W. James Antle III
The uncontrolled surge of migrants at the southern border is being used as a major talking point against President Biden’s preferred immigration legislation and his approach to the issue generally.
The Republican National Committee has characterized Biden’s policy as “open borders and closed schools,” hitting the administration on immigration and COVID-19 simultaneously.
“Joe Biden’s policies are creating a crisis at the border,” said RNC rapid response director Tommy Pigott in a statement. “Far from reversing these policies, however, Biden is refusing to even recognize a crisis exists. It is a complete failure of leadership, and America’s border communities are paying the price.”
“The nation’s border crisis is certainly impacting President Biden’s mass amnesty immigration bill,” said Matthew Tragesser, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which advocates tighter immigration controls. “Even prior to February’s record apprehension totals, members of the president’s party voiced concern and skepticism over his radical amnesty bill. They understood that the bill was more so a messaging tactic and never really had a realistic chance of passage.”
Biden has endorsed legislation that would legalize most of the illegal immigrants believed to be in the United States, including an eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions. The proposal does not contain as many concessions to border security as previous bipartisan bills attempted as recently as when Biden was vice president under former President Barack Obama.
Combined with easing some of the immigration controls imposed by former President Donald Trump and backing a deportations pause, the latest bill may have encouraged migrants to believe it will be easier to enter the U.S. and then be allowed to stay afterward.
“Surges tend to respond to hope,” Biden administration coordinator for the southern border Roberta Jacobson told reporters at the White House, “and there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of, you know, pent-up demand.”
Customs and Border Protection reported 100,000 apprehensions at the border in February, up from 78,000 in January. There have been reports of 3,500 unaccompanied minors in Border Patrol detention cells. Biden frequently invoked “kids in cages” as the product of a Trump “zero-tolerance” policy when campaigning last year. He also said some of the removals that occurred in the Obama administration, when the then-president was depicted by activists as the “deporter in chief,” were a “mistake.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill have been quick to notice the connection.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, derided Biden’s “sweeping left-wing amnesty plan” and pointed to the border surge. “Republicans just spent four years making major headway on the security and humanitarian crises on our border,” he said from the Senate floor.
“Policy has consequences,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican in the House, told reporters at a press conference. “When you say that you’re not going to enforce our immigration laws, when you say that you’re not going to build a border wall, it has consequences. We’re seeing the tragic consequences of that right now at the border.”
“Recently, there has been a surge of illegal migration on the southern border,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, wrote in a letter to Biden and Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “This new crisis follows a series of actions by the Biden administration, such as steps to reverse the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, an attempt to halt deportations, a suspension of border wall construction, and support for amnesty legislation.”
Democrats argue that their proposed immigration changes are long overdue and that Trump engaged in demagoguery on the issue for four years. “We certainly also recognize that because the president and our administration has made a decision that the way to humanely approach immigration is to allow for — you know, for unaccompanied minors to come and be treated with humanity and — and be in a safe place while we’re considering, while we’re trying to get them into new homes, into homes and sponsored homes, that some more may have come to our border,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Immigration hawks acknowledge that even if they are able to defeat Biden’s big bill on the issue, there may still be an appetite on the Hill for smaller pieces of legislation.
“But make no mistake, congressional Democrats are still attempting to find new ways to amnesty large swaths of the illegal alien population and believe that smaller, more direct bills can achieve this,” Tragesser said. “This is why the House is voting on the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act next week — bills that amnesty millions in exchange for absolutely nothing to address the border crisis. Any lawmaker who votes for either is walking a political plank.”
GOP opponents will have a similar message against these proposals too.
“Rather than address the Biden border crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the country’s damaged economy, congressional Democrats are fixated on legislation to reward lawbreakers and incentivize migrants to come to the country illegally,” Tragesser said.