Mayorkas torpedoes Biden administration's stance on asylum seekers

Mayorkas torpedoes Biden administration's stance on asylum seekers
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President BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE has taken the position that Central American and other migrants attempting to enter the United States across our southern border are legitimate asylum seekers who are fleeing for their lives. The president has been harshly critical of his predecessor, who took the view that most of those attempting to reach the United States are economic migrants seeking better opportunities, rather than escaping persecution. President Biden has labeled former President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE’s policies that barred many migrants from entering the U.S. as “cruel” or “inhumane.”

No sooner had the words “so help me God” passed President Biden’s lips on Jan. 20 than a surge of migrants began arriving at the border. From the White House’s perspective, the timing could not have been worse. The immediacy of the new arrivals suggested direct cause and effect between the president’s words and deeds and the growing numbers of migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors. The worsening situation at the border coincides with other crises the administration is endeavoring to deal with, most notably COVID-19 and its effects on the U.S. economy and labor market.

So, on March 1, President Biden sent his Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue O'Rourke slams White House's treatment of Haitian migrants: 'Didn't have to happen' Sunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies MORE to explain the situation to the White House press corps and the American public.

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Big mistake. First, Secretary Mayorkas torpedoed the president’s claim to the moral high ground on immigration and political asylum by casting doubt on whether the people arriving at the border are legitimately in danger: “We are not saying, ‘Don't come.’ We are saying, ‘Don’t come now because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.’”

Aside from the obvious mixed message of “come, but just not now,” the secretary’s statement exposed some serious contradictions in the administration’s positions. If the people arriving at the border are legitimately in danger and need our immediate protection, how can we ethically ask them to sit tight? If they can wait (a week? a month? six months?), then they were never really legitimate asylum seekers in the first place. Thus, there was no basis for the Biden administration to cancel the “Remain in Mexico” policy and agreements with the governments of the Northern Triangle countries that were put in place by the past administration.

Secretary Mayorkas denied what is plainly evident to just about everyone else. In his remarks, he denied that there is a crisis along the border — or even a brewing one — by labeling it “a challenge.” The problem for the Biden administration is that Mayorkas’s assertion was made just hours after the department that he heads announced it was redeploying manpower and other resources to border areas that are being overwhelmed by the arrival of large numbers of migrants, particularly unaccompanied alien children. Federal law enforcement agencies don’t generally start pulling people in from thousands of miles away to deal with “a challenge.” 

“Challenge” is not necessarily a term that local officials in communities along the southern border embrace. Bruno Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio, Texas, recently took to YouTube to plead with the administration to prevent people from pouring across the border because the situation is a full-blown emergency that he and officials from other communities lack the resources to deal with.

But even if what is going on along the southern border is a crisis — which, of course, it isn’t because we say it isn’t — Mayorkas insisted that what’s happening is the fault of the Trump administration. “I think it is important to understand what we have inherited, because it defines the situation as it currently stands,” he said. “… What we are seeing now at the border is the immediate result of the dismantlement of the system and the time that it takes to rebuild it virtually from scratch.”   

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We are grappling with “the immediate result of the dismantlement of [our immigration enforcement] system,” but it is not a situation that the Biden administration inherited. Rather, it is the immediate result of the Biden administration’s wrecking ball-approach to all manner of immigration enforcement. Aside from tearing up cooperative agreements with Mexico and Central America, the new regime has vowed to end all immigration enforcement, end detention of people entering the country illegally, halt construction of the border wall (which Biden voted for as a senator), grant amnesty to everyone who is here illegally, and take other steps that send a clear signal that now is precisely the time to come.

If not for the fact that Mayorkas is the chief architect of the mess that is the Biden immigration policy, one might actually feel sorry for him having to try to explain it to the American public. Although it was not his intent, the secretary managed to make two things clear: The Biden immigration policy is driven by political, not humanitarian, considerations and the administration is prepared to deny reality in order to achieve its ends.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).