BIG COUNTRY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – In a recent interview with News Director Manny Diaz on Big Country Politics, journalist Rafael Bernal, a staff writer for thehill.com, delved into various issues, including immigration, border dynamics, and the evolving landscape of Hispanic representation in American politics.
Bernal started off as an attorney in Mexico City but decided to pursue journalism in the United States. He shared that he never expected to end up in Washington, DC.
“But now I spent nearly eight years covering the Hispanic political world, like you said, relationships with, with the hemisphere, a lot of the border, a lot of specifically US Mexico relations. And it’s fascinating. I don’t see myself getting out of this world anytime soon,” Bernal said.
He recently published a piece on the Hill titled ‘Elevated border numbers are the new normal.’
“I think the important takeaway from the story is that people are coming; people are already on the migrant trail. Everybody has their own reasons, there are a million different reasons well, why people choose to come. And the United States, as a matter of policy that as a matter of law, has very little, a very short field of action of how it can receive or not receive those people,” Bernal shared. “There are now smuggling networks that have grown to meet that demand. And they might be even exacerbating that demand. And the question of how to deal with this. How to manage this reality is what’s really worrying actual policymakers.”
Bernal said there are two main proposals being discussed in Washington: shutting down the border or adapting to the situation.
“And the other side of, you know, the serious argument is sort of let’s manage this, this new normal this, this massive immigration that we see in the 21st century, really all around the world. In the Americas, we have a certain amount of luck that we have a lot in common between all the countries on the continent, even though it sometimes feels like it doesn’t,” Bernal said.
He also talked about the intricacies of how migrants are using smugglers to enter the country.
“Smuggling operations have changed a lot over the last 30 years; there was the era from the 70s and 80s… is to help people just across the border, there’s usually a very, like almost strictly economic migrants from Mexico, as demographics changed. So you started seeing more people from Central America. You see people from the Caribbean taking that route, especially from Haiti, and people from South America, particularly from Venezuela, a country that’s just in absolute collapse,” Bernal explained.
Bernal said the smuggling networks weren’t originally there. These networks were established as businesses by smugglers who recognized an opportunity as more people arrived.
“So you do have some parts of those smuggling networks that are very closely tied to drug cartels, for instance, or other forms of organized crime. And then you have sort of cells of smuggling networks that, for instance, dedicate themselves to renting out boats to get across parts of the Darien Gap in Panama,” Bernal said. “Or just almost like small businessmen, they are doing something illegal, but… they’re very detached from the cartels. If anything, they have to pay the cartels not to be bothered. They’re also, in a way, victims of the cartels.”
He mentioned that stopping smuggling networks cannot be achieved through individual arrests and that dismantling it would prove difficult.
“It’s such a loose network that dismantling it if it ever comes to that. If there ever isn’t an effort to dismantle it, it will be as difficult, if not more difficult, than what we’ve seen over the drug war over the last 40 or 50 years,” Bernal said. “But on the other hand, most border experts also warn against, you know, targeting smugglers first. That is not the widely recognized, you know, what weak point or an entry into a solution or entry into better management of this phenomenon.”
There have been a number of interviews done with mainstream media and the Biden administration in which they’ve been asked if America is encountering a border crisis, and the response has been danced around. Bernal said that crisis is a subjective word, and it’s best to be careful with that term.
“Crisis is a very subjective term. So it’s difficult to assign it to the whole border. I do believe there have been flashes of crisis, you know, border cities whose social services are overwhelmed, they enter into crisis. Now, if you talk about the entire phenomenon of Western Hemisphere migration, it is definitely… a big challenge to deal with,” Bernal said. “You know, governments are not set up for large masses of people moving from one place to the other. But at the same time, it’s one of the oldest human activities there are. So it is up to governments to manage this adequately and to not let, for instance, organized crime make a living out of abusing this phenomenon.”
He shared some examples of what he would call a crisis, such as the state of Haiti and the unmitigated crisis in Venezuela.
“So there are individual crises, but to call the entire border crisis, you would have to see something like the collapse of the Border Patrol that it’s not the case; they do have a problem with retaining workers, for instance, you know, retaining their own talent. That’s a problem. But has it risen to crisis levels? Again, it’s subjective, but I would I would argue that it’s best to be careful with that word,” Bernal explained.
Bernal recently wrote a piece about children being separated at the US-Mexico border and how they had no interaction with their parents.
“Well, the alarming part was that the people who were detained, the families who were detained, weren’t told to have the right to talk to each other, even when they were put in different locations,” Bernal said. “But when those kids, the older ones, or the younger ones who were separated for other reasons, are not told that they can talk to their parents or that they can ask to be contacted with their parents, that is a problem because then you have that traumatic separation, that you know, it really hurts people and especially hurts children. But most of these families that when they are released, they are released together. And that is a very big difference. Very important point to make.”
When it comes to the discussion of how to address this situation, Bernal said there are very starkly different visions of the border.
“There are some talks on certain parts about immigration, about undocumented immigrants, particularly like farmworkers, you do see some beds where you have some very conservative Republicans and some very liberal Democrats, and they agree on, you know, maybe we should you know, somebody has been a farm worker in this country for 20 years, and they haven’t gotten in trouble. Let’s look at how to get the papers; that kind of Congress conversation is going on,” Bernal shared.
However, when it comes to the political party aspect, the conversation changes to some other proposals.
“When you get to the conversation about the border, even Republicans and Democrats who agree with each other on immigration issues they’re completely at odds on the border. And it’s just Republicans cannot afford to go to a Republican primary, saying anything other than shut the border down; that has become a mantra of the Republican base. And Republicans, if they want to get reelected, they have to say that,” Bernal shared. “On the other flip side, Democrats, if they want to get reelected, and they want to win their primaries, they can say nothing like that. They have to talk about technology. They have to talk about, you know, funding, border patrol, and CBP, you know, that kind of solution, making it more manageable rather than, you know, attempting to stop it in one go.”
Bernal said with the looming threat of a government shutdown and other factors, it has been a difficult Hispanic Heritage Month. However, he is still seeing progress.
This has been a difficult Hispanic Heritage Month. You know, it started off with a party as they as they usually do in Washington. But the looming government shutdown, Senator Bob Menendez, his scandal, a lot of things have been tainted. It doesn’t feel very celebratory,” Bernal shared. “But I do have to say that, on a personal level, I’ve been covering this community is fascinating. And since I’ve been covering it, Latino representation and participation in politics has grown, and it continues to grow. It’s becoming very interwoven into American democracy.”
He added that while the community has grown and progressed, representation is still needed.
“The Latino community has sort of popped up and made its presence felt. It’s still not representative. You don’t have 20% of Congress isn’t Hispanic; 20% of the country is Hispanic. And in states like Texas and California, you know, it’s there. We are the largest, the largest ethnic group. But it is a growing representation,” Bernal said. “It is a growing field of Hispanic Journalists, covering the community and just covering American politics in general and American issues. And you see them in, in sports journalism, as you see it’s like everywhere, and I think that that’s definitely a positive movement.”
Visit the hill.com to see more of Bernal’s work on topics such as global migration and the Hispanic political world and the policy issues surrounding it.