Is the GOP’s ‘Concern’ About Immigration ‘Fake’?

No, and neither is the concern of Americans as a whole; now is the time for action

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 17, 2022

In a May 16 opinion piece in The Hill, author and Fox News analyst Juan Williams contends congressional Republicans’ “concern about illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border” is “fake”, mocking it as the “new Big Lie”. A review of Williams’ cherry-picked points proves just the opposite. In fact, not only is the GOP’s concern real, but so are those of their fellow Americans.

Juan Williams. Williams has been with Fox News for over a decade, joining the network less than a day after he was fired from NPR after comments he made about Muslims on airliners. As his article in The Hill suggests, he is not shy about pushing back on Fox News reporting and commentary on illegal immigration, serving more as an agent provocateur in the Murdoch empire than the Washington Generals to the network’s lineup of Harlem Globetrotters.

Williams’ main contention is that if congressional Republicans “really cared” about illegal immigration, “they’d fix the problem. Instead, they are happy to use it to falsely accuse President Biden and Democrats of wanting open borders.” There’s a lot to unpack there.

“Open Borders”. The author offers no evidence to prove that “President Biden and Democrats” don’t want “open borders”, but there are plenty of data points establishing just the opposite.

As I have explained, the administration has ignored well-settled congressional mandates that those aliens be detained while stretching its extremely circumscribed power to release illegal migrants stopped at the Southwest border into the United States on “parole” beyond all reasonable limits (using some questionable logic), and opened the border to every asylum applicant in the world.

Worst of all, however, in a break from every other administration in history, DHS now no longer has a policy of deterring illegal immigration. Under the Biden administration, the department is happy to go after smugglers and cartels and to try to tackle the “root causes” of illegal migration in Central America, but without a deterrence policy for the migrants themselves, those are all quixotic fools’ errands at best.

I am loath to cast aspersions when the motivations of others are unclear or unstated, but the Biden administration has a major transparency problem when it comes to its end goals on immigration. Thus, I have no idea why they have implemented border policies that are sure to end in disaster. Perhaps I am dense, but at this stage there is nothing wrong with positing that disaster is the goal.

Attacks on Republican Candidates. Williams attacks J.D. Vance (who has received the GOP nod for U.S. Senate from Ohio) and Adam Laxalt (seeking a Nevada Senate seat) for peddling what he terms “open border” claims, but if anything, Vance and Laxalt are understating the effects of the Biden administration’s immigration efforts. This isn’t “open borders”; it is “no borders”, and a situation worse than any I have seen in my 30 years in this field.

Worthless “Solutions”. Next, Williams offers various “solutions”, none of which would make the border any better, and several that would make it much, much worse.

Referencing statements made by Vance and Laxalt, Williams asserts:

That brand of polarized politics is a sink hole for honest attempts to fix the problem at the border. It does nothing to deal with the 11 million already in the country illegally and the young people, “Dreamers,” who were brought across the border as children and grew up here without citizenship.

That latter point’s a non sequitur, but not from Williams’ perspective.

In fact, he complains that Republicans have repeatedly stymied Dreamer amnesties, oblivious to the fact that in his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump asked Congress to “produce a bill that provides an amnesty for 1.8 million” DACA eligible aliens “with a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship in exchange for some of its border security and immigration enforcement wish list and reductions to chain migration.”

That proposal would have come with an end to the diversity visa lottery and a chance for admission by nearly four million foreign nationals on the waiting list for chain migration green cards.

The border security and immigration enforcement components were much less defined, but I personally opposed the president’s plan because, as my colleague Mark Krikorian has explained, any amnesty “serves as an incentive for future illegal immigration, and ... has downstream legal-immigration consequences.”

Of course, I don’t have a vote in Congress. It’s true that Republicans in the House and Senate controlled those bodies in 2018 but blaming “hardliners” in the GOP for the failure of that plan (as Williams does) ignores the fact that Democrats in Congress do get votes and could have worked out a deal on Trump’s overly generous terms.

Further, blaming congressional Republicans across the board for the failure of various amnesties in the past decade ignores the fact that the Democratic Party under the Obama-Biden administration held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate between 2009 and 2010 (when they also had an 89-seat advantage in the House).

During that period, the Party of Jackson “could have passed any bill they wanted — including and in particular the DREAM Act of 2009 — without any Republican votes at all. But that bill went nowhere. Cosponsor and then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) did not even bring it up for a vote in committee.”

In any event, Williams appears to miss Krikorian’s point about amnesties simply making the situation at the border worse, aggravating the fact that legalizing aliens who are already here illegally does nothing to secure the border now.

Asylum Versus Border Control. Williams further asserts that 56 percent “of Americans favor allowing migrants from Central American countries to seek asylum in the United States, a modest downtick from 63 percent in April 2021, according to a CNN report on its recent poll.”

He did not include a link to that poll, but he is apparently referencing one conducted between April 28 and May 1 by SSRI for CNN, released on May 5.

In contrast to Williams’ rather blasé attitude toward illegal immigration at the Southwest border, more than two-thirds of respondents in that poll (68 percent) asserted that the border situation is a “crisis” and 73 percent disapproved of “the way that the U.S. government is treating” illegal migrants there.

That latter point is open to interpretation (some may want everyone sent back, some may want everyone let in), which the poll sheds some light on: A majority (54 percent) asserted that “minimizing the number of people trying to enter the United States” was a “higher priority” than allowing them “to seek asylum in the United States”— the opposite point of the one Williams was making.

Theoretically, I would assume that — in a vacuum — most Americans would favor granting asylum. That poll shows, however, that respondents realize that ideal vacuum does not exist now. If anything, the border chaos wrought by the Biden administration’s immigration policies is making it increasingly likely that a future Congress will simply scrap asylum altogether (as Krikorian has proposed; I’m not quite sold yet).

The End of Title 42. Williams also natters on at length about CDC orders directing the expulsion of illegal migrants, issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, he asserts: “In 2020, as the pandemic hit, the Trump administration used Title 42 as a flimsy patch to slow the flow of migrants crossing the border.”

That is looking through the glass darkly. There might have been some grumbling about Title 42 when it first went into effect in late March 2020, but given that it coincided with the “20 days to flatten the curve” that stretched out for more than a year, any complaints were muted.

Nor did the Trump administration need any “flimsy patches” to slow the flow of illegal migrants. In February 2020, the month before the start of Title 42, Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended fewer than 30,100 illegal migrants. One year later (the first month of the Biden administration), by contrast, apprehensions had more than trebled to over 97,600, and more than doubled again to more than 159,000 by February 2022.

Williams asserts, however:

Now, with the danger from COVID-19 past its peak and most mandates lifted, there is little justification for the use of Title 42 at the border.

But more than 80 percent of Trump-led Republicans say it should be kept, at least for now.

The reason why apprehensions at the Southwest border were so low in the last year of the Trump administration was because the 45th president implemented deterrents to illegal entry (including the Migrant Protection Protocols — MPP, better known as “Remain in Mexico”) that led to what Biden’s former Border Patrol chief, Rodney Scott, referred to as “arguably the most effective border security in” U.S. history.

Biden quickly rescinded those policies, and is actively fighting before the Supreme Court to ditch MPP permanently. The only quasi-border policy that remains from the Trump administration is Title 42, which is why the GOP (and more than a few Democrats) are clamoring to retain it.

It’s a “quasi-border policy” because it is actually a public-health measure (as Williams correctly asserts), but it’s also the only thing standing between today’s border catastrophe and utter mayhem.

Williams more or less admits that mayhem will be the result when he states, “beginning next week [after Title 42 is scheduled to end] TV cameras will be rushing to the border as the far-right inflames anti-immigrant fear to stir up votes for the upcoming midterm elections”. The idea that “news” outlets would be covering the biggest story of the year should hardly be a surprise to a Fox News contributor.

In any event, Williams complains:

Senate Republicans are currently threatening to withhold votes for funds that would aid COVID-19 prevention and treatment. They are demanding a vote on an amendment to continue using Title 42 at the border.

Republicans are gambling with “the health security of the nation,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said last week. “I don’t think Title 42 has anything to do with COVID.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has said Democrats may have no choice but to give the Republicans a vote on the amendment to get critically needed money for more vaccines.

That latter statement reflects a level of naivete that is unbecoming of the author, a seasoned political analyst. Durbin doesn’t want the political blowback that will result from 18,000 apprehensions per day at the Southwest border (DHS’s upper-level estimate) and wants to position himself as “fortune’s fool” to avoid electoral backlash from either his base or the American people if and when Title 42 continues.

Krikorian argues that the GOP should not let Democrats off the political hook by pushing to extend Title 42, and while he makes a good point, the consequences of a Southwest border post-Title 42 would lead to national security vulnerabilities I doubt few wish to consider.

Better Ideas for Border Reform. Finally, Williams complains: “What is clear as the years go by is that the GOP hardliners on immigration don’t have better ideas for immigration reform. They have no inspired thoughts about border security beyond the wall that Trump promised and never fully built.”

I don’t even know where to begin with that one. The Center is not partisan, nor would we consider ourselves “hardliners” (although many have), but we have offered numerous “ideas for immigration reform” that would both secure the border and the interior.

First and foremost is a mandatory E-Verify program that would prevent aliens without employment authorization from working in this country. Most aliens come to work, and if they can’t, are unlikely to stick around. As I have explained, the president could make E-Verify mandatory through executive action, though I think it is more likely that Biden would make Krikorian DHS secretary than he would mandate E-Verify.

As for border security, the Center (and many Republicans, including Trump) have explained how plugging the “loopholes” that encourage illegal entry would go a long way toward cutting the illicit migrant flow across the border.

One of those loopholes is a problematic 2008 law that facilitates the entry of unaccompanied alien children from “non-contiguous” countries (every country other than Canada and Mexico) into the United States in violation of law. The odd trio of President Obama, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have all called on Congress to fix that law, but neither congressional Democrats nor the Biden administration have any plans to do so.

And although Williams, Biden, and most leading Democrats have derided the effectiveness of border barriers (i.e., “the Wall”) of late, it should be noted that then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted for a 2006 bill that authorized and mandated barrier construction. Biden has never been called to account for his change in position, and Williams does nothing to break that trend.

Now is the Time for Action. I don’t mean to single Juan Williams out for blame. If they are not ignoring the miasma at the border, most in the media blame the illegal entry of tens of thousands of migrants per month on intractable issues (corruption, poverty, and violence abroad; family reunification here). But things along the U.S.-Mexico line are bad and getting worse quickly. Now is the time for action — not partisan bickering.