The Battle of the Biden Border Czars

The question ‘Who’s the boss?’ may be why policies on border releases and Covid-19 make no sense

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 2, 2021

In my last post, I noted: “Vice President Kamala Harris is apparently the new ‘border czar’ — sort of.” My hesitancy was not without reason, because it is not clear whether Harris or former Ambassador Roberta Jacobson is in charge of policy. The confusion may explain why our border policy makes no sense, and is out of step with the rules under which Americans — citizens and legal aliens — are forced to live.

Of course, there is no formal “czar” (a term denoting the autocrat in certain Eastern European countries, most notably the Russian empire), but the executive branch has used the term loosely for almost 60 years to describe an official with a portfolio that includes the duties of other officials.

A “border czar” would therefore have the ability to craft policy in DHS (for CBP, USCIS, ICE, and FEMA), the State Department (to the degree that foreign policy is involved), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, for unaccompanied children and health screenings), and possibly other departments and agencies — including state and local — as well.

I called for the appointment of such a border czar during the “humanitarian and security crisis” at the Southwest border in 2019, and needless to say, we need one now more than we did then: Migrants are dying and children are living in overcrowded shelters, as I noted on March 31. Do we have one, though?

On March 25, the White House identified Jacobson as the “Special Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Southwest Border”. That sounds like a “border czar”, to me.

On March 24, however, Politico reported that the president had made Harris the “point person on immigration issues amid border surge”. That also seems to fit the job description.

There is a saying that “too many cooks spoil the broth” — that is, more leads on any project, be it cooking or anything else, often aren’t always better than one.

Which may explain why Biden administration policies — and in particular border policy (such as it is) — make no sense, and appear contradictory.

On March 16, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asserted:

Families apprehended at the southwest border are ... currently being expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority. Families from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries are expelled to Mexico unless Mexico does not have the capacity to receive the families. Families from countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle are expelled by plane to their countries of origin.

On March 31, however, my colleague Todd Bensman described a bus that was carrying Haitian families who had recently been apprehended near Del Rio, Texas, headed for the interior (there were Cuban and Venezuelan migrants, as well). Haiti is on the island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean — not in Mexico, nor is it one of the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.

And, according to an April 1 article in the Washington Post: “Overwhelmed and underprepared, U.S. authorities are releasing migrant families on the Mexican border without notices to appear in immigration court or sometimes without any paperwork at all — time-saving moves that have left some migrants confused.”

They aren’t the only ones who are “confused” — that is not even legal, as it violates the “expedited removal” procedures for such “arriving aliens” in section 235(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Similarly, the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

In a press briefing on March 29 at the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky talked about her “recurring feeling ... of impending doom” about the virus, explaining:

The trajectory of the pandemic in the United States looks similar to many other countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy, and France looked like just a few weeks ago. And since that time, those countries have experienced a consistent and worrying spike in cases. We are not powerless; we can change this trajectory of the pandemic. But it will take all of us, recommitting to following the public health prevention strategies consistently, while we work to get the American public vaccinated. [Emphasis added.]

Well, that sounds scary, and like an effort we should all get behind.

But the Washington Post reported on March 14 that migrants who had tested positive for Covid-19 were being released from DHS custody, and Fox News reported on March 30 that migrant children in CBP custody were not being Covid-19 tested, nor were they able to “social distance”.

In fact, the outlet disclosed that, according to HHS, 10 percent of migrant children eventually test positive for the coronavirus. By comparison, on March 28, Texas Governor Greg Abbott reported the state’s positivity rate was 4.95 percent, and of course most of those tests were of individuals with suspected exposure or symptoms — not a universal or even random sampling.

Speaking of children and the pandemic, on March 30, the New York Post reported that the San Diego County Office of Education had confirmed that it would be providing in-person teaching to young migrants being housed in the San Diego Convention Center, although “local children remain in online-only classes until at least April 12, when the plan is to switch to a hybrid model.”

If it is too dangerous to teach in-class lessons to San Diego’s children, why would it be safe to teach migrant children in San Diego (particularly given their high-positivity rate, above)?

The lack of consistent messaging from the administration on migrant releases and on the dangers of Covid-19 shows that we need just one cook in the kitchen, or in this case, one border czar. Harris or Jacobson would fit the bill — but the president needs to pick somebody, and quick.