Wanted: Statesmanship and Humility on Immigration from the White House

‘Not delivering on this issue will be terrible for them politically.’

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 4, 2022

On December 30, CNN ran a “year-end round-up” of the Biden administration’s immigration efforts. It was notable in that it included complaints from immigrant advocates that the president hasn’t done enough to open up the borders (a fact belied by record numbers of migrants entering illegally on Biden’s watch), and because it ended with some nakedly political admissions from a source “close to” the administration. Some statesmanship and humility from the president on immigration are in order.

CNN made no attempt to examine the deleterious effects of the Biden administration’s failure to gain any semblance of control over the Southwest border, except in purely political terms, noting: “Republicans have continued to seize on the record number of border arrests.”

As for interior enforcement, the article alludes to the administration’s attempts to negate most ICE enforcement, but only in the most anodyne of terms: “Despite various setbacks, the Biden administration has made some inroads on its immigration agenda, including changing enforcement guidelines to prioritize certain undocumented immigrants for arrest and deportation”.

That the author of that piece fails to consider the dangers posed by tens of thousands of criminal aliens left free by DHS enforcement restrictions to re-offend in communities across the United States in lieu of removal would be an understatement.

Again, however, the final three paragraphs in that piece really stand out. They primarily address the failure of congressional Democrats thus far to include amnesty for millions of aliens illegally present in H.R. 5376, the “Build Back Better Act” (BBB).

BBB is legislation that the president’s fellow partisans are attempting to ram through Congress via a maneuver called “reconciliation”, without Republican votes.

Democrats have attempted three times to include amnesty in the BBB, and each time their efforts were frustrated by the Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan ministerial functionary in the Upper Chamber who advises leadership on the rules there.

The iterations of amnesty proposals that Democrats have sought to include in the BBB differ significantly from similar efforts in the past in that they contain no enforcement reforms. Given the fact that there are 1.2 million aliens illegally present in the United States under final orders of removal, and at least 10.5 million aliens illegally present total (greater than the population of North Carolina), some enforcement upgrades are plainly needed.

If the BBB amnesty proposals were subject to bipartisan input, there would likely have been a trade-off for some degree of amnesty in which, for example, E-Verify would be made mandatory, administration restrictions on enforcement would be lifted, and/or sanctuary jurisdictions would be forced to comply with ICE detainers for criminal aliens. Various border control proposals would also be on the table.

Because of efforts to move the BBB without GOP input, however, there has been no impetus to include any such ideas. Of course, given the refusal of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support the budget-busting spending proposals in H.R. 5376, that bill is on life support, at best.

Rather than even considering bipartisan input, however, it is apparent that the Biden administration simply wants to go it alone with its own proposals, regardless of their merits. The CNN article concludes:

"They have to win on this because they're in such a bad place with advocates and immigration broadly," a source close to the White House told CNN, referring to immigration restructuring. "Not delivering on this issue will be terrible for them politically."

It is unclear what the author of that piece meant by the phrase “immigration restructuring”, which does not otherwise appear in the article. In context, it appears to be the amnesty in the BBB (CNN never uses the word “amnesty”, of course), but even if it refers to the White House’s plan to create (in its words) ”a Fair, Orderly and Humane Immigration System”, some humility and statesmanship is called for.

There is nothing orderly about the anarchy that has defined the Southwest border for the past 11 months, and little humane about it, either. Migrants have to run a hellish gauntlet on their trek to the border, at great danger to them and, all too often, the children they bring with them.

My colleague Todd Bensman has explained that to make that trip, migrants almost always have to pay criminal smugglers, who in turn usually have to cut Mexican drug cartels in on the take, to ensure “safe passage” across what the narcos consider “their” turf along the border. That feeds corruption, crime, and disorder on the other side of the line.

There is not much fairness in the administration’s proposals, either. Granted, that is a subjective term, but how is it “fair” to require foreign nationals to wait patiently abroad for years to come to the United States legally when, according to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, some 500,000 illegal migrants were released into this country last fiscal year?

Recognizing these facts and appreciating that a course correction would be in order requires humility. Addressing these problems and crafting lasting solutions to the immigration problems the nation faces would require the sort of statesmanship that Biden promised when he presented himself as an alternative to Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

For example, in remarks before the National Education Association in July 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden asserted: “[C]ompromise is not a dirty word. It’s how our government was designed to work. I found that my whole life. And so I’ll do as president.”

He continued: “There’s two things I’ve done fairly well at in my career. One, no one’s ever doubted my word. And I’ve been able to bring Democrats and Republicans together in the United States Congress to pass big things, to deal with big issues.”

There are many crises facing the American people as 2022 dawns, and an immigration system in chaos is one of the biggest. There’s a reason why, as CNN notes, “Immigration has been a politically perilous issue for Biden, whose approval rating has sagged.”

With some modicum of humility when it comes to the failures of his border strategy, and a return to the spirit of compromise that he promised on the campaign trail, President Biden could begin to address the immigration problems the nation is confronting. That would be the essence of statesmanship. Continuing with policies that breed disorder while attempting to force a massive — and purely partisan — amnesty using legislative tricks will be “politically terrible” for the president and his party.