The Memo: Biden feels the pressure on migration amid El Paso crisis
Two big developments are putting immigration front and center — and threatening to disrupt the momentum that President Biden and the Democrats had been enjoying in the wake of better-than-expected midterm results.
First, there has been a startling surge of migrants across the border at El Paso, Texas.
Second, the ending of Title 42 is imminent unless courts intervene at the last moment — a shift that is sure to see the high numbers of migrants at the border climb even higher.
Those developments, along with the inherently emotive nature of immigration, could complicate life for Democrats when they are otherwise enjoying a post-midterm boost and feeling optimism that inflation may be past its peak.
Even relatively moderate Republicans like Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) are blaming the administration for the “crisis at the border.”
In a video clip posted to Twitter Wednesday, Cassidy complained the Biden administration “is ignoring both the cause and the fact of people coming to our border. That’s got to stop.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called for Republicans and “common sense Democrats” to work together to extend Title 42’s powers in a Tuesday op-ed on the website of Fox News, arguing it would be “insane” to let its provisions lapse without an alternative plan.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee emailed reporters Tuesday pointing to comments from Biden earlier this month saying, when asked why he would not visit the border, “there are more important things going on.”
Biden’s disinclination to visit the border seems likely to grow into a bigger issue, just as a similar stance by Vice President Harris did in the first months of the administration.
In October of this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 2.3 million migrant encounters in the previous 12 months at the southern border — the highest number ever.
If Title 42 ends, it seems clear that the situation will grow graver.
Title 42 is the measure deployed by the Trump administration at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic to speed the expulsion of asylum-seekers and other migrants from the U.S. under the auspices of protecting public health.
The provision has been used in about 2.4 million encounters since March 2020.
But a court ruling in November ordered an end to the use of the regulation, setting a deadline of Dec. 21 for its expiration. The Biden administration has appealed that ruling, and a decision on the appeal may come this week.
If the appeal fails, virtually everyone expects a migrant surge — at a time when facilities already appear strained to capacity.
Democrats and their allies argue that they are still grappling with the problems caused by the Trump administration’s changes to the immigration system, as well as broader migratory trends.
In a statement Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asserted that “economic and political instability around the world is fueling the highest levels of migration since World War II, including throughout the Western Hemisphere.”
Mayorkas added that, while the administration was doing its best in the circumstances, “a real solution can only come from legislation that brings long-overdue and much-needed reform to a fundamentally broken system.”
Meanwhile, the people actually charged with law enforcement on the border are disenchanted.
“I’ve been doing this job for 25 years and I have never seen morale lower than it is,” Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the labor union that represents border patrol agents, told this column.
“We feel defeated. We feel like we are not able to do the job.”
Judd cited the increased use of border patrol agents to make initial assessments of asylum claims as one problem. The task forces agents into roles very different from the law enforcement responsibilities for which they are trained, he argued.
“The job is to be in the field, patrolling the border,” Judd added. “Instead, we are doing asylum work, which was never the job. That makes it pretty difficult right on the front end.”
El Paso experienced an influx of more than 50,000 migrants in October alone, the most recent month for which data is available.
That has left the city’s services close to breaking point, strained its finances — the city says it has spent $9.5 million on migrant services this year — and has also led to emotive TV footage of long lines of migrants crossing the border.
According to the Texas Tribune, one processing facility in El Paso, intended for 3,500 migrants at most, was hosting more than 5,100 as of Sunday.
Liberal activist groups, meanwhile, contend that key facts in the debate are consistently overlooked, often in favor of demagoguery.
Douglas Rivlin, the director of communication for America’s Voice, a liberal group, emphasized that people are legally entitled to claim asylum and to have their claims heard.
“Things are always framed in terms of, Should we have more harsh or less harsh enforcement?” Rivlin said. “In a political atmosphere, the argument for more harsh enforcement gets more traction.
“It is harder to argue that we should have a system where people ask for asylum, adjudicates asylum claims, sends home people who don’t qualify and allows people who do to go on through the process,” Rivlin added.
For now, however, those voices are struggling to be heard amid the scenes from El Paso, and the fear that there are more troubles to come.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage
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