Thomas Friedman and the New York Times Get Asylum, Tall Walls Wrong - Define American

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Thomas Friedman and the New York Times Get Asylum, Tall Walls Wrong

Thomas Friedman's latest New York Times op-ed takes a small and un-American view of immigration, asylum, and what defines American.

Thomas Friedman’s recent New York Times op-ed, Trump is Wasting a Border Crisis, is troubling for a couple of reasons.

For one, Friedman literally wrote the book on the efficacy of living in a globalized world. But now, in the age of Trump, he is advocating for a very “tall” border wall with a wide gate. Just a few years ago, Friedman called for wide open borders in the very same paper.

Then Friedman joins the chorus of neoliberal commentary in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and the Times — commentary that Define American has been critiquing for months — in asserting that if liberals don’t do something about immigration, then fascists will. Sounds like the “fascists” have already won when these publications of record are calling for limiting immigration and taller walls than the ones Trump has proposed.

Yet, where things really go off the rails are Friedman’s uninformed views on asylum. Early in the piece he posits:

Asylum is a humanitarian status based on fear of persecution in one’s native land. Many of these requests are legitimate; some are economic migrants gaming the process.

Then he ultimately concludes:

We need to rethink who is entitled to asylum, so people fleeing economic dislocation don’t overwhelm our borders and harden our hearts to people truly fleeing tyranny.

Thomas, please. You are doing the Trump thing here. Asylum is a specific, defined legal category that is holding up perfectly well. Check your Twitter or google it. As Dara Lind of Vox pointed out, people fleeing economic dislocation are not eligible for asylum.

If Friedman had bothered to google “asylum,” he would have been directed to the USCIS website and seen the following list of categories that qualify for protection from persecution: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and political opinion.

Notice what is not on that list: economic dislocation.

But let’s set that aside for a moment and just take his statements and conclusion at face value. In his first statement he sets up a straw man argument about asylum seekers “gaming the system,” without providing a single piece of evidence or linking to data to substantiate this claim.

Then in his conclusion he takes his straw man argument to its natural conclusion: we need to change the law, to stop those coming here from gaming the system and to allow those “truly fleeing tyranny to come in.”

Never mind that the law does not allow people to apply for asylum based on economic dislocation — is Friedman unaware or too lazy to ask the people he met with at the border why they are coming to America? Well, in typical Friedman fashion, his reporting for this piece only included a ride-along with the Border Patrol. Friedman admits he didn’t even take so much as a taxi ride in Mexico. If he had (or if he’d even read the coverage in his own paper that he kinda cites), he would know that most are fleeing violence, death, or sexual abuse.

Is he intentionally making a distinction between the current wave of migrants seeking asylum from Central America and “other” people “truly fleeing tyranny?” And what exactly is the distinction?

Because in addition to being flat out wrong about some of the basic facts of asylum, he is also making an argument that is veering into white nationalist, Breitbart, and anti-immigrant hate group CIS territory. People fleeing violence in Central America are not coming here to “game the system” and take our stuff. They are here because they are fleeing for their lives. One thing is clear: Friedman’s views on asylum are small and un-American.

And his views on economic migration are also small and un-American. The U.S. is a refuge for those seeking asylum and also the land of opportunity for those willing to make the journey here. Grace Meng at Human Rights Watch, put it best:

We expect more accuracy in immigration reporting from the New York Times, because #FactsMatter. And we expect reporters leaving the beltway and going down to the border to report to talk to all kinds of people and not just government sources, because #SourcesMatter. The Times can do better.

For more on asylum, see America’s Voice

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