Top advisers to president-elect Joe Biden said Monday they will not immediately roll back asylum restrictions at the Mexico border and other restrictive Trump administration policies, walking back some of Biden’s campaign promises for “Day One” changes.
As I noted on the home page last week, this was inevitable. The Post story notes that the comments by Biden’s incoming domestic-policy adviser Susan Rice,”reflect the incoming administration’s worries that easing up too quickly on Trump’s enforcement system could trigger a new migration surge at the border.”
Rice told Spanish-language wire service EFE that:
Migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.
The thing is, prospective migrants base their decisions on our government’s actions, not on officials’ words. When the migrant crisis started under Obama, U.S. officials ran ads in Central America warning that “there are no permits for the people trying to cross the border without papers” and promising “the immediate deportation of those trying to cross the border without documents.”
But the ads were false. There were permits for illegal migrants, especially if they had kids with them and they uttered the magic “asylum” word, as coached by smugglers and U.S. anti-borders activists, and no one uttering those magic words experienced “immediate deportation.” And so the border crisis continued to gather steam until the Trump administration took the aggressive steps that Biden deplored during the campaign but is now saying will stay in place for a while.
The problem for Biden is that it will be politically impossible for him to keep these programs — Remain in Mexico, Title 42 expulsions, safe third-country agreements with Central American countries — in place indefinitely. Nor is Mexico likely to continue for long its policy of blocking migrants at its own southern border with Guatemala — something it started to do only because of Trump’s threat of trade sanctions.
When those impediments are removed, the basic logic that drove the border crisis will reassert itself: If you can step across the border, or even just present yourself at a port of entry, and you claim to fear persecution, more likely than not you will be released into the interior (since Biden has also pledged to end detention of illegal immigrants, whether they brings kids with them or not). Then, whether or not you actually go through with an asylum application, whether or not you show up for hearings, whether or not you get a deportation order, you can stay indefinitely with no fear of deportation (because Biden has also said only violent criminals will be deported).
Ironically, by delaying the full effect of his immigration promises, Biden sets up a situation where news of the renewed border crisis caused by his rollback of Trump’s policies may only break through the inevitable media blackout just when the midterm-election campaign is underway. Republican candidates would do well to start preparing now.