Texas congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, earned the ire of his party this week by wondering aloud if President Obama’s refusal to travel to the border would be his “Katrina moment.” “He should come down,” the representative told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto.
Cuellar knows well what is happening along the Rio Grande and elsewhere: The 28th district, which he represents, extends from San Antonio to Laredo and includes more than 100 miles along Texas’s southwest border. The White House is not happy. Cuellar told Fox & Friends that he has received a dressing-down from Pennsylvania Avenue.
And the administration is now defending itself against Cuellar’s comment. White House Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Muñoz, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, told her hosts that “it doesn’t make sense to compare this to a natural disaster.”
For once, the White House is right. The crisis on America’s southern border is not “Obama’s Katrina.” It is much worse.
Unlike Hurricane Katrina, the border crisis is not the consequence of a natural phenomenon. Warm Atlantic waters or scraping tectonic plates cannot be blamed for the 99 percent increase in unaccompanied alien children crossing the border in Fiscal Year 2014. No, the “humanitarian situation” — Muñoz’s phrase, a noticeable downgrade of what the president himself had previously called a “crisis” — is what the White House ought to deem a “man-caused disaster,” were that euphemism not already reserved for acts of terror.
What is to blame? How about the Obama administration’s 2012 decision to implement the DREAM Act by executive order? That decision combined with the administration’s unwillingness to enforce existing immigration law, has finally worked its way to Central America, where local and international media and word of mouth have spread news of permisos, U.S. government-issued documents enabling immigrants to stay in the United States temporarily, if they can get across the border.
Efforts to label these immigrants “refugees” rely on reasons some immigrants have cited for departing their native countries: poverty, unemployment, gang-related violence. But these are longstanding problems in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and elsewhere, none of which has increased dramatically enough in the last year to account for the sudden increase in illegal immigration. These factors may contribute — but it is difficult to contend that extreme poverty in 2008 was tolerable, but that in 2014 the same poverty qualifies persons for refugee status.
Moreover, the comparison to Hurricane Katrina fails on another count: When George W. Bush flew over New Orleans in Air Force One, surveying the damage from the sky without taking the opportunity to land, the storm was over. President Obama’s crisis is ongoing — and unlike Bush, who could not have stood in the levees and done his best Tim Howard, President Obama has the ability — right now — to mitigate the border crisis. It would require doing little else than what he already loves to do: give a speech. The president could stand at the border, a couple of Border Patrol agents in the background (if they can be spared), and declare that anyone who enters the country from this moment forward will be turned away, no exceptions. No permisos, no amnesty, nada. That message, too, will find its way into presses south of the border. It is not an airtight solution, nor does it resolve the question of what to do with the more than 52,000 children who have entered the country already. But it’s a start.
The president will not do that, though. Even visiting the border is out of the question, despite his willingness to attend three fundraisers in Texas this week. But not to worry, says Muñoz: “This is a humanitarian situation that we have been on top of from the very beginning.”
With illegal immigrants continuing to pour into the country, the Border Patrol overwhelmed, and American citizens gathering to protest, that is hard to believe.
The Katrina comparison is spot-on in this regard at least: Like a hurricane, this crisis is rapidly spinning out of control.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.