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Venezuelans walk near a bridge that crosses the Rio Grande River after being expelled from the United States into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. The Biden administration announced on Jan. 5, 2023, that it intends to immediately expel Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans without allowing them to seek asylum. © 2022 AP Photo/Christian Chavez

The recent visit to the US-Mexico border by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump was characterized as a “duel” by some media outlets, eliciting the image of cowboys facing off. But in this showdown, there were no heroes, just villains firing off missives harmful to immigrants and border communities.

I am a fronteriza, having lived along the US-Mexico border on both sides for most of my life. I have watched both Democrats and Republicans swoop into our communities to act out political theater without giving thought to the harm their rhetoric causes.

Biden and Trump repeated the same misguided tropes I have heard for 30 years: that to prevent people from coming to the US, we need to punish, jail, and deport them. That we need to make it harder for people to come, hire more Border Patrol agents, build more walls to slice through the heart of our communities, and add more surveillance technologies, all of it to deter people from coming.

The Border Patrol officially adopted the current “prevention through deterrence” strategy in August 1994. But its enforcement-only tactics have failed to reduce migration, have cost billions of taxpayer dollars and have led to thousands of deaths and disappearances of migrants.

Biden said repeatedly that it is “time to act,” but his so-called bipartisan proposal is just more of the same failed and inhumane strategy: more Border Patrol agents — despite their well-documented human rights abuses — and more surveillance technologies.

Trump framed the issue by dehumanizing and criminalizing migration, listing crimes allegedly committed by unauthorized migrants to stoke anti-immigrant fear and get his base out to the polls. But many studies, including 2023’s “Immigration and Crime: Taking Stock,” which surveyed more than two decades of research on immigration and crime, show that immigrants are less involved in crime than people born in the United States.

Meanwhile, the United States and other destination countries can continue to benefit both economically and culturally from immigration. A recent Health and Human Services study shows that the benefits of immigration far outweigh its costs in the United States: Between 2005 and 2019, asylum seekers and refugees contributed a net of $124 billion to the US economy. Another analysis by The Denver Gazette indicated that irregular immigration contributed nearly $2 billion to Colorado’s economy while costing taxpayers only about $200 million.

The United States needs a new approach that addresses the reasons people are compelled to move and makes better plans for increased human mobility. Global migration will continue to increase due to ongoing conflicts, economic conditions, changing demographics, climate and environmental factors, and the need for family reunification. The United States cannot enforce its way out of this reality.

The US government and political candidates should pivot to boldly sharing the truth about immigrants, such as how immigrants contribute to cultural and economic benefits in the United States and to my beloved borderlands. And the US government should invest in what communities need. For a fraction of the billions of dollars spent on border deterrence policies and infrastructure, including the wall, the United States could create more safe pathways for human mobility, establish welcoming centers at ports of entry that facilitate orderly, humane border governance processes, and adequately fund these processes so that legal status can be fairly and efficiently determined.

Border communities are struggling, but not due to migration in the way Biden and Trump’s visits tried to signal. The US government should also help build healthier, thriving communities — including in the borderlands, by delivering the health-care services, schools, and infrastructure that people across the United States need.

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