The Spectator, May 21, 2021
President Biden told NBC at the end of last month that the border crisis is ”way down now; we’ve now gotten control”.
At first glance, this is preposterous. The number of border arrests in April was a 21-year high, at more than 178,000, with more than a third of all arrests being families or unaccompanied minors. To get a sense of the scale, President Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, has said that 1,000 border arrests a day “overwhelms the system” — in April, daily arrests averaged nearly 6,000.
Does that sound like a border that’s under “control”?
But President Biden’s seemingly absurd comment isn’t simply another in his endless series of gaffes. When you understand what the administration and its allies in Congress and the media consider to be the “problem” at the border, it actually makes sense.
You see, the White House doesn’t view the surge of illegal immigration across the border as a problem to be solved. Rather, the challenge is proper management of this massive illegal flow.
In other words, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals illegally streaming across our border, many of whom are simply being released and will never be made to leave, is just something we have to live with. But how we handle the flow — the comfort level of temporary detention facilities, the speed at which the illegal aliens (especially unaccompanied minors) are released — is what we need to focus on.
By that metric, the administration is indeed starting to get “control”. The PR people at Homeland Security have prepared a page of photos entitled “DHS Action on the Southwest Border Yields Results”. It’s a collection of before-and-after photos, contrasting Customs and Border Protection facilities in February filled with kids in cages in cellophane blankets with photos from May showing mostly empty facilities.
The message is clear: Never mind that the number of new arrivals remains extremely high, DHS is getting “results” because there’s less crowding in the initial holding centers at the border for unaccompanied children and teens. Nancy Pelosi was among the Democrats touting the “80 percent decrease of the number of children under the auspices of the Border Patrol”.
The reason for the crowding in Border Patrol facilities — both under Trump and now under Biden — is that the Department of Health and Human Services, which the border agency hands the minors over to, doesn’t have sufficient shelter capacity to hold them, so the pipeline backed up.
HHS has responded by opening new emergency shelters in stadiums, convention centers, and military bases. To be sure, this is something of a shell game; as Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents a Texas border district in Congress, has pointed out, “All they’re doing is they’re moving kids from one tent to the other tent and saying, ‘Oh, they’re not in the Border Patrol (custody),’ but they’re right next door” in an HHS facility.
So the Biden administration’s next step in getting “results” at the border is to process the minors out of the HHS shelters and deliver them to families in the U.S., in what CBS News has described as “an unprecedented U.S. government effort to place the record number of unaccompanied children who have crossed the southern border in recent months into the homes of relatives in the U.S.” The administration is so focused on speeding the release of illegal-alien minors into the U.S. that it’s calling on federal employees to volunteer for temporary assignments at HHS shelters and is reallocating hundreds of millions of dollars “that Congress originally allocated to rebuild the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile, the emergency medical reserve strained by the COVID-19 response”.
“Solving” the border crisis, therefore, consists of getting illegal-alien minors out of government custody and transporting them (at U.S. taxpayer expense) to the very relatives who paid criminals to have them smuggled to the U.S. in the first place. A federal judge in 2013 was outraged at this practice and wrote “Instead of arresting [the child’s mother] for instigating the conspiracy to violate our border security laws, the DHS delivered the child to her — thus successfully completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy.”
As with other areas of immigration policy, what was true under Obama back in 2013 is doubly true under Biden; this administration considers itself to have “gotten control” of the border precisely because it is “successfully completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy”.
This is not to say the Biden crowd has some kind of secret plan to flood the country with Central Americans. They’re fully aware that the border emergency is the president’s biggest political vulnerability and they’ve scrambled, in vain, for ways to slow it down — so long as none of those ways involves enforcing the immigration laws.
But everyone is aware that specific U.S. laws and policies, dating back no further than 2008, are creating the incentives driving the current border crisis. The Trump administration tried, sometimes clumsily, to fix what it could and called on Congress to make statutory changes; that’s why the border was relatively stable by the end of Trump’s term. By contrast, the current administration is not only unwilling to do what it takes to slow the surge of border-jumpers — the very practices that it considers to have “yielded results” make it even more attractive to come illegally, with word having now spread as far as Brazil and India.
Biden’s acceptance of the ongoing surge of new illegal aliens — and his focus instead on their speedy release into the U.S. — is illustrated by a recent New York Times report. The paper noted that the president angrily lashed out at HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, whose job is to deliver illegal-alien minors to their illegal-alien relatives in the U.S. — but why hasn’t he lashed out at Alejandro Mayorkas, whose job is to prevent illegal immigration in the first place?
The number of border apprehensions may dip when the worst of the summer heat arrives. But the border crisis cannot be solved until the Biden administration understands that its real job is to plug the hole in the boat, not just to bail faster.