Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t need to visit Guatemala and Mexico this week to discover the “root causes” of illegal immigration, or, as she put it, “understand that there’s a reason people are arriving at our border, and ask what is that reason and then identify the problem so we can fix it.”
The reason migrants are arriving at our southwest border in near-record numbers — the “root cause,” if you will — is simple: the Biden administration is allowing them into the country. That’s it, that’s the reason! Even the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, said as much ahead of Harris’s visit.
So no wonder Harris won’t visit the border, or even answer questions about her refusal to do so, dismissing a border visit as merely a “grand gesture.” She’s trying to make a simple problem, one that’s entirely of the Biden administration’s making, complicated.
Pressed this week on why she hasn’t visited the border by NBC’s Lester Holt, Harris was prickly and flippant. “And I haven’t been to Europe!” she said with her trademark unhinged laugh. “And I mean — I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”
Here’s the point: the chaos at the border dates from precisely when Biden took office and rescinded a host of Trump-era policies that had been successful at curbing illegal immigration. Those policy changes followed a campaign season during which Biden and Harris, together with the entire Democratic Party, broadcast loud and clear that if they gained power, they would welcome asylum-seekers into the country.
Recall that during a Democratic primary debate in 2019 about immigration, Biden said, “I would in fact make sure that there is, that we immediately surge to the border — all those people are seeking asylum. They deserve to be heard. That’s who we are. We’re a nation that says, ‘If you want to flee and you’re fleeing oppression, you should come.’”
Well, they’re coming — not because there’s poverty and corruption in Guatemala and Mexico. Those countries have always struggled with poverty and corruption, as have Venezuela and Uzbekistan. But that’s not why record numbers of Venezuelans and Uzbeks are showing up in remote Val Verde County, Texas. They’re showing up there because they know they can get in.
Harris’s argument about “root causes” of illegal immigration bears closer scrutiny because it belies a fundamentally unserious outlook on the world that has afflicted our political leaders for decades, and not just on the border. Harris claims that what happens at the border is determined by what happens in the sending communities, especially Central America and Mexico. If we can ameliorate conditions in those countries, people won’t show up on the Rio Grande asking for asylum.
But people don’t make the dangerous and expensive journey from Guatemala (or Haiti, or Bangladesh, or Cuba, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo) simply because life there is hard and violent and the government is corrupt. After all, that describes much of the world.
The idea that the United States can control illegal immigration by improving conditions in impoverished countries is not a serious argument. It is indistinguishable from the nation-building boondoggles that successive administrations have undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nothing to show for it but sunken treasure and dead American soldiers. Harris might as well come out and say that the border crisis will be over when Mexico and Guatemala have functional governments and prosperous economies.
Setting aside the fantasy that the federal government can make Central America a great place to live, we can’t even marginally improve things in neighboring Mexico. Harris crowed about a “new era” after meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as if she was the first one ever to think of bilateral agreements to cooperate on law enforcement reform and economic development. Next thing you know she’ll propose some kind of unprecedented “trade agreement” between our two countries.
The reality is, U.S. relations with Mexico are abysmal, as are conditions in that country. Mexico, which is on pace for breaking last year’s record number of murders, last year passed a law stripping Drug Enforcement Administration agents of diplomatic immunity, effectively killing all DEA counter-cartel operations. Next came the release and subsequent exoneration of former Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who was arrested in the United States late last year on drug trafficking charges, which implicated the highest levels of Mexico’s federal government in organized crime.
The idea that Mexico and Guatemala, to say nothing of Honduras or El Salvador, which Harris didn’t visit because of rampant corruption in those governments, are partners we can work with on border issues is a joke. That’s why former President Trump simply issued an ultimatum to López Obrador in June 2019: help us secure the border or face heavy tariffs on all imports to the U.S. That got Mexico’s attention, and illegal immigration plummeted.
But please, Harris, tell us more about how you’re going to address the “root causes” of illegal immigration by getting Microsoft to help Guatemalan farmers with digital banking.
The truth is, the border crisis could be fixed overnight. All the Biden administration has to do is stop letting people into the country. Turn them back at the border, and tell them they’ll have to wait in Mexico for the outcome of their asylum hearing. It won’t take long for word to get back to the sending communities that the trip isn’t worth it.