Joe Biden's Border Bombshell: How illegal immigration came back to bite POTUS

Joe Biden's Border Bombshell: How illegal immigration came back to bite POTUS
President Joe Biden and migrants at the US-Mexico border (Getty Images)

After his predecessor Donald Trump adopted harsh policies at the border to stop outsiders from entering the US, President Joe Biden decided to reverse the trend and show to his constituencies and the world that he is a far more empathetic leader compared to the hardliner Republican. From Day 1 in January, Biden started working on his immigration policies that included undoing Trump’s policies and the pledge to resolve problems that have intensified at the border over the past four years.

But in the few months following his swearing-in, Biden has seen the reality in complete contrast with what he had envisioned. At a time when the US is facing some severe challenges in terms of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout caused by it, the Biden administration has faced another grave threat and it is the crisis brewing at the border with Mexico which has seen a steep surge in entries that are undocumented. It is not that Biden is the first president in generations to face this crisis but its timing has made it worse for Biden who is already facing tough challenges in health and economy. 

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While many have felt that Biden has done a good job in his first 100 days, the ratings of his handling of the border situation have been mediocre. Politically, the president and his team are facing harsh criticism from not only the conservative opponents who have accused him of compromising with national security by allowing undocumented immigrants inside the US, even voices in his own Democratic Party have emerged to criticize him.

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Former president Donald Trump (Getty Images)

The Biden administration was banking more on a humanitarian and empathetic approach in dealing with the border issue but soon found it backfiring. The White House was careful in avoiding terms like ‘crisis’ for a long time but Press Secretary Jen Psaki has started conceding that the situation at the Mexico border is indeed a “big” one. The overall number of undocumented migrants seen at the US-Mexico border is more than that seen at the same period in the last three years and is still growing. The rising number of unaccompanied migrant kids at the border has particularly irked Biden’s critics and the administration has also been accused of not allowing real pictures of cramped detention facilities to come out in the public. Hence, there is also accusations that President Biden is trying to cover up his border policy failure.

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Where did Biden go wrong with his immigration policy?

The Biden administration’s main incentive for putting things in order at the border was perhaps propelled more by anti-Trumpism than assessing the reality. Right from the beginning, Biden started reversing Trump’s stances on the border, like stopping construction of the border wall or reversing the previous administration’s policy of turning away the unaccompanied minors at the border and putting them under a process and with sponsoring families. While issuing an executive order reversing the unaccompanied children policy and announcing an overall reassessment of the federal immigration procedures soon after coming to office, Biden wrote: “Securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them.”

But for the immigrants who are desperate to flee unfavorable conditions in countries in Central America, the message was clear: The new president is more empathetic and will open America’s doors for them without a second thought. Migrants traveling over long distances from Central America to reach the US border through Mexico told media outlets that they believed the Biden administration would give them amnesty. They started assembling in large numbers, eventually putting things beyond the White House’s management capacity. Facing the heat, Biden and his aides have adopted two tactics: First, asking the migrants to postpone their journey to the US border even while speaking in an empathetic tone that help is on way and second, blaming the previous Trump administration saying it has destroyed the asylum-processing system and restoring it would take months. The Biden administration is clearly buying time to get rid of the mess. But it seems the exit route will not be too easy. 

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GOP senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham stand aboard a Texas Department of Public Safety boat for a tour of part of the Rio Grande river on March 26, 2021, in Mission, Texas. The senators were part of a Senate delegation visiting the Texas-Mexican border. (Getty Images)

Republicans eyeing to make Biden border policy an electoral one

The Republicans have already started making the issue an electoral one ahead of the 2022 midterm polls. After having lost the presidency as well as the Senate and not being able to win back the House in the 2020 battles, the red party now senses an opportunity in Biden’s border mess. Prominent GOP leaders are making frequent visits to the border to bring people’s attention to the border situation. They are returning the favor against the Democrats who had accused Trump’s immigration policy in the past saying he had separated families and put “children in cages”. Even the former president has joined the chorus saying his successor has put the southern border in great danger. The opponents have also emphasized the point that neither President Biden nor his deputy Kamala Harris has visited the border yet to witness the situation there. This is another issue that has put the current administration under stress. 

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VP Harris’ disappointing role in handling border crisis

One of Biden’s major moves on the border situation has been putting Vice President Harris in charge of understanding the “root causes” of the problem. That happened in late March but the veep has not been seen dashing to the border in a month even though she was found picking a box of German chocolate at a bakery in Chicago. Recently, Harris said in an interview with CNN's 'State of the Union' that she has no plans to visit the border very soon but spoke about her distant talks with the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico and visits to those countries in the near future. Going by Harris’s approach towards the job she has been assigned, the vice president was perhaps more eager to play a role in America’s financial turnaround story in the times of the pandemic. If Biden could play that role as the veep to former president Barack Obama after the 2008 Recession, why couldn’t she repeat history in 2021?

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Vice President Kamala Harris (Getty Images)

Has Harris decided against the visit because she is upset for not getting the more juicy role of handling America’s mega recovery plans? Or is she not going because her arrival at the border will see more cameras following her, increasing the chances of more inside stories rolling out into the public and putting the clueless administration in more trouble? These though could not be any justification for her not visiting the border for a visit would have given the message that the Biden administration is at least showing a will to engage with the problem. Neither has Harris visited any of the Northern Triangle nations and taken some measures to force them to stop the migrants originating from their soil. Compare this with Trump who warned Mexico with higher tariffs if it had not taken a strong stand on the immigration flow into the US. The leaderships of Guatemala and Mexico have already criticized the Biden administration saying its stance has been confusing. The president of El Salvador has even refused to meet an envoy of Biden after he was allegedly snubbed by American officials during his visit to the US in February. Did these make Harris nervous, asks Liz Peek in an opinion piece in The Hill.

But these delays not only harm the Biden administration’s image but also Harris’ own prospects as a future president. She has always been seen as a vice president with a potential role in the administration, given the fact that Biden is 78 years old. But her performance on the border crisis so far will leave her supporters more disappointed and critics energized. 

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The liberal and left camps are running out of patience

Biden and his advisors perhaps would acknowledge that they rushed on the border situation too early and without doing enough assessment of the reality. While the moves have given the Republicans a political weapon to target the administration, Biden’s own party members are restless that he has not yet rolled back all the Trump-era policies related to the matter. Both liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party want Biden to take fast measures to erase Trump’s remaining legacy in the immigration sector. There is also concern among some Democrats (moderate congressman like Henry Cueller who represents an area located along the US-Mexico border in Texas) that Biden is not doing enough to discourage migrants from traveling to the US and falling vulnerable to the human traffickers at the border, another major problem that Biden’s border policy has seen. Biden and some of his top administrative officials have already advised the migrants to delay their arrival at the US border but since the Pandora's Box is open, those words have made little effect on the ground.

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Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar speaks during a meeting about immigration with former president Donald Trump and Republican and Democrat members of Congress in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington DC in January 2018. (Getty Images)

Biden’s much-desired immigration reform is also set to face barriers in the legislature, especially in the Senate which is too evenly split between the two parties for any controversial bill to get passed easily. Moreover, Biden’s administration itself is yet to be fully staffed, thanks to factors like lack of transition cooperation from the previous administration and the lengthy impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate in February. Under these impediments, it is even more challenging for Biden to defuse the bomb which is ticking at the border in the form of undocumented immigration.

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