Boiling the Frog Slowly on Immigration

Biden's unraveling of border rules will be gradual but inexorable.

By Mark Krikorian on December 15, 2020

National Review, December 15, 2020

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to reverse the immigration policies implemented by the Trump administration. His campaign site's immigration page says he will "take urgent action to undo Trump's damage and reclaim America's values." As Rich Lowry has written, "Biden will move on all fronts to loosen immigration controls."

Despite what anti-borders groups say, this will be relatively easy to do. Because virtually all the changes to immigration policy made by the Trump administration have been executive actions of one sort or another, the incoming administration will simply rescind them in the same manner. That's what Trump's people thought they'd be able to do to Obama's policies, of course, but lawless members of the "Resistance" judiciary have prevented him from discontinuing DACA, or from implementing a new rule on welfare use by prospective legal immigrants, or even from not renewing the ostensibly time-limited Temporary Protected Status work-permit program for certain illegal aliens. Biden will not face that hurdle, and so will be able to undo most everything Trump has done; in some cases immediately, in others over a period of several months.

As this won't be done all at once, Biden will do his best to try to hide the politically explosive consequences from public view. The new administration will likely fail to mask the fallout of Biden's immigration pledges, but he has the Top Men in the anti-borders brain trust working on the problem.

The Biden team and its allies are aware of the political danger inherent in its immigration promises. The Migration Policy Institute, for instance, a Biden-friendly think tank in Washington, wrote concerning one such border-related promise: "Even though the Biden administration could immediately lift the public-health order, doing so without having a considered new policy in place could quickly stoke major new flows at the border. Chaotic scenes of arrivals, as occurred in 2019 under the Trump administration, could narrow Biden's political maneuvering room on immigration."

I'll say.

So how will a Biden administration try to finesse this? Firstly, it won't make the changes as quickly as possible, preferring instead to boil the frog slowly. The public-health authority referred to above, for instance, allows immediate expulsion of border-jumpers without any court process because of the pandemic. Biden allies have said this might remain in place for a while, however much activists dislike it. It will be whittled down with exemptions until it's a nullity, but will technically remain for some time.

On the other hand, the Migration Protection Protocols, more commonly known as "Remain in Mexico," whereby border-jumping illegal immigrants who apply for asylum are returned across the border to await their hearings, will be discontinued immediately. But there are tens of thousands of Central Americans waiting in Mexico, and the Biden people will not want to hand the 2022 Republican campaigns the footage for ads of thousands of people being waved into the country. They will all be admitted and released into the U.S., of course, never to be removed even after their asylum claims are rejected. But their admission will be spread out over days and weeks, in different ports of entry, perhaps even under the cover of darkness (taking a page from alien smugglers, who before 9/11 would often fly their newly crossed clients out of airports in the Southwest to the interior on late-night or early-morning flights).

What about the various amnesties Biden has promised? Restoring the supposedly temporary DACA program will be easy enough and is unlikely to create too much political blowback, allowing the Biden administration to expand eligibility to double or triple the number of illegal immigrants already given work permits under the cover of simply renewing an existing program.

The broad amnesty for all illegal aliens that Biden promised to propose to Congress is unlikely to go anywhere. And the administration will not want to tempt fate by summarily issuing work permits to the entire illegal population, as some supporters have suggested. Instead, the administration will probably use a gimmick called "parole in place" to grant "temporary" work permits and Social Security numbers (i.e., amnesty) piecemeal, half a million here, a million there, until most of the illegal population is no longer really illegal — without Congress having lifted a finger. "Essential workers" might be first, with anti-borders pressure groups pushing for as broad a definition as possible — there's a pandemic and we're helpless without them! Then maybe illegal-alien caregivers of disabled children or adults. And so on. It will add up, but not so fast (they hope) that the frog will jump out of the pot.

The strategy of increasing immigration gradually, and hiding the increase, will be pursued south of the border as well. For instance, one of the most effective policies keeping non-Mexican illegal immigrants from swarming the border has been Mexico's deployment of its National Guard on its own southern border with Guatemala. This has succeeded in bottling up a significant number of "asylum-seekers" from Central America, the Caribbean, and farther afield, preventing them from passing through Mexico on their way north. The deployment came in response to threats of trade sanctions from President Trump. Mexico and the Biden administration have a shared interest in waiting a while before sending the troops back to their barracks. Mexico will want to show that it did not, in fact, bend to threats from Trump, while the Biden administration will want to blunt the border surge the roll-back of Trump's policies will inevitably cause. So the bottleneck will be opened up again, but not right after inauguration.

As camouflage, the Biden administration is likely to revive and radically expand an Obama-era scheme called the Central American Minors (CAM) program. Under that arrangement, certain left-behind children whose illegal-immigrant parents had benefited from a work-permit amnesty (such as Temporary Protected Status) were flown directly to the United States at taxpayer expense, saving the parents the cost and trouble of hiring smugglers. Obama's relative timidity about subverting the rule of law meant this remained a limited program, and it was discontinued by the Trump administration. The appeal for the Biden crowd of a restored and radically expanded program like this (encompassing a wider array of relatives, and not only of those with some kind of legal status in the U.S., and lowering the bar of "persecution" that must be demonstrated) is that it would avoid uncomfortable news coverage of caravans and massed border-jumpers, since people would simply be flown in, a few hundred a day, to different airports, often at night, allowing a Biden-compliant media to ignore the story.

None of this may ending up working in the end. The Biden Effect at the border — the surge of illegal immigrants expecting to be let in by Democrats — has already begun, with increasing apprehensions of minors and families. This is no surprise; my colleague Todd Bensman visited southern Mexico early this year and spoke with dozens of Central Americans biding their time in Mexico in hopes that Trump would lose and the Democrats would let them in. "I want Trump out!" one told Bensman. "I'll wait for that because it would make things easier to get in."

But it's important not to create the expectation that the floodgates will open on Day One — because they won't, not entirely anyway, prompting the administration and its media poodles to say that conservative fears were overblown.

None of this changes the Biden administration's goal: unlimited immigration. To this end, refugee numbers will be dramatically increased, interior enforcement ended, asylum standards lowered, "temporary" worker programs expanded. The result will be millions of additional foreign workers, many admitted unlawfully, but all with work permits, Social Security numbers, and driver's licenses. Because of this, it is unlikely they'll ever be made to leave. But Biden's people will work to hide this until it's too late to reverse.

Topics: Politics