzwald: We want to see long term solutions that work. We want to see a prioritization of funding and support for processing, right, at ports of entry, and actual ways that people can get legal asylum as Molly noted, you know, both in New York and and elsewhere, people have neighbors that are immigrants. They have neighbors that are asylum seekers, and they’re not wanting to necessarily push them out. All people really want is an updated system that doesn’t just help asylum seekers, but also creates longer term pathways to citizenship. We are constantly on this election cycle, right, of well, you know, we want to show some change, some benefit right now. But ultimately that is not what’s best for the U.S., what’s best for the U.S. is to create thoughtful policies. Thoughtful and humane policies on the border, followed by funding that actually helps states and localities to create that transition. There are definitely ways to integrate people better than what we do, but it requires planning and it requires coordination. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. My last question I’m going to come to you, Dani, given that your organization was founded by Cesar Chavez himself. I’m wondering for you, what’s something that you think people should reflect on this year as we not only observe a day honoring his legacy, but also think about this particular conversation around immigration in our country?


Dani Marrero Hi: For me, the most beautiful part of Cesar Chavez’s legacy is all the leaders that were inspired by him, who I still get to work with to this day. You know who we call the movement elders. I see our movement elders who are you know, we just finished our 2.3 mile march with elders that are 70, 80 years old that were walking with their canes or their strollers with their grandchildren, and they were struggling, but they wanted to finish the march because they understand that at the end we have each other, and it’s through those collective actions that we can do together that are going to help us change society. And I think no matter what happens in November, no matter what happens in the next two or three presidential elections, we’re going to see border residents continuing to organize. We don’t rely on any one political party. We don’t rely on any one politician who is going to come and save us. We know that it’s us, the border residents, who make that change. We’re going to keep giving a prime example of what our values are and how we know our governments can act if they drop the politics, drop the Rambo games with a bulletproof vest and sunglasses, you know, and actually put people first. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was my conversation with Dani Marrero Hi from La Uniòn del Pueblo Entro, Liza Schwartzwald from the New York Immigration Coalition and Pulitzer Prize winning immigration reporter Molly O’Toole. We’ll link to everyone’s work in our show notes, so you can learn more about how you can get involved. [music break]




Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review and tell your friends to listen. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you are into reading, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter, check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And si se puede.  [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Raven Yamamoto produced this special episode. We had production help today from Natalie Bettendorf, Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Leo Duran and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.