CNN recently published an article captioned “Biden tries to chart a new path on the US-Mexico border, but similar roadblocks remain”. It jumps around a lot and covers several different issues, but most importantly, it sheds some light on a topic that I have examined of late: Battles among key White House advisors about how the administration should be addressing the disaster at the Southwest border, and a plan to hide the disaster at the Southwest border by rebranding illegal migrants as “asylum seekers”.
Divisions Among White House Advisors. In November, I described the different immigration sides at the White House as the “No Borders” camp and the “Pro-Enforcement Bloc”. It appears, however, that while the former description is apt, the latter should more precisely be the “Deterrence Bloc”, which is pushing for a more traditional strategy of responding to illegal entries.
The CNN article begins with an on-again, off-again proposal to vaccinate illegal migrants before they are released into the United States (unaccompanied alien children — “UACs” — and aliens in ICE detention are already vaccinated).
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain was reportedly livid when the proposal was first floated, and Klain and Chief Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice nipped it in the bud in the late summer out of fears it would encourage more illegal migration.
But that proposal is “on-again”, suggesting either a change of heart by Klain and Rice or a power play by the No Borders camp. The chief of staff is usually the president’s top advisor, and Rice has long been a force in this and in the Obama-Biden administration, but perhaps their influence is waning.
The Deterrence Bloc Is Likely Driven by Politics. Deterrence has long been U.S. policy in response to illegal migration at the border (it was at the heart of most Trump border proposals), but I question whether the Deterrence Bloc’s concerns don’t owe more to political considerations than to national security.
An unnamed source cited by CNN asserted Klain was “angered” by the increasing surge of illegal migrants at the Southwest border and termed meetings on the matter with the chief of staff as “tense” (although these depictions are disputed). CNN notes that Republicans have “seized on” the situation at the border “as an example of bad management” on the administration’s part.
Klain and Rice are known as savvy political operatives, and likely see the current situation at the border as a winner for the GOP and a loser for the president and his party in upcoming 2022 mid-term congressional elections (which at the present time it is).
The Waxing and Waning Power of Administration Immigrant Advocates. As I explained on January 10, the departures of two high-profile immigrant advocates from the White House (Esther Olavarria, deputy director for immigration on the Domestic Policy Council, and Tyler Moran, a senior adviser on migration) could signal an immigration-policy pivot by the administration.
CNN also suggests that those departures, as well as that of Andrea Flores (a former American Civil Liberties Union attorney who had been director of transborder security on the National Security Council), could indicate a change in direction.
That said, it also quotes Olavarria, who in a recent talk before the Migration Policy Institute stated: “There is still significant work underway. It has been a challenge. It has been frustrating to all of us inside and personally to me”.
The Pending Proposal to Expedite Asylum at the Border. That “significant work” includes a proposal to “streamline” asylum processing at the border by shifting jurisdiction over illegal migrants’ asylum applications from immigration judges to asylum officers, and by granting the administration almost unfettered power to release illegal migrants into the United States on parole (the Center opposes that proposal for reasons it set forth in its 83-page response to it).
The proposal is currently pending, and I expect a final rule on the issue to be published soon. Although CNN does not mention it, absent some significant changes from its draft form, that proposal will likely be subject to challenges in the courts, including in the ongoing case of Texas v. Biden.
Texas facially concerns whether DHS erred in terminating the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — better known as “Remain in Mexico” — but in reality, it is focused on the president’s border policies (including releases of large numbers of aliens at the border) as a whole. The asylum streamlining idea would encourage new illegal migration by all but ensuring that tens of thousands of aliens will be released into the United States monthly.
UN-Approved European Style Reception Centers. CNN also alludes to “proposals to chart a new path on the US-Mexico border, focusing on the use of new technologies to make asylum more accessible and evaluating models used by the United Nations to receive migrants”.
That vague description sounds similar to “European-style reception centers along the Mexican border”, which were the subject of a December post. As the Washington Post reported: “Proponents of the model say it would allow migrant families to remain together in a non-carceral setting with access to recreation and educational programming, medical services, and legal counsel.”
“Non-carceral” means that the migrants would be free to leave if they wanted, and this model aligns with the pending “asylum officer adjudication/parole release” plan discussed above. Basically, if a Border Patrol agent or a CBP officer at the port apprehended an illegal migrant who requested asylum, the migrant would be sent to one of those reception centers to speak with a lawyer and have an asylum officer adjudicate the migrant’s claim.
Needless to say, that would encourage more migrants to come and request asylum (regardless of the strength of their claims) in order to enter the United States and remain here indefinitely.
Hiding the True Scope of Illegal Migration. The benefit of this plan from the White House’s perspective, however, is that it would allow the administration to hide the true scope of the disaster at the border by enabling migrants without proper entry documents to skip illegal entry and instead claim a fear of return at the ports of entry, where they would be paroled into the United States (and be rebranded as “asylum seekers”).
If the White House adopted this procedure, it would likely be gambling that Border Patrol apprehensions would drop as would-be illegal migrants opted for processing through the ports instead — an extremely risky and questionable bet. But if you read between the lines in the CNN article, that appears to be the plan.
The outlet quotes an unnamed “senior official”, who asserts that “improving asylum at the US southern border remains a ‘top priority’ for Biden”. The article continues:
"We want to create a system that's quick, that's transparent, that people can register and have an appointment quickly and have their claims heard. Easier said than done, but that's the goal," the official said, referring to asylum claims.
"If we were to create something that makes sense, that people know how to access it, that they don't have to wait in line for very long, we think that would be more attractive to many people than crossing through the desert," the official said, adding that there's a lot of planning going on behind the scenes to bring that to fruition, including also entertaining reception models like those used by the United Nations abroad.
If Klain, Rice, and the rest of the Deterrence Bloc were really concerned about border security (as opposed to the political costs of an out-of-control border), they would likely see through this plan and spike it.
The more “asylum seekers” who are paroled in through the ports, the more likely it is that smugglers and would-be migrants will exploit this new process, the more money that will flow to those smugglers and to the cartels, and the greater the incentives for other foreign nationals to enter illegally will become.
As the CNN article makes clear, however, there are formidable forces within the White House and in the Democratic party that want to facilitate access for as many migrants to enter the United States as possible. The Deterrence Bloc may recognize this shell game for what it is but accede to it anyway.
By the way, increased illegal migration is not the only potential risk under this proposal. The plan outlined by CNN could be subject to exploitation by a lot of bad actors, including serious criminals and potential terrorists. I performed oversight of immigration for Congress for years, and the national-security vulnerabilities in this plan seem tailor-made for catastrophe.
Conclusion. The situation at the Southwest border is creating tension between various factions of the president’s advisors. Although some high-profile immigrant advocates are leaving the White House, they appear to be planting the seeds to hide the illegal entry of tens of thousands of illegal migrants monthly into the United States before they go.