President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to use “innovative approaches” to tackle illegal immigration on January 9, according to the White House.
Why did it take so long for Biden to start dealing with the US border crisis?
“President Biden has had two years to try to solve this problem, and it has only gotten worse,” Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington DC-based Center for Immigration Studies, told Sputnik. “We can only conclude that he does not want to solve it; in fact, he does not consider it to be a serious problem at all.”
“Allowing unprecedented numbers of illegal migrants into the United States to remain indefinitely apparently is his actual objective, no matter the consequences for the communities that are forced to accommodate the new arrivals, no matter the difficulty for those Americans and legal immigrants who must compete with the migrants for jobs and services, no matter the national security and public safety risks, and no matter the dangers to the safety of the migrants. All that matters is having more migration, legal or illegal,” Vaughan continued.
Having assumed office in January 2021, Joe Biden reversed most of his predecessor’s border policies. Ex-President Donald Trump struck a deal with the Mexican leadership to stem the tide of asylum seekers from South and Central America. Biden’s loosened border approach has resulted in an unprecedented upsurge in border encounters.
Mexico’s authorities expressed concerns over Joe Biden’s asylum strategy and warned that it was fueling illegal immigration and opening the door to organized crime. Mexican President Lopez Obrador suggested in March 2021 that asylum seekers see Biden “as the migrant president, and so many feel they’re going to reach the United States.”
“We need to work together to regulate the flow because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next,” Obrador stressed at the time.
In June 2021 Vice President Kamala Harris visited the US-Mexico border, although the location she chose, El Paso, was about 1,000 miles away from where most of the illegal border crossings occurred in Texas in the lower Rio Grande Valley between the Rio Grande City and Brownsville.
Meanwhile, the situation continued to worsen, with the Biden administration repeatedly coming under fierce criticism from GOP lawmakers and governors. Eventually, the GOP-led Texas, Florida, and Arizona governments started to fly and bus illegal migrants to blue states and Washington DC.
All in all, there were over 2.3 million migrant encounters during the 2022 fiscal year, well up from the 1/7 million in 2021. For comparison’s sake, under then-President Donald Trump, the number of encounters was 458,088 in 2020 and 977,509 in 2019.
“This is not a question of failure to solve the crisis but is, rather, the first-ever instance when an American president affirmatively chose a position that the United States will not endeavor to block, deter, control, reverse illegal immigration or follow specific laws requiring detention and deportation but to smooth and widen their pathway into the American interior,” argued Todd Bensman, a Texas-based senior national security fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies.
Ron Vitiello, former US Border Patrol Chief who served as deputy director and acting director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, appears to share Bensman’s stance: “The admin appears to be in favor of chaos on our border versus attempts at control,” Vitiello told Sputnik. “They claim to offer reform solutions and increased parole avenues, but everything they’ve done has made it worse.”
‘Sanitized’ Border Crisis & Trip to Mexico
Eventually, President Joe Biden visited the southern border this January for the first time in his presidency. However, Biden visited the border at a time when migration encounters dropped off significantly from December and encampments were cleaned up ahead of his arrival, according to the US press. The president got a “watered-down version of the border crisis” in El Paso, Texas, the media argued.
“This clumsy trip to the border is too little, too late, and only reinforces the incompetency of the Biden policies,” said Vaughan. “Biden saw only a sanitized border, had a photo op at the fence that he doesn’t believe in, and visited a migrant shelter and promised to send more money. No one is fooled that he intends to do what it will take to end the crisis.”
Having visited the border, the US president headed to Mexico to discuss the migrant problem among other issues with his Mexican counterpart. Obrador, who has subjected Washington to criticism on multiple occasions over the latter’s Latin America policies, challenged Biden again on Monday, urging the US president to end an attitude of “abandonment” and “disdain” for the region.
“This is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain, and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean,” the Mexican president argued.
Nonetheless, the White House noted in its Monday press release that “President Biden and President Lopez Obrador also reaffirmed their commitment to address the root causes of migration.”
According to Vitiello, this seems to be the step in the right direction: “Working with Mexico is important,” he said. “Previously, their assistance was based on Trump Admin threats of tariffs or ‘closing the border’.”
Todd Bensman does not share this optimistic approach: “The goal of the meeting is for Mexico to do its part in the next phase of border management, which is to pre-legalize hundreds of thousands of immigrants while they are still inside Mexico, under a questionable legal authority called ‘humanitarian parole’ so that they can be escorted ‘legally’ through established ports of entry or at American airports when they are flown in. Mexico will have to make accommodation for the long lines that no doubt already are forming on its territory. This is all about making the in-bound flow “orderly” not stopping or deterring it. And also so that no one can call them immigrants ‘illegal’.”
Timing of Biden’s New Border Focus
Biden’s abrupt decision to visit the southern border and start looking into the migration crisis could be caused by the GOP’s takeover of the House of Representatives in the aftermath of the midterms and the incumbent president’s apparent plans to run in 2024, according to the observers. “He has to calculate the 2024 run,” remarked Vitiello.
“The Democratic Biden administration up to now has received little congressional oversight on their enforcement of the border because fellow Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress,” Dr. Harvey Schantz, professor of political science at State University of New York at Plattsburgh, told Sputnik. “Now that the Republicans are in charge of the House, the administration will surely receive critical scrutiny on their border performance. It is best for the presidential administration to get out in front of the oversight and step up their performance on the southern border. A broad framework for migration has been difficult to achieve, and it is unlikely that the Congress and president will quickly enact a comprehensive plan that deals with the border and migrants already in the country.”
The observers expect GOP lawmakers to exert pressure on the Biden administration in the lower chamber of the US Congress. According to Todd Bensman, House Republicans are likely to “raise the volume about what’s really happening at the border, opening up investigations, calling public hearings, and possibly even starting impeachment proceedings against the president or [US Homeland Security Secretary] Alejandro Mayorkas for refusing to follow the Immigration and Nationality Act and creating illegal parallel immigration entry systems that were never approved by Congress.” He also expects that new bills will be introduced.
Still, according to him, one should not hold one’s breath: “most of this will be more noise than real change since the chambers are politically divided and Biden holds the White House.” However, the Republicans could by all of this influence the 2024 national elections to their advantage, Bensman suggested.
Vaughan appears to share Bensman’s skepticism:
“First, the Republicans will introduce bills that will set out their vision for reforming our immigration system, focusing on border security and the asylum system. Next, they will hold hearings to try to hold Biden officials accountable in full view of the public. Later, they will try to use the appropriations authority to control how the Biden administration spends taxpayer money, but they will have to negotiate with the Democratic Senate, so the confrontation will happen in the fall, at the end of the fiscal year. The reality is that not much will change,” she concluded.
**By Ekaterina Blinova