In case you missed it, President Biden finally visited the border earlier this month. In his address, he used the word “crisis” just once, and it wasn’t in reference to the border, but rather to the “climate crisis.” Aspiring migrants from around the world sensed opportunity when Biden took office. Illegal entries spiked within weeks of his inauguration. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has apprehended more than 4 million illegal aliens—including more than 100 on the FBI’s terrorist watch list—at the southwest border since January 2021, and an untold number have made it to the U.S. interior.
The president has a plan to combat these embarrassing statistics—but not the problem itself. Rather than enforcing existing immigration laws, Biden intends to let aspiring asylum-seekers schedule their unauthorized arrivals on an app. He’s also going to expand dramatically the humanitarian-parole program, supposedly limited by law to individuals without visas in emergency circumstances. These changes will allow 30,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to enter the U.S. legally each month. (It’s worth noting that 82,000 people from those countries tried to enter in November, so even this figure is inadequate.) The bottom line is that immigration will increase, but the president will make it legal so that the embarrassing number of border apprehensions will decline.
Biden is in good company in classifying climate change but not the border as a “crisis.” The media has now joined the words “climate” and “crisis” at the hip. For example, in the last year, the New York Times used the phrase “climate crisis” in 350 articles—almost one per day—but has used the term “border crisis” in only 35. CNN has 3,671 instances of the term “climate crisis” in its online archive but just 292 uses of the term “border crisis.” Problems that preoccupy the Left, like climate change, are crises; issues they’re not concerned about are not.
But local government officials don’t have the luxury of pretending the situation at the border isn’t serious. The historic flow of migrants is testing the progressive bona fides of many Democratic mayors and governors. Remember the howls of protest and lawsuits when Republican governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis deported migrants to sanctuary cities up north? White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre likened them to “smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala.” More recently, Jean-Pierre said that DeSantis’s move to activate the Florida National Guard in response to the migrant influx off Florida’s coasts was making a “mockery . . . of a process that the president is trying to fix.” But Jean-Pierre and others, including the president, have said nothing about Colorado governor Jared Polis’s recent move to bus some 1,900 migrants out of Denver. According to the Colorado Sun, Polis, a Democrat, authorized the state to spend $492,000 on bus fares to send 399 migrants to Chicago, 345 to New York City, 190 to Florida (Miami and Orlando), 122 to Atlanta, and 68 to Dallas.
The protests against Polis’s move came not from Florida, Georgia, or Texas—all governed by Republicans—but from Eric Adams and Lori Lightfoot, the Democratic mayors, respectively, of New York and Chicago, sanctuary cities that purport to welcome people of all nationalities regardless of legal status. The suddenly not-so-woke duo penned a scathing letter that caused Polis to halt the migrant busing, at least for now. “Sending migrants to our cities, whose systems are over capacity, where they may struggle to find shelter and other services is wrong and further victimizes these most vulnerable individuals,” the mayors wrote. “These actions do not live up to the values of a proclaimed welcoming state.”
Yet the media somehow thought Colorado’s voluntary deportation scheme merited only scant press coverage. The New York Times, for example, ignored the story, despite strongly condemning migrant-relocation efforts in Florida and Texas. In August 2022, the Times ran a typically critical piece with the headline, “G.O.P. Governors Cause Havoc by Busing Migrants to East Coast.”
Why did Denver receive an influx of some 4,100 migrants in the space of a few weeks in December and January? It’s been a sanctuary city since 2014, and one migrant told the Washington Post that he “came after hearing from others in El Paso that Denver was a welcoming refuge where immigration authorities would not bother undocumented immigrants.” As it turned out, the welcome mat wasn’t as luxurious as he and other migrants hoped, but the lesson remains: migrants make decisions based on what they hear from others.
Illegal crossings have spiked because migrants have decided to try their luck after hearing from others who have made it and are allowed to stay. Once inside the U.S., they gravitate to places where they know people or that they’ve heard are welcoming. Creating apps and granting mass paroles won’t solve the border crisis. The broad-based signal the government must send is that it is serious about enforcing U.S. laws.
Other countries facing their own illegal-immigration crises seem to understand this. Pending a legal challenge, the U.K. is planning to send those who enter the country illegally to Rwanda while their asylum claims are adjudicated. Australia began sending asylum applicants to offshore detention sites in Papua New Guinea in 2013 and now sends them to Nauru while their claims are heard. Human-rights advocates object to the policy, but the number of migrants who died at sea trying to reach Australia plummeted from 242 in 2012 to three in 2015.
The approval rate of asylum claims has risen during the Biden administration, from 29 percent in FY 2020 (under Donald Trump) to 37 percent in FY 2021. Still, most applicants are economic migrants who don’t have a legitimate, credible fear of returning to their homelands. Their cases must be processed while they remain in Mexico, but the administration has let in far too many migrants with obviously weak cases, and many will never show up for their court dates. The only significant stick the Biden administration has in its plan is expanding the use of the expedited-removal policy for individuals with no credible asylum claim. But as Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies points out, this can work as a deterrent only if the administration agrees to reverse course and detain these migrants until they’re removed, something it’s unlikely to do.
Unless Biden acts forthrightly to stem the flow of migrants, expect the crisis to worsen, and don’t be surprised if more centrist Democrats like Polis cry foul and seek to remove recent migrants from their jurisdictions. The Left hasn’t acknowledged it yet, but the migrant crisis is already turning some progressives into realists who understand the costs of unlimited and unregulated immigration.
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