The Border Surge Is Much More than a Humanitarian Issue

By Stanley Renshon on July 22, 2014

The president's framing of the unprecedented surge of illegal aliens turning themselves into border officials in the expectation of being allowed to stay in the United States, as an "urgent humanitarian situation", is only partially correct. The phase is designed to misdirect public attention away from the more damming truths of the surge; it is equally, if not more so, a crisis of enforcement, governing, and the president's responsibility carry out his oath of office. It is an ethical issue for the public as well as the president.

None of these considerations are captured or even suggested by the administration's preferred phasing. Nor are they meant to do so.

While there is a clear humanitarian dimension of the crisis, it is, at its core, a crisis of immigration enforcement and, more generally, the rule of law that is the foundation of American political culture. To state the obvious, the United States has established rules for immigrant admission. The basic foundation of these rules is well captured by University of Chicago constitutional scholar Eric Posner's observation that, "Immigration law forbids foreigners to enter and settle in this country without authorization based on criteria laid out in statutes."

This basic premise does not entail traveling to the border to enter the country without permission; turning yourself in to the first border agent you see; being given housing, clothing, medical attention, and money; and then provided with transportation and released into the United States. But that is exactly what is happening.

Why this is happening is a matter of debate. For some, the dominant factor is a crime surge in the three Central American countries that are sending the majority of the new illegal migrants. Other reports indicate that the dominant factor is the belief among those who are surging toward the southern border that they will be allowed to stay. A Washington Post headline well captured that belief: "Influx of minors across Texas border driven by belief that they will be allowed to stay in U.S."

A Houston Chronicle story details the thinking involved:

But each person on the bus had at least one critical possession: a packet of U.S. government-issued documents ordering them to report to immigration officials within 15 days of landing at their new destination, and to appear in immigration court on a set date.

The paperwork confers no legal status, but many immigrants see it as a pass to a new life. Edilberto Lanza Mejia, a 26-year-old from Honduras holding his infant son, described it like this: "It is a permit to enter the United States."

Not only enter, but most likely stay.

Crime syndicates have exploited and exacerbated this situation, which is expected. Coyotes and cartels have no moral scruples; they do it for the money.

But what kind of government sends repeated signals that it has narrowed interior immigration enforcement to the point that an illegal migrant's odds of getting deported are "close to zero"? What kind of government creates a major amnesty program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — through administrative discretion and gives repeated signals that it is planning an even more extensive administrative amnesty in the very near future that will provide legal status for many if not most of the 11.7 million illegal immigrants now in the United States?

Answer: A government headed by a president who cares much less about his political, ethical, and legal responsibilities to ordinary Americans to protect the rule of law that underlies American political culture and their confidence in it, than he does about forging what he hopes will become a permanent progressive majority spearheaded by his party and including the ethnic beneficiaries that his immigration policies have been primarily geared toward.

Next: The President's Dereliction of His Basic Governing Responsibilities