Breaking News from NYT: Border Enforcement Reduces Illegal Immigration

But the Gray Lady also poisons the argument that it contends to be sparking

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 9, 2023

The New York Times finally conceded this week that “The stringency of border security” influences the number of migrants who enter the United States illegally. It was a remarkable concession from the Gray Lady, but unfortunately it appeared in an article in which there is so much that is wrong, as well – not least of which that the article poisons the very conversation it contends to be sparking.

“Pull Factors in the U.S. Matter”. Here is the full quote in context:

The surge of migrants gathering at the U.S.-Mexico border underscores a point that Democratic Party politicians often try to play down: U.S. border policy has a big effect on how many people try to enter the country illegally.

. . .

When Democrats and progressive activists talk about undocumented immigration, they tend to emphasize forces in other countries — like wars and political oppression — that are beyond the control of the U.S. government. And these outside issues do influence migration flows. The collapse of Venezuela’s economy is a recent example. Experts refer to such forces as “push factors,” because they push people out of their home countries.

But “pull factors” in the U.S. matter as well. The strength of the economy is one. The stringency of border security is another.

When the U.S. makes it difficult for people to enter the country illegally, fewer people make the journey north to try. When the U.S. sends signals that people will be able to cross the border even without permission, and potentially remain here for years, more people attempt to do so.

To be fair, when I describe this as a “concession”, it is more a concession to common sense than anything else. But common sense has been a rare commodity in the immigration debate for years, so even an inkling of it is welcome.

The problem is that none of this is novel, and the Times is about three years too late in making these points. After surveying then-candidate Joe Biden’s various immigration-campaign proposals, I explained:

These policies would, in tandem, serve as a magnet to hundreds of thousands if not millions of migrants seeking illegal entry to the United States, safe in the knowledge that if they were simply able to make it to the Southwest border, they could live and work in the United States indefinitely, regardless of the strength of their asylum claims, or even if they had any such claims at all. They would serve as a "Smuggler's Relief Act", and line the pockets of cartels that charge a "tax" for the transit of every migrant across "their" territory.

Keep in mind that I wrote those words on January 3, 2020 – 383 days before Joe Biden took office. And every prediction that I made therein was correct.

Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 1.66 million illegal migrants in FY 2021, a year in which an additional 389,155 other illegal entrants – known as “got aways” – were detected but evaded agents, to make their way into the interior of the United States.

That was an all-time record for Southwest border apprehensions, but it didn’t stand for long as agents apprehended more than 2.2 million illegal migrants there in FY 2022. Those agents were so overwhelmed apprehending, transporting, caring for, and all-too-often releasing those migrants that nearly 600,000 others “got away” last fiscal year.

Smugglers have gotten rich as a result and cartels have gotten much, much richer. Then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress in 2018 that smugglers and cartels were earning $500 million a year in this racket, a figure that jumped to $13 billion according to the Times in July 2022.

As for “push” and “pull” factors, curiously omitted from the most recent Times article are the findings of federal district court Judge T. Kent Wetherell II in his March opinion in Florida v. U.S.

The state of Florida filed that suit in September 2021, alleging that the Biden administration was ignoring provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that mandate the detention of illegal entrants at the Southwest border.

Eighteen months later, after a massive discovery effort, Judge Wetherell largely agreed, concluding:

Collectively, these [Biden administration border release] actions were akin to posting a flashing “Come In, We’re Open” sign on the southern border. The unprecedented “surge” of aliens that started arriving at the Southwest Border almost immediately after President Biden took office and that has continued unabated over the past two years was a predictable consequence of these actions. Indeed, [Border Patrol Chief Raul] Ortiz credibly testified based on his experience that there have been increases in migration “when there are no consequences” and migrant populations believe they will be released into the country.

So yes, there are push and pull factors that influence illegal migration, but in discussing that very point how does the Times miss a final federal court opinion (final because the Biden administration did not appeal it, likely because there were no grounds to do so) that makes clear that the pull factors are driving the ship right now?

I am reminded of then-Obama advisor Ben Rhodes’ unguarded quip in May 2016 that reporters “literally know nothing” aside from what they are fed by the White House. A quip, by the way, that first appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

Illegal Migration Imperils Migrants. Did you know that the illegal migration to the United States is dangerous? It’s true, because the “newspaper of record” says so:

A relatively lax approach to border security does have downsides. Early in Biden’s presidency, thousands of people in Latin America left their homes and headed north, often taking enormous risks. Some made it to the U.S. and have given themselves a chance at a better future. Others have languished in crowded and dangerous conditions in northern Mexico — a sign that a porous border creates its own humanitarian problems.

The ”enormous risks” in question are not limited to “languishing in crowded and dangerous conditions” in Mexico, but also include rape, physical assault, extortion, kidnapping on the journey to the United States, and those are not isolated occurrences.

Don’t trust me, however; the NGO “Doctors Without Borders” (commonly known by its French acronym "MSF") made those findings in a May 2017 report, following a survey of migrants it had treated.

Among its conclusions were that “68.3 percent of the migrant and refugee populations entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States” (“44 percent had been hit, 40 percent had been pushed, grabbed or asphyxiated, and 7 percent had been shot”), and, most shockingly, “[n]early one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey”.

And that’s just on the other side of the border. According to a March report in the Wall Street Journal: “The bodies of more than 890 migrants, a record number, were recovered by U.S. authorities along the border in the 2022 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the Biden administration, a 58% increase over 2021”.

More saliently, those 890-plus border deaths in FY 2022 were at least 68 more than in the last three years of the Trump administration, FY 2018 to FY 2020, combined.

How Many Migrants Under Biden? But wait— “Early in Biden’s presidency, thousands of people in Latin America left their homes and headed north”?

I have no idea how one defines “early in Biden’s presidency”, but in the first full month of Biden’s presidency, February 2021, CBP encountered more than 98,000 nationals of Latin American countries at the Southwest border, a figure that thereafter jumped to nearly 166,000 in March. That’s “tens” if not “hundreds” of thousands, in just the first two months.

To its credit, the Times does note that “U.S. officials believe that the number of illegal crossings per day, which has recently hovered around 7,500, could soon rise above 12,000” when Title 42 ends on May 11.

But to its detriment, the paper never explains that Biden has already released more than two million migrants at the Southwest border even though all of them were supposed to be detained. That’s a fairly major omission.

“Biden’s Crackdown”. Much more damning is the fact that the Times either falls for or deliberately peddles the administration’s trope that President Biden has “pivoted” his border policies and is now engaged in an effective “crackdown” on illegal migrants:

Biden’s crackdown has started to have its intended effect. The number of illegal crossings fell sharply in recent months . . .. Now, though, the end of Title 42 has created a challenge. “A lot of people will see this as their chance,” [Julia Gelatt, a sociologist at the Migration Policy Institute] said, “or smugglers will use this to lead people across the border.”

To reduce the surge, Biden has dispatched 1,500 troops to the border. The troops are there to manage the chaos — and to send a message: The U.S. does not have an open border, and most people who try to enter the country illegally will not succeed.

As I have explained numerous times in the past, Biden’s crackdown is largely smoke and mirrors, mainly intended to hide the true scope of the disaster at the Southwest border by funneling would-be illegal migrants through the ports of entry – where their entry is no more lawful than if they had simply jumped the line.

And yes, illegal entries did decline in January, but they sharply rebounded in March for reasons having little to do with the impending end of Title 42 but a lot to do with the fact that Biden’s most recent initiatives do little to deter migrants from entering illegally.

As for those 1,500 troops, they are there to do scut work and help process asylum applications – not to send any “messages”.

“Highly Polarized”. My biggest issue with the Times article, however, is that it veers into the tendentious and becomes little more than a polemic despite its efforts to remain facially neutral. Consider the following:

Like so many other political subjects today, immigration has become highly polarized. As a result, the issue’s complexities and trade-offs sometimes gets obscured.

Many Republicans denigrate immigrants. In truth, as research by the economists Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan has documented, immigrant families have continued to thrive in recent decades. The children and grandchildren of immigrants have ascended the economic ladder at rates strikingly similar to those of the 1800s and early 1900s.

Democrats have not engaged in anything as hateful as the white nationalist conspiracy theories that are common on Fox News. But Democrats have sometimes brushed aside the hard questions of immigration policy.

In truth, I don’t know any Republicans who “denigrate immigrants”, but I know plenty (and more than a few Democrats and immigrants) who are fed up with the levels of illegal immigration that the Biden administration has not only countenanced but enabled.

As for research showing that “immigrant families have continued to thrive in recent decades”, that should come as little surprise to anyone. The United States – its economy and institutions – is fertile soil for success. That’s a point that, regrettably, seems lost on many of the native-born.

That there are increasing instances in which migrants in this Biden surge find themselves almost wholly dependent on government support (which is why big-city Democratic mayors are complaining so much of late) is relevant to this analysis, but that excerpt from the Times lumps such observations under the rubric of “denigration” – shutting down the very debate the paper suggests is overdue.

The Times also elides (if not totally ignores) two critical points made by the late civil rights icon, Barbara Jordan, when she served as chairman of President Clinton’s Commission on Immigration Reform.

The first point came in congressional testimony in February 1995, when Jordan explained:

To make sense about the national interest in immigration, it is necessary to make distinctions between those who obey the law, and those who violate it. Therefore, we disagree, also, with those who label our efforts to control illegal immigration as somehow inherently anti-immigrant. Unlawful immigration is unacceptable. [Emphasis added.]

That is exactly what the Times is doing – in base, vicious, and unhelpful terms.

The second point came in congressional testimony in June of that year, when Jordan explained:

Immigrants with relatively low education and skills may compete for jobs and public services with the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed.

Immigration policy must protect U.S. workers against unfair competition from foreign workers, with an appropriately higher level of protection to the most vulnerable in our society . . . .

In that latter excerpt, Jordan was discussing legal immigration, but that’s probably because neither she nor anyone else at the time could envision an administration that ignored border security to such an extent. That said, her points are likely doubly true when it comes to illegal migrants.

Read the Times article, or any article from any major outlet aside from the vilified Fox News that discusses the impact that the entry of two-million-plus illegal migrants into the U.S. economy has had on “the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed”. I’ll spare you the trouble – you won’t find any.

My colleague, Jason Richwine, recently described the extremely deleterious effect that Biden’s border fiasco has had on the wages of the working poor, and how certain “experts” are now portraying this as a net positive in a country battling inflationary pressures.

Expect Richwine’s analysis (and any similar ones) to be criticized as “denigrating immigrants”. It’s not; it simply puts some small focus on concerns about Americans, which is the primary point of the INA. And, which in turn, explains why the Times’ footfalls on this point are so pernicious.

The New York Times has at last come around to some faint understanding that policy plays a role in drawing migrants to enter the United States illegally. But it omits a lot of salient points in doing so and helps poison the very conversation it purports to spark.