Unherd, October 20, 2021
In the 1983 movie The Big Chill, a disillusioned former public defender describes the criminals she’d been assigned to represent in court as the scum of the earth. When asked what she’d expected, she answered, “I don’t know. I just didn’t think they’d be ... so guilty.”
In the same vein, the Biden administration did not seem to expect that the immigration activists it catered to during the presidential campaign (and drew upon to staff his administration) would be ... so anti-borders.
The conflict between the radical demands of these immigrant-rights groups and the White House desire to avoid political catastrophe broke out into the open over the weekend. During a Zoom call on Saturday with administration officials, activists read a statement decrying the fact that the Biden administration was complying with a court order to restore a Trump-era immigration-control measure, and then staged a virtual walkout (i.e. they logged off).
The immediate cause of this stunt was a federal court filing by the administration pledging that it would be prepared to comply in November with the judge’s order to reinstate the prior administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program. That program required asylum seekers to wait south of the border for their hearing dates, rather than be released into the U.S., where many promptly disappear.
Biden suspended the program on his first day in office, but was sued by the states of Texas and Missouri. Federal law requires illegal-alien asylum seekers either to be held in detention or made to wait outside the country until the resolution of their claims. Biden had been doing neither, instead simply releasing them.
But the administration’s preparation to comply with the court order was only the spark. The deeper problem is that, while the two sides agree on the goals of de facto unlimited immigration, the White House accepts the political necessity of boiling the frog slowly, lest Democrats lose control of both houses of Congress next year, and the presidency in 2024.
The president had net disapproval on immigration even early in his term when he enjoyed something of a honeymoon with the public. But as his numbers have gone down generally, immigration has led the way. A recent AP-NORC poll found just 35 percent of the public approved of the administration’s handling of immigration, while a Quinnipiac poll a few days later found just 25 percent approval on immigration.
The activist groups don’t care. One of them told Politico, “backlash will exist regardless of what they do,” an implicit acknowledgement that the Democrats are going to lose anyway, so they should go for broke now. The activists are unwilling to boil the frog slowly and refuse to utter the usual soothing falsehoods — they want the borders opened, now. The statement they read before the virtual walkout included this telling line: “We refuse to be complicit in deterrence-based border policies” — what other kind of border enforcement is there?
The maximalist demands of the Left-wing immigration groups — backed by attention-getting pranks like blocking the Golden Gate Bridge and shaving their heads in front of the White House — mean there’s no way Biden will be able to satisfy them. And their central role in his coalition, along with the fact that open immigration has become an immutable value of the Left, means he also can’t distance himself from them. And thus the immigration issue will continue to be an albatross around Joe Biden’s neck.