Customs and border guards speak to a migrant in Matamoros, Mexico on February 22nd.
John Moore / Getty Images
The White House dispatched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the southern border on Saturday, tacitly acknowledging the growing humanitarian crisis as migrants invaded the United States. Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s restrictive adviser, couldn’t have found a better way to undermine the prospect for immigration reform.
FEMA usually deals with unpredictable disasters like hurricanes, but this border problem is man-made. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported nearly 397,000 migrant encounters on the southwest border in the first five months of fiscal 2021, which began in October. That is around 25% more than in the same period in 2019.
In 2019, according to the Inspector General of the Ministry of Homeland Security, the increase in migrants led to a “dangerous overcrowding” of border control stations and detention facilities. Covid and social distancing requirements have further reduced capacity in government institutions and nonprofit accommodations.
Unaccompanied children arrive in droves. CBP reported nearly 9,500 encounters in February, up 61% from January. The Washington Post Reports that more than 8,500 migrant children are being housed in Department of Health and Human Services facilities, while another 3,500 – “the highest number ever” – are stuck at CBP stations waiting for a place to be opened in the shelters.
Waiting times for children stuck in CBP facilities are now often exceeding the 72-hour legal limit, and the Post says unaccompanied children “wait in cramped and strict cells with concrete floors and benches” that have “lights on for 24 hours shine during the day ”. “Do you remember 2019 when the media and Democrats labeled similar conditions a moral disaster?
Texas Democratic MP Henry Cuellar is warning that the rising numbers are “a crisis for our local communities”. He says nonprofits and local governments need to “look for Covid-19 tests, food and housing for these migrants”. The Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, a non-profit organization in Del Rio that helps migrants reported last month when the human flood nearly ran out of supplies.
Migrants respond to incentives, and the surge in border crossings is a direct response to Biden’s politics and rhetoric. Due to Covid, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an emergency decree to exclude migrants from unrelated countries. However, the Biden government has released unaccompanied children and, in some cases, entire families have been released to the United States
Under the Trump administration’s migrant protection protocols, asylum seekers in Mexico waited for their cases to be resolved by U.S. immigration courts. The Biden administration has ended this policy and started accepting asylum seekers with cases pending regardless of how far away the claims are. Migrants can obtain permission to work after submitting asylum applications. Waiting for an asylum court hearing can literally take years, and many applicants never bother to come forward.
The clear signal to migrants and to the people smugglers who lead people across the border is that now is the time to come to America. This signal was reinforced by the message from the White House that it wants to legalize the 11 million undocumented migrants already in the US with a quick route to citizenship. Message: Get on board asap to qualify.
Meanwhile, the Biden proposal offers few incentives for migrants to wait and enter legally. In a concession to the unions, the bill does not offer any new avenues for guest workers who could legally enter to work in vacant jobs. Without the ability to move back and forth legally, more migrants will enter illegally and run their risk of being caught.
President Biden has withdrawn into this boxing canyon by ignoring the political and economic realities. Americans want to be generous to immigrants but also reject the view that the US can fund the health care and education of anyone who breaks US law to get here. This should be clear enough if the 2007 immigration reform went back to George W. Bush.
US immigration policy is blocked by the extremes of entry for all left and the restrictive right of Stephen Miller. Even modest reforms are not carried out without public confidence that the government will not invite an onslaught of illegal migration that overwhelms the border and creates a human crisis. An urgent rethink in the White House is needed.
Journal Editorial Report: Biden and the Democrats are crushing it from the left. Image: Alex Brandon / Associated Press
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Published in the print edition on March 15, 2021.