President Biden is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, and in advance of that annual event Gallup polled 1,011 U.S. adults between January 2 and 22 to assess the “Mood of the Nation”. Its headline says it all, “Americans Still Glum About State of the Union in Most Areas”, but one area of particular discontent is “immigration”. The late Barbara Jordan is vindicated, yet again.
The “State of the Union” Address. Article II, section 3, clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which delineates the president’s legislative role, states that the chief executive “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”.
That constitutional duty is the basis for what has come to be known as the “State of the Union” address, though it wasn’t always called that. From 1790 to 1946, it was the “Annual Message”, but informally was known as the “State of the Union” between 1942 and 1946, when the current name was adopted.
Presidents Washington and Adams delivered their SOTU addresses in person between 1790 and 1800, but Thomas Jefferson set a trend that lasted for more that a century by skipping the ceremony and sending his SOTU in writing in 1801.
Why did Jefferson literally just “mail it in”? You can read his letter of explanation (Jefferson liked sending missives, writing 20,000 in his lifetime and inventing a “polygraph” so that he could keep copies), but basically he wasn’t interested in wasting legislators’ time and wanted them to mull over his proposals before responding. He also wasn’t a great speaker, apparently, and despised pomp.
One man who loved frippery was his fellow Virginian (turned New Jerseyite) Woodrow Wilson. In December 1913, he delivered his SOTU before the assembled House and Senate, creating the modern trend. Lame duck Jimmy Carter did decide to simply send his last SOTU in 1981 to Congress in writing, but that was four days before Ronald Reagan took office, and likely for the best.
The Gallup Poll and Americans’ Satisfaction. In any event, the Gallup poll found that most Americans (65 percent) are satisfied with the overall quality of life in the United States, but that’s down four points from Gallup’s polling last year at this time.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Respondents were slightly more bullish about the opportunities available to Americans to get ahead by working hard than last year, by a 61 percent to 60 percent margin.
And respondents were slightly more enthusiastic about the size and power of the federal government (33 percent satisfied this year; 32 percent satisfied in 2022) and about our system of government and how well it works (33 percent in the latest poll, compared to 30 percent last year). That said, there aren’t many cheerleaders for D.C. out there.
Satisfaction with the Level of Immigration Today. One area in which Americans are increasingly dissatisfied, however, is immigration.
When asked whether they were “very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied” with the level of immigration into the United States today, just 28 percent answered that they were very or somewhat satisfied.
By comparison, in last year’s Gallup poll, 34 percent stated that they were very or somewhat satisfied with the number of immigrants coming into the country. That’s a pretty big (six point or 17 percent) drop from what was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the current levels of immigration.
By comparison, 64 percent of respondents were satisfied with the nation’s military preparedness (up from 61 percent in 2022), 62 percent with the position of women here (a two-point climb), and 55 percent with our security from terrorism (an 8 percent rise).
Not surprisingly, there was a partisan split on the issue of satisfaction with current levels of immigration. Some 40 percent of Democrats were satisfied with the level at which immigrants were entering the United States, while only 32 percent of Independents were. Republicans, on the other hand, were really dissatisfied — just 10 percent of them were on the plus side of the immigration-satisfaction ledger.
Harvard/Harris. The problem with the Gallup poll’s question is that dissatisfaction with current levels of immigration can be read as Americans either wanting a whole lot more or a whole lot less. As I explained in a January 25 post, the sentiments seem to be that Americans increasingly want to cut the level of immigration to the United States.
That post focused on a January 20 Harvard/Harris poll, which revealed that 43 percent of registered voters wanted less legal immigration, while 32 percent wanted more legal immigration, and a quarter — 25 percent — wanted legal immigration to remain the same. “In other words”, I explained, “more than two-thirds of registered voters want legal immigration to be cut or remain static.”
That Harvard/Harris poll also showed that just 37 percent of respondents approved of Biden’s handling of immigration — the president’s lowest marks in that poll, aside from his handling of inflation (36 percent approval).
Biden’s Laissez-Faire Attitude Toward Illegal Entrants. By any objective measure, the Biden administration has taken a laissez-faire attitude toward migrants entering the United States illegally, in contravention of the limits Congress has set on how many foreign nationals are allowed to come in.
Between February 2021 (Biden’s first full month in office) and the end of November 2022, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border have apprehended more than 4.2 million illegal migrants.
Of those 4.2 million-plus illegal migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico line, roughly 2.039 million were expelled under CDC orders issued pursuant to Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The remainder, just fewer than 2.176 million illegal migrants, were processed under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Under section 235(b) of the INA, all of those migrants who were processed for removal should have been detained — from the moment they were apprehended until they were either granted asylum or removed. Despite that mandate, approximately 1.8 million of those migrants were released into the United States.
In addition to those aliens who were apprehended and released by DHS, more than 389,000 other illegal migrants (known colloquially as “got-aways”) evaded agents and also entered the country successfully over the Southwest border in FY 2021, as did some 599,000 more in FY 2022, and nearly 294,000 others in the first 120 days of FY 2023.
If you add the 1.8 million aliens who have been apprehended and released by CBP to the 1.282 million got-aways since FY 2021, you get to nearly 3.1 million new illegal migrants in the United States under the Biden administration.
Americans are increasing realizing the true scope of the disaster at the Southwest border, and therefore, taking the Gallup and Harvard/Harris polls in conjunction with one another, the only logical conclusion is that Biden’s de facto open borders policies have quelled Americans interest in immigration generally.
Destroying Our Commitment to Immigration. Which brings me to Barbara Jordan.
Jordan — a civil rights icon — was a former congresswoman from Texas when President Clinton named her chairwoman of the Commission on Immigration Reform in 1994. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in September of that year, Jordan explained:
If we cannot control illegal immigration, we cannot sustain our national interest in legal immigration. Those who come here illegally, and those who hire them, will destroy the credibility of our immigration policies and their implementation. In the course of that, I fear, they will destroy our commitment to immigration itself.
The Gallup and Harvard/Harris polls, read in conjunction with one another, reveal that the process Jordan warned about — whereby virtually unfettered immigration destroys Americans’ commitment to immigration — is now happening before our eyes.
Fortunately, Jordan offered a solution: credibility in our immigration policy, which, as she succinctly defined in 1995: “Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave”.
To save America’s waning commitment to legal immigration, President Biden should heed Barbara Jordan’s wise counsel, and “keep out” those migrants who have no right to enter, and require those aliens who should not be here to leave.