The border crisis has brought chaos to America

Joe Biden has shown how much can go wrong when a government gives up on enforcing its border.

Sean Collins
US correspondent

Topics Politics USA

In 2023, the US reached a new milestone. Its foreign-born population reached 15 per cent, the highest-ever recorded percentage since the nation’s founding. This recent surge is driven primarily by illegal entry via the US-Mexico border, where the number of migrants continues to rise. In December 2023, we saw a new record monthly high in illegal entrants on the south-west border.

It is no exaggeration to say that the latest wave of migrants has caused a crisis. This unexpected influx has overwhelmed towns and cities across the country and left them straining to find the funds to house and feed these newcomers. Local news is full of stories of crimes being committed by newly arrived migrants.

Americans increasingly recognise that the situation is out of control. Some three-quarters say the condition of the south-west border is a ‘crisis’ or ‘very serious’. In fact, immigration has become the primary concern of American voters, recently overtaking even inflation and the economy.

Until recently, President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats tried to argue that Republicans were exaggerating the border problem. But as the situation has deteriorated, that line has been harder to maintain.

This is a crisis of Biden’s own making. Biden, along with secretary of homeland security Alejandro Mayorkas and others in the administration, have systematically adopted measures that have encouraged a largely unrestrained inflow of migrants.

Having campaigned in 2020 on overturning Trump’s immigration policies, Biden got to work quickly. In his first 100 days in office, he signed 94 executive orders designed to dismantle the border protections installed by the Trump administration. He suspended the ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, which required applicants to stay in Mexico while they awaited an asylum interview. He also scrapped agreements with Central American nations to limit immigration to the US from those countries. And he tried to impose a moratorium on most deportations, though this was blocked by a federal judge. Biden did, however, manage to stop construction on the border wall.

Over the past three years, Biden and Mayorkas have shown little interest in enforcing existing immigration laws. While the law requires the authorities to detain anyone who enters the country without proper documentation, the Biden administration’s policy of ‘catch and release’ has paved the way for allowing record numbers into the US.

The immigration parole system is meant to allow entry for limited, emergency purposes. Biden’s Department of Homeland Security has abused that authority to grant parole to more than 1.5million people. The administration has essentially given up on securing the border. Every year it has asked for less money to enforce the border and detain migrants. It has even explicitly undermined US Border Patrol, ordering agents to focus on transporting and processing migrants rather than policing the border.

The Biden administration’s intensifying legal fights with the state of Texas show the lengths it will go to sabotage border enforcement. Texas governor Greg Abbott has taken matters into his own hands to try to stem the flow of illegal migrants, giving new powers to law enforcement and beefing up security measures. In one case, the Biden administration took Texas to the Supreme Court to assert its right to dismantle razor-wire fences installed by Abbott. (The court ruled in Biden’s favour on the grounds that the federal government has precedence over immigration policy.)

In two other pending cases, the Biden administration is suing Texas to remove a floating barrier in the Rio Grande, and to stop the state from issuing deportation orders. Here we have an unbelievable situation where the federal government is stepping in to prevent its own laws from being enforced.

This lax legal enforcement, combined with Biden’s overt pro-immigration rhetoric, has encouraged nothing short of a mass movement of people. In a recent immigration case, one judge said the administration’s actions were ‘akin to posting a flashing “Come In, We’re Open” sign on the southern border’. Even the liberal New York Times admits that Biden’s non-deportation policies have incentivised migrants to enter the country illegally: ‘They are certain that once they make it to the United States they will be able to stay. Forever. And by and large, they are not wrong.’

Migrants across the world have received Biden’s message loud and clear. Since Biden entered the White House in 2021, US Customs and Border Protection has recorded some eight million encounters with migrants nationwide. Approximately seven million of those occurred on the US-Mexico border. The number of migrants encountered on the south-west border under Biden has averaged about 200,000 per month, which is five times as many as during the Trump era.

The Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed that the Biden administration has caught and released 2.3million migrants. In addition, it is estimated that 1.6million ‘gotaways’ (a term used by Border Patrol agents) illegally entered the US without being apprehended. That comes to a total of nearly four million illegal migrants – roughly equivalent to the population of Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US.

Border officials ‘lack the logistical, care, legal and policy infrastructure’ to deal with the massive number of migrants, according to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute. Consequently, ‘authorities are processing migrants quickly and releasing large numbers of them into the United States with a notice to appear at later immigration proceedings’. But the legal system is overwhelmed by huge backlogs. There are reports that some court dates will be delayed until 2035. On top of that, many migrants will not show up in court at all. One analysis found that fewer than 17 per cent of arrivals ultimately achieve legal asylum status. As a result, millions reside in the country without any legal authorisation.

Accommodating such large numbers of people, who arrive in such a disorganised way, stretches the resources of cities where the migrants land. For years, Democrats denounced Americans in border states like Texas as bigots for complaining about the disruption and strains that large-scale illegal migration can cause. But now, as migrants flock to Democrat-governed cities like New York and Chicago, that simplistic narrative has been upended. It turns out that the self-described ‘sanctuary cities’ are not very keen on migrants when they actually arrive. Democratic New York City mayor Eric Adams has said that incoming migrants ‘will destroy’ his city. His administration expects to spend $12 billion over the next three years on housing and feeding migrants. Naturally, this will force cuts in the budgets for schools, police, sanitation and other services. Many black Americans in particular are angry about the loss of public resources, creating a divide between these voters and the ‘progressive’ Democrats who claim to represent them.

To make matters worse, American society was already under severe stress. Post-Covid, many cities have experienced surges in violent crime, shoplifting, homelessness and drug-dealing. There is a general sense of social decay. Adding migrant shelters and encampments to this scene does not help. And while most migrants are law-abiding, not all are, of course. Yet even when illegal migrants commit crimes, there is a reluctance to deport them.

One case in late January caused a huge public uproar. A group of migrants from Venezuela were caught on video kicking and beating two New York police officers near Times Square. Five migrants were later arrested and charged. But rather than locking up or deporting them, prosecutors set the perpetrators free without bail. Some reportedly fled the state and one was later arrested as part of a shoplifting crew.

After three years of claiming that the border is ‘secure’, Biden and Mayorkas have finally admitted they have a crisis on their hands. ‘For too long, we all know the border’s been broken’, reads a recent White House statement. Clearly, what’s driving the u-turn is the increasingly disastrous polling, which suggests that the border issue might cost Biden his re-election in November. But, while admitting the crisis is real, Biden is not accepting any blame for it. Nor is he reversing his open-door policies.

Instead, Biden is trying to offload blame for the border situation on to the Republicans, following their unwillingness to support legislation in the Senate to amend immigration law. But it is understandable why Republicans in the House of Representatives rejected his proposal. Biden already has the authority to tighten border controls and enforcing existing laws should always precede introducing any new ones. This legislation was pure gesture politics from the Democrats. If Biden were serious, he would reinstate some of the Trump-era border rules and stop suing Texas. But he has no intention of doing that.

It is true that the Republicans do not have a holistic vision for immigration either, beyond calling for more security on the border. And the House’s recent vote to impeach Mayorkas – the first cabinet minister to face impeachment in nearly 150 years – is just grandstanding. It won’t remove Mayorkas from office and will change nothing. But if Biden believes the public will blame Republicans rather than himself for the border chaos, he is delusional.

When asked, the American people have a fairly balanced view on the border. Generally, most say immigration is good for the country, especially more immigration via legal channels. They do not want to pull up the drawbridge to newcomers, but they do want to see tougher security controls and restrictions on illegal entry. They certainly do not want the chaos that can unfold when the government gives up on enforcing the border.

Biden’s failure to address this crisis could well prove to be his downfall.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics USA


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