Will Biden shut down the country and throw open the borders?
Joe Biden was elected to be the steady, competent hand to guide the nation through COVID-19 health and economic crises, and perhaps heal social divisions. The president-elect has yet to reveal his plan for getting the pandemic under control, but sources close to him have indicated that it could entail a lengthy national lockdown in addition to other stringent measures.
By the time Biden takes office in mid-January, Americans will have endured nearly a year of pandemic-related disruption in their lives and could be facing another spike in new infections. Under the circumstances, most Americans likely would be willing to cooperate with all reasonable measures taken by the new president in the hope that we could finally turn the corner on the pandemic.
But, while the Biden plan almost surely will include some limits on our freedoms of movement within the country, his policies regarding movement of people from outside the country across our borders appear to be diametrically opposite. The emerging outlines of his immigration and border security policies indicate that the Biden administration will be the most open border-oriented in modern history. If implemented, these policies effectively would invite an unprecedented influx of migrants across our borders, even as the rest of us are being asked or required to hunker down.
The Biden campaign positions — which we must assume will be the policies he puts in place once he is sworn in — likely will spark the largest and most sustained surge of migrants pouring across our borders. Among other steps, the president-elect has said he intends to cancel agreements with Mexico and Central American governments under which they halted large, organized migrant caravans that were headed for the U.S. border.
Additionally, under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs), third-country migrants hoping to claim political asylum in the United States have been required to remain in Mexico until a hearing on their claims can be conducted. This policy appears to have discouraged fraudulent asylum claimants who previously crossed the border illegally and were released into the United States pending hearings — in many cases never to be seen again.
If the Biden administration carries through on its pledge to end the MPPs and additional promises not to detain illegal border crossers, and freeze all deportations for at least 100 days, we could see unprecedented numbers of migrants entering our country with, at best, cursory health checks amid a global pandemic. Whatever beneficial health effects might result from a national lockdown for U.S. citizens would be more than offset by the health risks associated with large influxes of people from outside our borders.
Economically and fiscally, the problems associated with a simultaneous national lockdown and open border are as problematic as the health risks. A national lockdown — which may be necessary to check the spread of the virus — inevitably would take an even greater toll on American businesses and exacerbate already high rates of unemployment. Tens of millions of unemployed Americans understandably would question why the new administration would throw open the doors to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of migrants even as their own job prospects grow dimmer.
A national lockdown, which would impose still greater economic hardships, also would place even greater strains on public assistance programs that are largely paid for by state and local governments. Many of these jurisdictions already are staring at the fiscal abyss. The most desperate of these states and localities are the deep blue jurisdictions that voted overwhelmingly for Biden, and are the targeted beneficiaries of congressional Democrats’ efforts to provide them massive cash infusions.
When he takes office on Jan. 20, 2021, Joe Biden will inherit stewardship of a nation in the grips of a three-headed crisis: health, employment and fiscal. As much as he might want to, or feel pressured to make good on immigration promises he made to his party’s progressive left wing, a majority of Americans fervently hopes that once he assumes the responsibilities of office Biden will apply his political capital and consensus-building skills to addressing the crises that await him.
A self-inflicted border crisis, while trying to tame a national health, economic and fiscal one, is the last thing he or the country really needs.
Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
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