During her daily press briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed that “when it comes to illegal migration, you’ve seen it come down by more than 90 percent, and that’s because of ... the actions that this President has taken”.
Fact Check: Not True.
But more analysis is in order, as her comment underscores the role amnesty for millions of aliens unlawfully present plays. Don’t take Jean-Pierre’s claim literally, but do take it seriously.
Context. Here is the rather relevant, pointed, and timely question that Jean-Pierre was responding to (apparently from Lalit Jha, the chief U.S. correspondent for the Press Trust of India), to put her answer into context: “How does President wants to address this challenge of illegal immigration? A lot of people coming here. And is this one of the issues which he considers his job not done, job not finished?”
The press secretary began her response by referring to the massive amnesty bill President Biden proposed on Inauguration Day, as well as Biden’s oft-repeated contention that the immigration system had been “broken” and needed to be “modernized”:
So, as you know, on his first day in this administration, the President put forth a comprehensive immigration legislation. And that’s to show how seriously he took this, how ... he understood that the system had been broken. It needs to be modernized, ... be moved to the 21st century.
She then pivoted, contending that the president has “asked Congress to take action — Republicans in Congress to take action ... in a bipartisan way”. Of course, Republicans in Congress have passed two bills out of committee in recent weeks to address the current border miasma, but she did not reference and likely did not mean that legislation.
Rather, she was plainly referring to Biden’s original amnesty bill, formally the “U.S. Citizenship Act”, H.R. 1177. It was introduced in the last, 117th Congress by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), and by my count was referred to 12 separate committees in the House.
Here is a little inside baseball from a Capitol Hill veteran: Absent some national calamity along the lines of September 11, a bill referred to one committee stands a shot of at least being marked up, provided it was offered by the majority party. A bill referred to two committees is likely to get slow-rolled at best, and legislation referred to three or more is likely going nowhere.
Of course, the last Congress was exclusively controlled by the president’s fellow Democrats in both the House and the Senate, but even then, none of the 12 committees that received H.R. 1177 marked it up. That shows just how unserious Biden’s plan was — at the time.
That’s not to say, however, that the last Congress did not attempt to pass a massive amnesty through shady means — they did, and it was a constant challenge to keep track of the Senate’s efforts to tack amnesty on to so-called “reconciliation” bills despite repeated rejections by that body’s parliamentarian.
I will return to that key topic, below.
Illegal Immigration Is Actually Up. Jean-Pierre has received a lot of flak over her response, because of course she was patently wrong.
While she did not offer a timeframe for her contention that illegal immigration has “come down” by 90 percent, it’s safe to assume that she meant in recent months.
Border Patrol apprehensions did fall by nearly 93,000 (58 percent) between December and January, but as I explained after those numbers came out in February, that decline was more a factor of: (1) seasonal travel patterns (illegal entries traditionally decline in the first month of the year); (2) how truly dreadful December’s apprehension numbers were (it was the worst month at the Southwest border — ever); and (3) certain “actions” taken by the Biden administration to hide the border disaster.
There were several such actions that were included in a January 5 fact sheet issued by the White House, but two stand out.
The first was an extension of a Venezuelan parole program to include nationals of Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba. As extended, it allows 30,000 nationals of those countries to enter the United States per month — with work authorization — on parole for a two-year period, in lieu of entering illegally.
It would be kind to refer to that program as “legally dubious”, because the president lacks any authority to use DHS’s limited parole powers to ignore Congress’ immigration limits and allow 360,000 aliens per year into the United States.
Not surprisingly, 20 states have since sued the Biden administration to shut down the program, in a case captioned Texas v. DHS.
The second of those January 5 actions provides access for would-be illegal migrants to the CBP One app, enabling them to schedule appointments for interviews with CBP officers at the ports of entry, again, instead of entering illegally.
That CBP One port appointment initiative doesn’t stand on the same legally shaky ground as the parole program, but it has its own flaws.
Most notably, it does nothing to deter smugglers from moving illegal migrants to northern Mexico, where they must be to make those port appointments. In other words, the smugglers and their cartel cronies will still get rich, and the migrants will still suffer, the administration’s contentions to the contrary notwithstanding.
Also noteworthy is that the only real reason to create such a scheme is to make Border Patrol’s apprehension numbers look lower, by repackaging those aliens who apply for port appointments and who are thereafter waved into the United States (as more than 99 percent have been since the plan was initiated) as somehow “legally” here.
They’re not legally here, and in fact they are as removable as aliens who cross the line illegally.
All of that said, the CBP One port appointment scheme is also unworkable and is already breaking down under the sheer weight of migrants who are seeking to access appointments. Not surprisingly, they aren’t sticking around northern Mexico until the administration gets the bugs ironed out — they are just entering illegally.
March Apprehensions. Which brings me to March, the last month for which Southwest border apprehension statistics are available. Agents apprehended more than 162,000 illegal migrants there last month, a nearly 26 percent increase over January’s low.
To be fair, it’s a more than 23 percent decline over March 2022 (more than 211,000 apprehensions), but FY 2022 was the worst year for Southwest border apprehensions in history, so nearly anything would have been better.
So what was Jean-Pierre talking about? The only logical conclusion is that she was alluding to Border Patrol apprehensions of those Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans who can access the legally dubious 30,000 parole slots per month.
In March, agents at the U.S.-Mexico line apprehended 3,811 nationals of those four countries, which is a 95 percent decline from December, when apprehensions of aliens from those countries totaled more than 84,000 — the highest figure for those four nationalities, again, ever.
But the March figure was still a 235 percent increase over Southwest border apprehensions for nationals of those four countries in March 2020 (admittedly the month that the Covid-19 pandemic was declared), and a higher apprehension total than in any month when Joe Biden wasn’t president, in whole or part (4,410 Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans were caught entering illegally in January 2021).
With a recent surge in illegal Venezuelan entries, moreover, even this justification breaks down.
Back to Amnesty. Which, curiously enough, brings me back to Biden’s amnesty push — because everything that’s happened at the Southwest border since Biden took office should be viewed through that lens.
In his February 2023 State of the Union (SOTU) address, Biden largely ducked the issue of immigration, saying just 117 words about it. Here are the 48 words you should pay attention to now:
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.
The phrases “comprehensive immigration reform” and “pathway to citizenship” are code for “amnesty”. But amnesty for the estimated 11-12 million illegal aliens already present in the United States appears to be a non sequitur in the context of “America’s border problems”, that is aliens who aren’t here yet.
Before I explain, don’t get suckered by the talk about “a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers”, either. As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) explained in November, that’s just a stalking horse for “a path to citizenship for all 11 million, or however many undocumented, there are here”.
Returning to the point, however, the border is simply a hostage in the president’s amnesty plan. You may want the border secured from hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants, from drugs, from aliens who pose a national security danger. The House GOP may want that, too, and any number of other Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill as well. All should be prepared to pay a price.
States can — and in many cases should — sue to block various immigration proposals that emanate from the White House, but no court — not even the Supreme Court — can force the administration to free DHS agents and officers to question, apprehend, detain, prosecute, or remove any given alien. Nor as a direct matter can Congress.
Congress can use its appropriations and impeachment power to force a change at the Southwest border, but absent some significant shift or some “black swan” event, there is not much that Republicans can do, or even most Democrats. As noted, the Senate majority leader is on board with the president’s amnesty push, and nothing will come to the floor of the Upper Chamber without his say-so.
“D.C. Karine”. When U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003 to remove the country’s then-president, Saddam Hussein, the information minister was an official named Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, better known as “Baghdad Bob” for his blatantly fallacious pronouncements. Asked about the Iraqi spokesman, then-President George W. Bush said at the time, “Somebody accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic.”
As The Atlantic noted a decade later, Salaf thereafter explained: “My information was correct, but my interpretations were not.”
That said, the magazine asserted, “in retrospect, the opposite seems truer.” It continued: “Sahaf had bad information, sure, but several of his more ludicrous predictions have since come true”, particularly the ones dealing with the country not having “weapons of mass destruction”.
In that vein, Jean-Pierre can be viewed as a sort of “D.C. Karine” — she offers some facially erroneous facts, but those facts aren’t what she’s actually peddling.
Go back and read what she said, and what the president said at the SOTU. From their perspectives, the U.S. immigration system is “broken”, because there are millions of aliens here without status and no short-term prospect of gaining it.
It needs to be “modernized” because there are millions of foreign nationals who want in who can’t get in legally under current law. The president will accommodate them nonetheless, and force the states to play “whac-a-mole” in challenging him — hit one program, and the next will pop up.
As Joe Biden said, “America’s border problems won’t be fixed until Congress acts” — by passing an amnesty, any amnesty. That was a threat, not a prediction. It was said about Donald Trump that you should not take him literally, but you should take him seriously. The same is true of Karine Jean-Pierre.