Latinx Files: The trouble with the border ‘crisis’

Men, women and children along a railing.
Families with children older than 7 are being returned to Mexico soon after crossing illegally. They have no money and say they won’t go back to Guatemala.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

If you’ve kept up with the news in the last month, chances are you’ve heard or read about what’s often called a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where people from Central America have been migrating in waves after Joe Biden became president.

The numbers paint a more complicated picture. One recent analysis published by the Washington Post of data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection found no such crisis. Tom K. Wong, associate professor and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego, and UCSD graduate students Gabriel De Roche and Jesus Rojas Venzor attributed the rise in apprehensions to the seasonal nature of undocumented immigration, which has historically gone up during this time of the year. There was a similar uptick in apprehensions around this time in 2018 and 2019.

But what about the fact that border crossings are on pace to be the highest in two decades? According to Wong, De Roche and Rojas Venzor, that increase is due at least partially to the pandemic. They note that “in fiscal year 2021, it appears that migrants are continuing to enter the United States in the same numbers as in fiscal year 2019 — plus the pent-up demand from people who would have come in fiscal year 2020, but for the pandemic.”

Their conclusion — that the numbers risk being blown out of proportion and need proper context — is consistent with what my colleague Cindy Carcamo wrote about in her explainer from last week on the rise in the number of unaccompanied minors at the border.

Carcamo points out that Customs and Border Protection changed their terminology in 2020, moving from apprehensions to encounters. “It’s problematic to compare them, because encounters can mean multiple attempted crossings by one person, artificially inflating the numbers,” she notes. “CBP estimates the rate of recidivism, or repeat crossings, at 40%.”


But the real tragedy in all of this is that it doesn’t seem to matter what’s really going on at the border.

The moment the phrase “border crisis” is uttered, it is willed into existence. Broadcast media aren’t helping. According to an analysis by Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group, the major television news outlets have used the word “surge” or border “crisis” at least 138 times in 2021. Just last week, ABC News’ Sunday punditry show, “This Week,” filmed next to the border wall in El Paso.

If you repeat it enough, folks will believe it’s definite. Once they do, the optics of a crisis at the border become a liability for one political party and a weapon for the other.

Last week, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers and would grant permanent residence to people with temporary protection status. I don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that this bill doesn’t have a chance in the Senate under current rules.

Nearly all legislation currently requires 60 votes to circumvent a Senate filibuster. Democrats have an option to enact policy through a special legislative procedure that doesn’t allow for a filibuster and would require only 50 votes for passage. But there are limitations to what kind of legislation can be approved in this method, such as that all policies have to be directly related to the federal budget, and it is unclear how much immigration policy can be enacted this way.

Senate Democrats do not have the 60 votes they would need. Their Republican colleagues have all but said so themselves.

“Unfortunately, what’s happening at the border right now is going to inflame people’s emotions a lot, and I think make anything harder to do, which I think is very regrettable,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) recently told reporters.

“I think it’s going to be really hard to get a bipartisan bill put together on anything that has a legalization component until you stop the flow,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has been on both sides of the immigration reform debate so many times that his position on the matter also feels cyclical.

We have been here before. Democrats held the House and the Senate at the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, and there was promise of immigration reform. Then it was derailed by a manufactured crisis at the border, and nothing came to pass.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

For Boston Globe opinion columnist Marcela Garcia, the fixation on calling it a crisis does more harm than it helps.

“We’re seeing another cycle of overblown rhetoric about the border,” she writes. “The nation has a new chance at passing historic immigration legislation that fully embraces the millions of undocumented young people and workers living in the shadows, and other Biden-sponsored plans to give targeted aid to Central America. Instead, we’re debating semantics. That’s the real crisis.”


Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Reader Mari Anne Chan remembers her father, Frank Armendariz, who died of COVID-19

The Latinx Files is dedicating space to readers who want to share memories of family members who have died because of COVID-19. I’ll be including these in the newsletter whenever I get them in my inbox. If you would like some space to grieve or share your own story, you can email me at

My father, Frank (Francisco) Armendariz, passed away on Dec. 27 three weeks before his memory care facility was scheduled to vaccinate the residents and staff.

My father was born and raised in Boyle Heights. He dropped out of Roosevelt High School and joined the Navy when his eldest brother, Victor, was killed defending our country during World War II. After his service, my father took advantage of the GI Bill to continue his education. He earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential, and then began his career in education.

Frank Armendariz poses for the camera while wearing a Navy cap
Frank Armendariz was a veteran and a devoted educator.
(Margie Stephens / Courtesy of Mari Anne Chan)

After several years in the classroom, my father was promoted to an administrative position with Youth Services at the Los Angeles Unified School District. He promoted the hiring of young Latino college students to serve as playground directors and workers. My father believed that the only way to a fulfilled life was through education. “Education is power, mija.” My father was also integral in establishing the Assn. of Mexican American Educators. The current treasurer of the East L.A. chapter said of him, “He captured the soul of AMAE when he created AMAE’s logo, El Fuego Nuevo.” In my humble opinion, my father was a trailblazer for our community.


Working with students was my father’s great passion. As principal of Hollenbeck Junior High School, he insisted on putting the needs of students first. He did his best to nurture an environment in which students could thrive. He had a deep faith in students and always believed in their potential to succeed. He believed in giving even the most challenging student a second chance. He worked hard at promoting the idea that parents are partners in the education of their children and did his best to keep an open line of communication between parents and the school. He believed that every student deserved not only a quality education but also a safe and beautiful environment in which to receive that education. One of his hobbies was gardening, and he is famous for planting a rose garden on the Hollenbeck campus in an attempt to beautify the grounds.

When my father was promoted to superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District’s Administrative Area 2, the Latino population in the school district was growing rapidly. With that growth came a tremendous amount of turmoil. I have to say that I don’t believe my father was a teachers’ administrator. His empathy was with the students. He believed the job of an educator is to meet the needs of the students. It was a very challenging time for my father, but through it all he always had a positive attitude. After leaving the office of superintendent, my father became the principal at Nimitz Junior High School. Nimitz was, at that time, one of the largest junior highs in the country. It had a whole set of its own problems, from gang activity to low achievement. Again, with a positive attitude and a belief that students deserve our best, my father faced those problems head-on.

After retiring from L.A. Unified, my father had more time to nurture a few more of his passions. He started a landscape business, worked as a consultant with Hispanic Engineering and frequently substituted in the Montebello school district. He and my mother, his “Gran Amor,” traveled all over the world. When my mom passed away in 2017, they had been married 67 years and had traveled to more than 30 countries.

My parents had a unique relationship for their time. From my perspective, Dad always supported my mom’s educational endeavors; she also was an educator. Although I saw them fall into many traditional household roles, I also saw my dad assume some very untraditional roles. He liked to cook. He made his own chorizo, and on Saturdays, he would let my mom sleep in, and he would get up early, go buy fresh tortillas de mano and cook up a great breakfast. He also made menudo, and at Christmas he was the official tamale maker in our home. My cousin recently showed me the tamale recipe my dad gave him. It was handwritten on primary school paper!

As I mentioned, he loved to garden. At one point, we had two plum trees, one orange and one lemon tree, an apricot tree, a fig tree and a vegetable garden. He was also known for his rose garden. He loved showing it off to family and friends who came to the “tardeadas.” The mariachi music and tequila were always abundant in Frank Armendariz’s backyard. Family was very important to my dad. He was very close to his siblings, John, Minnie, Alex and Sophie. He traveled to Oahu often to visit his brother Victor, who is buried in the Punchbowl national cemetery. “Never forget,” he would say.

After my mom passed away, I was fortunate to be able to spend more one-on-one time with my dad. He told me stories about growing up with his siblings in Boyle Heights. They used to “borrow” bikes and ride all over the city; they hiked in Chavez Ravine before the Dodgers came to L.A.; they picked walnuts in the groves that were abundant just east of the San Gabriel River. “I miss my brothers and sisters,” he would tell me. Only his brother Alex is still alive. “Asi va todos,” he would say, and then reminded me not to forget family, to stay close and remember.

My dad loved life. He always seemed happy and had a positive attitude and smile. His smile lighted up his eyes.

I believe that is what most people will remember about my father — his smile and his positive attitude. It is what I will remember best. My father was a kind and loving human being. My daily phone calls with him always began with, “Mija, how wonderful to hear your voice,” and end with, “If there is anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask.” I miss those calls. Darn COVID!

It’s not lost on me that Selena Quintanilla has very much been a presence in this newsletter. On the one hand, it makes complete sense: Selena’s cultural impact and legacy haven’t waned in the nearly 26 years since her death.

On the other, I worry that writing about her with such frequency might result in Selena fatigue for you. (Trust me, as someone who’s worked in Latinx media for a decade, this is very much a real thing.) So while I won’t institute a moratorium, I’ll be more mindful about how and when I talk about her.

This week, though, I felt like this personal essay by Cat Cardenas, part of Texas Monthly’s special issue commemorating the slain singer on what would have been her 50th birthday, definitely deserves your attention, because it asks the reader to do something that feels so radical: Stop seeing Selena as godlike, and recognize her humanity.


“While most of us recognize Selena’s tenacity, Cardenas writes, “that halo we’ve placed above her head has turned her into an infallible figure she never pretended to be. To truly understand what was lost when Selena died, new generations of fans need to see her as a person, not a myth.”

You can find the rest of Texas Monthly’s coverage here.

Meet our Latinx staff: Iliana Limón Romero

The Los Angeles Times employs more than 100 Latinx journalists. One of the goals of this newsletter is for you to meet them all. This week, we highlight Iliana Limón Romero, a fellow Tejana who was recently named deputy sports editor. She talked to us about how journalism is in her blood.

I’m still getting used to saying I work at the Los Angeles Times. I grew up in El Paso and spent a lot of summers visiting family in Mexico. My mom’s side of the family once owned a newspaper in Torreón. My cousins and I got to take a tour of the paper right after I finished the second grade. I was mesmerized watching the presses run.

I always asked a lot of questions, loved to read, loved to write and loved sports. But my family’s belief that journalism was a noble profession really gave me the confidence to pursue a career in journalism. I have hundreds of relatives across the United States and Mexico who were ecstatic when they found out I got hired by The Times, and I’m working every day to make them proud. I also hope to open the door for others, so that there are a lot more people who look like me at the highest levels of sports editing in this industry.

The best thing on the Latinternet: This 4-year-old British girl is Bidi Bidi Bom Bom-ing her way into our hearts


Shoutout to my homie Brian Huntington for adding a little joy to my week by making me aware that the above video existed. In it, we see Mali Kabs, easily the world’s most adorable polyglot, stunt on her dad by speaking in several languages and topping it all off with a passionate singalong of Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.”

If this video doesn’t make you at least smile, call your cardiologist ASAP, because you might not have a heart.