By RICH LOWRY
crisis is a terrible thing to create.
This, nonetheless, is what President Joe Biden has done at the southern border.
His rhetoric during the campaign suggesting an open-handed approach to migrants coming to the U.S., and his early moves to undo Donald Trump’s border policies are creating a migrant surge that risks running out of control.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the situation isn’t a crisis, but “a challenge”—an “acute” and “stressful” challenge with some “urgency,” but merely a challenge all the same.
Consider the contours of this challenge. Twice as many people, about 80,000, tried to cross the border illegally in January of this year as compared with January a year ago.
Even though it isn’t peak traveling season yet (that traditionally comes in May and June), U.S. Border Patrol has already begun releasing migrants into U.S. towns on the border, and the number of minors arriving per day is four times higher than in October.
Axios reported on a briefing prepared for Biden that warned that the number of migrants kids is on pace to set a record, and there aren’t nearly enough beds to accommodate them. Per Axios, the briefing projects that an astonishing 117,000 unaccompanied children will show up at the border this year, and it says we’ll need another 20,000 beds.
Health and Human Services, which takes custody of minors, has begun expediting their release to adults in the U.S., and paying their transportation costs.
Meanwhile, the Biden team is reopening detention facilities at the border that drew the ire of Democrats during Trump’s presidency.
Biden officials tend to discuss the “push factors,” the conditions that prompt migrants to flee their countries in Central America. But changing those underlying conditions, even if doable, is a long-term proposition. What we have much more direct control over is the “pull factors,” our own policies and practices that create an incentive to come here.
Trump overemphasized the importance of the border wall, and had a number of false starts at the border, most notoriously the “zero tolerance” policy that led to family separations. By the end, though, he had created an entirely reasonable system based on his lawful authorities to impose order at the border, while still allowing asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the U.S.
There is no good reason to rip up much of this arrangement, though that’s exactly what Biden has done.
During the early stages of the pandemic, Trump had quickly turned around illegal crossers at the border on public health grounds. Biden has created an exception for unaccompanied minors, which is an obvious incentive for families to send children under age 18.
Under Trump, the Migration Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, ended the practice of letting Central American migrants into the U.S. while their asylum claims were adjudicated.
This was crucial because under the old arrangement, asylum seekers were allowed into the U.S. while their claims were considered. Even if the claims were ultimately rejected, as the vast majority of them were, the migrants overwhelmingly ended up staying anyway (we lacked the will and resources to track down and deport them).
This was a huge magnet to migrants—get to the border and claim asylum and you’re in the United States, very likely to stay.
Biden has trashed the Migrant Protection Protocols. No new asylum seekers will be enrolled in the program, and the backlog of people who had been waiting in Mexico are being admitted into the U.S.
He’s also suspended the so-called safe third-country agreements that Trump forged with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to get asylum seekers to apply for asylum in one of those countries (the onset of the pandemic stalled these programs).
The premise of the overall Trump approach was that people who feared for their lives in their home country because of persecution don’t necessarily need to come to the United States to escape. It should be enough for them to go to another country in the region, or if they are indeed applying for asylum in the U.S., to stay in Mexico while doing so.
Allowing them into the U.S., with no reliable internal enforcement mechanism to remove them if their claims are rejected, constitutes an end run around our immigration system. Because migrants, like anyone else, respond to incentives, the more who are allowed in, the more will come. And, since our resources aren’t infinite, if enough families show up at the border, it will inevitably overtax our personnel and facilities.
Obviously, Biden is in a much different place on immigration from Trump, but even if he has different priorities, it makes no sense to create a willy-nilly rush at the border before a supposedly better system is in place (whatever that might be).
Instead of acknowledging that the prior administration, despite everything, had some sensible policies, the Biden team wants to reject it all wholesale.
Mayorkas blames Trump for having “dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety,” a claim as absurd as the notion that the Biden administration started from scratch on vaccinations.
Needless to say, naturalizations and the issuance of green cards had continued apace under Trump. And he had actually gotten a handle on the border, which in 2014 and 2019 had spun out of control, creating a major humanitarian debacle.
Call it what you will, a crisis, or a challenge, or something else, but Biden is on a path to heedlessly repeat this experience.