Apr 2, 2021 | OPINION | By Andrew Hoffman | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
I want to talk about how the Biden Administration is handling the immigration crisis at our southern border.
You see, around March of last year, I started making an effort to become a lot more politically active, and as a natural result of those efforts, I started posting pretty in-depth political takes on my varying social media accounts.
Through this, I would often see (and occasionally repost) weekly politically left-leaning social media graphics that would fill up my mutuals’ Instagram stories, and from these graphics, it became pretty easy to gauge what the current political battle lines were. It was these very graphics that inspired me to research the current Biden Administration’s response to the border crisis.
My feed was filled with powerful outcries and deeply resonant photos that argued that the current administration’s handling of the border crisis was a humanitarian disaster.
Yet, despite my usual sympathies to these arguments, another thought had crossed my mind. I had recently taken international relations with Professor John Gould, and throughout the class I started to realize that sometimes far-left critiques of foreign policy could be reductive and oftentimes ignored the real-world challenges that come up with aiming to fulfill such high-minded humanitarian ideals.
I began to wonder, did those Instagram critiques of Biden’s southern border policy possess some merit or were they an idealistic outcry that ignored the pragmatic realities of our international political world?
One of the first conflicts I noticed through the varying narratives was the question of whether the surge of migration at the southern border was largely Joe Biden’s fault. While sources such as the New York Times and the Washington Post acknowledge the deteriorating political conditions in Central America as a contributory factor to the surge in migrants, they also suggested that the perception of Biden’s shift to a more humanitarian style of immigration policy contributed to the spike in migration as well.
But let’s be fair here. Sure, Biden has the reputation of a humanitarian, but did he actually do anything to warrant this perception?
This is important to consider because, once again, a common leftist critique of liberal politics is that oftentimes liberal politicians wrap themselves in the cloak of humanitarianism while in actuality serving regressive and/or capitalist interests.
I would say that Biden’s intentions were genuine. One of his first major actions in office was to order a 100 day freeze on Federal Deportations (save those convicted of a felony, or those who posed a national security threat), but a Texas Federal Judge shut the order down.
Furthermore, varying right wing argumentative pieces critique Biden for being too lax at the border. They largely argue that Biden’s halting of the border wall’s construction on his first day in office and his original plan to aim to legalize almost all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States is what caused the spike, especially as border crossings increased by roughly three times than what was occurring last February, according to an observation made by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Authority.
Now while these right-winged pieces do a great job of highlighting Biden’s political attempts to be pro-migrant, I take issue with their actual attribution of the migration spike to Biden’s policies.
A Cato Institute article made some interesting observations that severely challenge this right-wing narrative. It is important to note that the U.S. Customs and Border number counts crossings and fails to consider the amount of re-crossings that occur when agents have to re-expel migrants due to Title 42 of U.S. border code (a Trump era immigration policy that cited COVID-19 risks — despite the Center for Disease Control suggesting there was no evidence of migration being a risk — as a justification for increased immediate deportations at the border).
When we actually consider Title 42, and the fact that migrations tend to increase seasonally due to the winter seasons making travelling across the southern border safer, we actually find that the migration spike is nearly identical compared to last year.
With this all being said, I don’t want to be mistaken as a full-on Biden defender. It is undeniably clear that Biden has failed in certain regards. Before I explore how Biden failed, though, I want to clearly establish that I am fully in support of further opening and increasing traffic through our borders, so it is easy to understand by what metric I am measuring success.
A study from the American Immigration Council and this meta-analysis from FEE.org suggest that concerns about illegal immigration crime rates are almost entirely negligible, while this Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development paper and University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School study found that typical socially conservative concerns of immigrants “stealing” jobs are non-existent, and that immigration actually has a net positive effect on the economy.
I have not even addressed the social cohesive benefits of immigration and increased diversity, but I hope in the interest of saving room for my argument, I can appeal to my authority and say, “Trust me, immigration is a good thing.”
With immigration being established as a social and overall benefit, one of Biden’s biggest examples of his failure during this crisis is his administration’s slow response to repealing the aforementioned Title 42 policy.
Since Title 42 not only slows immigration rates as a whole, but actually exacerbates Biden’s southern border migration numbers, Biden is not only slowing down a boost to America’s social and economic development but is also actively damaging his own political progress.
Secondly, the aforementioned plan for the legalization of 11 million migrants that Biden proposed got axed by more moderate democrats in Congress. The historically largest overhaul of our immigration system in years got replaced with a much more conservative plan that only promised to legalize asylum seekers, dreamers and a few other key groups.
The ever-popular House representative among young progressives, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, even argued that it took “so much work to get President Biden to a place that immigration advocates felt comfortable calling a positive step.”
The point I am trying to make is that if we accept that immigration is a good thing and we acknowledge that these undocumented people who are living in our country are literally doing no harm, there is absolutely no reason to delegitimize these people. It only frees up resources in the long run, as we don’t have consistently overworked immigration courts and have to spend ridiculous amounts of public money fighting a useless ICE battle that does not need to be spent.
So yes, I recognize that now Biden is forced to take policies to slow down the flow of migrants in order to free up the resources to adequately shelter and house those at the border, but I cannot help but be skeptical with a now indefinite pause on meaningful U.S. immigration reform.
The original plan, to provide funding to better equip U.S. Customs and Border Protection with handling the higher volumes of immigrants that come with more liberal border policies, and provide U.S. aid to Central American countries to further stabilize those regions and discourage migration, is now on an indefinite pause. That is something I cannot help but be skeptical about.
So, if you have managed to stick with me through this entire piece, you might have been noticing that I have essentially fired shots at almost every sector of the American political system. From my discontent with the remnants of Trumpism, the inaccuracies of conservatism, the failure to even recognize the realities of the situation inherent in leftist geo-politics, and the slow and stalling nature of liberalism (in the colloquial sense), it does appear hard to please me.
However, this is where I want to finally articulate what really frustrates me politically. I don’t have a serious issue with any one particular political ideology, but, rather, I draw issues with reductive political takes. Even if you do not remain fully convinced with my semi-pro Biden sentiment, the one thing I really hope that you can draw from this situation is that the nature of this immigration problem is complex.
So, when I see posts pointing out that there are unaccompanied children in detention facilities and calling it a humanitarian disaster, while I personally can feel for those sentiments, I rarely ever see any points fully contextualizing the situation.
Currently, Biden is aiming to slow the tide of migrants (from an unexpected spike that he did not cause) and to mobilize the resources to address this problem (as there is no reason to assume he would take steps to undo the path he is already taking). Yes, he is slow to act, and yes that is absolutely problematic, but these unaccompanied children and families need a place to stay.
Furthermore, unlike the crocodile tears of Ted Cruz, if you consider yourself a leftist or a liberal (which I am assuming the vast majority of Catalyst readers are) the solution to this problem does not lie in simply ramping up deportations. We need to expand Customs and Border Protection capabilities and give our system the ability to breathe, an option that Biden is taking (albeit slowly).
To answer the quintessential quandary that I opened this article with: yes, the social media leftism takes were reductionary. While Biden is by no means perfect, these takes not only mischaracterized the problem by implying it was never Biden’s intent to solve the issues at the border, but they also failed to provide any solutions. The problem does not lie with Biden’s intent or his outlined policies, but rather Biden’s slowness and inability to fully commit to a course of action.