On February 7, President Biden delivered the annual State of the Union (SOTU) address. Biden made clear he’s a “capitalist” but called for a “billionaire minimum tax”, decried non-compete clauses for the “cashier at a burger place”, and demanded raises for “public school teachers”. But, he offered just 117 words on immigration — a topic that the “elephants in the room” — the House GOP conference—have made a priority in the current 118th Congress. That’s short shrift for an issue of such concern to Americans, but even those 117 words lacked sincerity.
“Biden’s Border Fiasco”. When he entered office, Joe Biden was gifted what his first Border Patrol Chief, Rodney Scott, described in a September 2021 letter to Congress as “arguably the most effective border security in” U.S. history.
According to Scott, however, control rapidly disintegrated as “border security recommendations from experienced career professionals” were “ignored and stymied by inexperienced political employees”.
Those inexperienced political appointees were likely just following their boss’s lead, because Biden himself quickly revoked nearly all of the policies his immediate predecessor had implemented to create the “effective border security” Scott described.
Most significantly, however, in a break with all of his predecessors in the Oval Office, Biden rejected even the deterrence of illegal entrants a border strategy. Instead of preventing inadmissible aliens from entering the United States, he and his DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, welcomed the world in with promises of “safe, orderly, and legal pathways for individuals to be able to access our legal system”.
The results of that strategy are clear to see. In FY 2021, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended nearly 1.66 million illegal migrants — a new annual record — even as another 389,000 aliens (known colloquially as “got aways”) crossed that border illegally and successfully evaded apprehension.
That apprehension record did not stand for long, because in FY 2022, agents caught more than 2.2 million illegal migrants at the U.S.-Mexico line, while an additional 599,000 other illicit entrants got away scot-free.
Not much changed in the first three months of FY 2023, as Border Patrol apprehensions exceeded 633,000, a figure that fails to account for 137,000 got-aways.
Even though the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) mandates that DHS detain all illegal entrants—from the point they are apprehended until they are either granted asylum or removed—the department has released more than 1.8 million of them on Biden’s watch. Cities — large and small — across the country are struggling to deal with the costs of providing for the influx of those new arrivals.
In that vein, I will note that Biden also called on Congress to “get more families access to affordable and quality housing” in the SOTU — an effort that this surge of newly arrived migrants will thwart, not expedite.
Reviewing the situation at our southern boundary in August, the editorial board at the (left-leaning) Bloomberg Opinion deemed the resultant disaster “Biden’s Border Fiasco” in a call for leadership on the issue.
Recent Polling. That call for leadership (or at least a new direction from the leadership we have now) to fix the ongoing border crisis has been reflected in several recent surveys.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between February 3 and 5 of 1,029 U.S. adults, “immigration” was identified as the third-most pressing issue (out of a list of 13 possible choices) facing the country today, trailing only the “economy, unemployment, and jobs” and “crime or corruption” as concerns.
Notably, it was also the second-leading priority that respondents expected the president to address, behind only the “U.S. economy” and running well ahead of “employment and jobs”, “corruption”, and even “taxation”. Not that respondents have high hopes of Biden doing so — just 28 percent of those polled approved of the president’s performance in handling the issue, while 54 percent disapproved.
Curiously, that was one of Biden’s better showings of late. In a Fox News poll of 1,003 registered voters, taken between January 27 and 30, 61 percent of respondents disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration, continuing a trend of ratings on the issue in the 60 to 62 percent disapproval range in that poll that have lingered since December 2021.
Worse from the president’s perspective, when CBS News surveyed 2,030 U.S. adults in a poll conducted between February 1 and 4, 64 percent of respondents disapproved of Biden’s handling of immigration — his highest disapproval rating in that poll, aside from his handling of inflation (66 percent disapproval).
Immigration in the SOTU. All of which suggests that the American people want a change in what the White House is offering in terms of border security, but that’s not what the president was selling in the 117 words that he used to discuss the issue in the SOTU:
And let’s also come together on immigration and make it a bipartisan issue like it was before.
We now have a record number of personnel working to secure the border, arresting 8,000 human smugglers and seizing over 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the last several months.
Since we launched our new border plan last month, unlawful migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela has come down 97%.
But America’s border problems won’t be fixed until Congress acts.
If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border. And a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers.
Immigration as a Bipartisan Issue. There’s a lot to unpack there, but I will start with immigration as a bipartisan issue. It was not that long ago — September 1996 — that a bipartisan Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) as part of that year’s omnibus spending bill.
That bill passed the Senate on a final vote of 72 to 27, and among those voting “yea” were such stalwart liberals as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) — and Joe Biden (D-Del.).
IIRIRA was a complete overhaul of the immigration system, and included many of the provisions in the INA—like the border detention mandate in section 235(b) — that President Biden is now flouting.
Of course, there’s also the REAL ID Act, passed in May 2005 as part of that year’s emergency supplemental funding bill. Among other things, that act addressed fraud in the asylum system and reformed the immigration appeals process.
It passed the Senate on a unanimous final vote — 100 to 0. That one also garnered the votes of Sens. Boxer, Inouye, Kennedy, Mikulski, and Biden — plus current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Finally, there’s the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (SFA), an effort to secure America’s land borders with barriers and other infrastructure. It became law in October 2006, passing the Senate on a vote of 80 to 19. Sen. Boxer was a yea on that one, as were Sens. Mikulski and Schumer.
Sen. Kennedy did not vote on the Secure Fence Act (I believe he was ill) and Sen. Inouye voted “nay”, but the SFA received up votes from Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — and, of course, Joe Biden.
Significantly, the SFA directed the DHS secretary to “take all actions [he] determines necessary and appropriate to achieve and maintain operational control over the entire international land and maritime borders of the United States”.
Lest there be any doubt about the burden Congress placed on the secretary, the SFA went to great pains to define “operational control” as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband”.
Despite that rather explicit definition, as the foregoing reveals, operational security at the Southwest border has degraded into a virtual nullity under the watch of current DHS Secretary Mayorkas.
Nonetheless, last April the secretary assured the House Judiciary Committee that his department has achieved operational control of that border, although before the Senate later that month, Mayorkas contended that under the definition in the SFA, “this country has never had operational control” of the Southwest border.
Not surprisingly, Mayorkas’ failure to attain operational control of the border is a key point in an impeachment resolution filed against him in the House, and his congressional testimony on the issue is yet another one.
DHS is taking that resolution and a separate one more recently filed seriously, hiring white-shoe law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to, in its words, “help ensure the Department’s vital mission is not interrupted by the unprecedented, unjustified, and partisan impeachment efforts by some Members of Congress, who have already taken steps to initiate proceedings”.
Record Number of Personnel, Smuggler Arrests, and Drug Seizures. There is little if any visibility into CBP staffing at the Southwest border. Border Patrol’s published staffing statistics have not been updated since FY 2020, when there were fewer than 17,000 agents along the entire 1,954 miles of the Southwest border, for example.
That said, it should come as no surprise that there are now “a record number of personnel working to secure the border”—the border has never been in this bad a shape in recorded history, and it would be an even worse dereliction of duty for the administration not to throw as many resources at the problem as possible.
That said, it was hardly an applause line in the president’s speech. A “one-alarm fire” is the easiest to fight, and called that because it requires the fewest responding vehicles and personnel. When there’s a two-alarm fire, more vehicles and firefighters are called, and more equipment brought in. “After a 2 alarm fire call goes out, there can potentially be up to 13 emergency vehicles on the scene of the fire”.
Five-alarm fires are rare, but when they happen, “20+ fire engine companies, 11 ladder companies, at least one squad company, and one rescue company, as well as multiple specialized units such as supply shops, air support, hazardous materials vehicles”, etc. are typically summoned.
The president is, essentially, saying that there is a five-alarm fire at the Southwest border, but he apparently fails to appreciate that he’s the one holding the matches.
The same is true of his statements about records being set with respect to smuggler arrests and drug seizures. The reason why there are so many smuggler arrests is because there are so many smugglers bringing so many migrants now, at Biden’s perhaps inadvertent invitation.
And, in his September 2021 letter, Chief Scott detailed the method by which cartels direct human smugglers to send large numbers of those migrants across the border to draw away agents and create gaps for drug runners to exploit. Respectfully, the records that the president cited in the SOTU were more indicative of a border out of control, not under it.
As for the purported 97 percent decrease in illegal entries by nationals of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba, I have explained elsewhere why the “parole” program for nationals of those countries the president credits with that decline is both illegal (it’s already the subject of a court challenge in Texas) and ultimately futile, given that illegal entries from nationals of other countries are already soaring.
Amnesty. Then there are the president’s calls for passage of his “comprehensive immigration reform”, or at least “a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers”.
As my colleague, Mark Krikorian, explained in January 2021, just after Biden took office and introduced that “reform” plan, it consists of little more than a massive amnesty, but worse:
The radicalism of Biden’s approach is that it rejects both enforcement first and enforcement second in favor of enforcement never. To those who want assurances that the president will at least enforce immigration laws after an amnesty, the new administration’s answer is that of Judge Smails in Caddyshack: “You’ll get nothing, and like it.”
In other words, not only would that plan do nothing to address the humanitarian disaster at the Southwest border, but it’s also not even a serious starting point for negotiations.
As for the pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” — migrants who entered the United States as children — as Schumer all-but admitted in November, that’s little more than a stalking horse for a “comprehensive” amnesty, or in his words “a path to citizenship for all 11 million, or however many undocumented, there are here”.
And Biden’s proposed “pathway to citizenship for ... those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers” is more of the same.
Poking the Bear and Rising to the Bait. Biden clearly considers many in the House Republican conference — and many Republicans generally for that matter — to be hotheaded extremists. Remember in September when he spoke at Independence Hall in Philadelphia and proclaimed: “there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country”?
Little in the president’s SOTU was serious, but then few of his immigration “enforcement” proposals have been either — which is why the Southwest border’s in the shape it is. Biden’s 117-word discourse before that joint session of Congress was little more than an attempt to rile up his Republican opponents, to “poke the bear” (or in this case, elephant) and thus trigger a response he can use to justify his characterizations of the Party of Lincoln.
The House GOP conference should not rise to the bait. The Southwest border is worse than a disaster; it’s a vulnerability to our national security and sovereignty, and will require a sober, rational, and reasoned response. Instead of revisiting Biden’s unserious SOTU, House Republicans should reflect instead on the one President Bill Clinton delivered in January 1995. As he explained:
We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.