The numbers are staggering and nothing like we've seen at the U.S.-Mexico border in 20-plus years: More than 210,000 illegal migrants were encountered in July, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). For context, in July 2019, CBP encountered 81,000 individuals attempting to illegally cross the border; in July 2020, that number was just 40,000.
Meanwhile, conditions at facilities in border towns are horrific and heartbreaking. Tent cities are being built; border agents are undermanned and exhausted. All while COVID-19 rages due to the Delta variant, and very few migrants entering the country are vaccinated.
Images of migrant center in Donna, Texas show cramped conditions as border numbers surgehttps://t.co/afIQeazORD— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 6, 2021
The South Texas border city of McAllen has put up several tents to house an overflow of migrants with COVID-19 who have been released by federal authorities and have nowhere else to go.https://t.co/xTukDleF6e— Texoma's Homepage (@TexomasHomepage) August 5, 2021
“There’s always gonna be those who are affected more deeply with it, just dealing with the constant flow of kids."— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) July 10, 2019
Exhausted border patrol agents hanging on by a threadhttps://t.co/CpFK1t84Ef
New: More than 18 pct of families, 20 pct of children test positive for Covid upon leaving Border Patrol custody, according to internal DHS documents prepared to brief Biden this week. Documents blame Delta variant and crowded conditions. https://t.co/p4obH4MBMr— Julia E. Ainsley (@JuliaEAinsley) August 7, 2021
On top of all this, Axios reported recently that 50,000 migrants were released into the U.S. without a court date.
President Biden has been in office for more than 200 days and has yet to visit the border. Perhaps that's why it's been more than 90 days since he's done a sit-down media interview. Truly remarkable that the handlers of the man who received more votes than any presidential candidate in U.S. history are afraid of a mostly-friendly media.
Biden, of course, put Vice President Harris in charge of solving the crisis at the border. A fascinating choice, considering that Harris once agreed that illegal border crossings should be made legal. Harris has yet to hold a press conference to take questions on her performance in this role, which began 138 days ago. And before you say that vice presidents don’t do press conferences, it’s worth noting that former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump Heritage Foundation names new president Fewer than 4 in 10 say US is on right track: poll MORE did dozens in 2020 as head of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.
To this point in time, the press has largely given Biden-Harris a pass on the border, despite the images emerging from places like Mission, Texas, where migrants are camped under a bridge or held in a nearby shelter that is "roughly 500 percent over capacity.” And most evening newscasts have pretended, at least to this point, that the story isn't worth a precious minute or two to cover, save for a periodic exception.
Recent drone footage captured hundreds of newly arrived migrants under the Anzalduas Bridge in Mission, Texas. Meanwhile, nearby in McAllen, a shelter is roughly 500% over capacity. Video: Mauricio Atilano (RGV Aerial) - More: https://t.co/L6VX86SEDP pic.twitter.com/WG68q9cuS7— Spectrum News 1 Texas (@SpectrumNews1TX) August 4, 2021
But Biden's head-in-the-sand strategy has run out of runway, as the numbers and optics are too difficult for even a supportive press to ignore. Over the past week, the tide has noticeably turned in editorial pages across the country, most notably in the Washington Post:
President Biden needs a coherent strategy for the border, the Editorial Board writes https://t.co/te2hi3gFEb— Washington Post Opinions (@PostOpinions) August 8, 2021
"In its apparent desperation to fashion an immigration strategy that will impose order on increasingly out-of-control migration, the Biden administration has unleashed a torrent of words and goals untethered to specific policies and timetables," the Post editorial board argued on Sunday.
"Officials have effectively reversed and rolled back some of the Trump administration’s most pernicious policies, but without a clear road map to address the immediate crisis — a decades-high surge in illegal border-crossing — or the long-term challenge driving migration: dysfunction, disorder and decay in Central America," it continues.
"For the most part, the administration’s impulses are humane. However, they have driven a policy whose incoherence has yielded pressure at the border that may cost the Democrats control of one or both houses of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. So far, there is nothing in the administration’s short- or long-term strategizing that is likely to shift that dynamic," it adds.
Other publications across the political spectrum have hammered Team Biden on the issue, too:
NEW: Biden wrote off the spike in migrants arriving at the border as a result, at least in part, of winter months being the safest time to make the trek. Six months into his term, Biden and his team are being proved wrong, story w/ @sabrod123 https://t.co/xgWsywCgBT— Anita Kumar (@anitakumar01) August 5, 2021
If Biden wants to defer to health officials on masking and social distancing, he can’t ignore these same officials when they say that large numbers of untested migrants at the border may be contributing to the virus spikes, writes @jasonrileywsj https://t.co/Jw1UweiH77— WSJ Editorial Page (@WSJopinion) August 8, 2021
From opinion columnist @RJRobb: The Biden administration recently released two strategy reports to improve border security in the short and long term. They don't amount to much.https://t.co/7ykeOKaePN— azcentral (@azcentral) August 8, 2021
Polls show that the administration's apathetic and incoherent strategy, when it does apply itself, spells very big trouble if holding on to the House and Senate next year is the goal. Just 33 percent of American adults approve of Biden’s job on the border, according to a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll. (Wow — who knew that 33 percent of the public was blind and deaf? Because anyone with functioning eyes and ears can see the catastrophe there.)
An AP-NORC Poll specifically asking about Biden's handling of children reaching the nation’s southern border without their parents has the president at just 24 percent approval.
"President Biden's advisers view the border situation as among, if not the biggest political liability that they have," Axios' Jonathan Swan recently told “Fox News Sunday.” He said the polling “on it is pretty stark. Voters do not give him high marks for his handling of immigration."
"So, what they've done is — is really try to keep it off the front burner, not talk about it, focus on COVID and the economy, occasionally address it when they feel they need to offer reassurance," Swan continued. "But the fact is ... the numbers are the highest they've been in two decades. It hasn't been seasonal. They continued through July. And there are a number of problems with COVID with this migrant community."
Throw in 86 percent of voters saying they worry about inflation, and 78 percent seeing violent crime as a major problem, and you have a brewing red tsunami potentially coming for Democrats in 2022.
Team Biden seemed to believe the border crisis would disappear. A disengaged media, save for a few outlets, helped in keeping the bad news off the air and off the editorial pages in a classic case of the bias of omission.
But this crisis is too hard to bury, too hard to ignore.
Now the administration needs to show that it can turn the tide at the border. But it has two problems: It doesn’t have the leadership or the plan to do so, if its actions – or inactions – to this point are any indication.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.