Facing an ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration is on the verge of making a very bad situation worse.
Travel restrictions that have been in place since the onset of the pandemic are set to expire next week. If they do, it means U.S. borders will open up to nonessential travel, reviving cross-border traffic at U.S. ports of entry along the southwest border.
In normal times, that would be a good thing. The economies of border communities that depend on cross-border travel and commerce, especially those in Texas, have suffered greatly as a result of these travel restrictions. But these are not normal times, and opening the border now, amid near-record levels of illegal immigration, could be a recipe for disaster.
Simply put, the federal agencies charged with policing the border are overwhelmed, and have been for months. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which manages the ports of entry and is charged with processing and transporting anyone caught crossing the border illegally, has had to divert its attention from the ports of entry to help deal with soaring numbers of families and unaccompanied children apprehended by Border Patrol and placed in CBP custody.
Indeed, the Biden administration was so overwhelmed with the volume of minors in federal custody in March, it called for volunteers from across the federal government to help process kids at the border and assist overwhelmed CBP officers in overcrowded border facilities. Even now, thousands of migrant children languish in unlicensed and often dangerous emergency shelters that the Biden administration authorized after revoking a host of Trump-era border restrictions.
One of the only Trump-era restrictions Biden retained is the authority to expel migrants under what’s called Title 42, a public health order Trump invoked in the earlier days of the pandemic to prevent the spread of coronavirus in federal border facilities and among federal border officials. Under Trump, the vast majority of all illegal border-crossers, including families, were expelled back to Mexico, where those seeking asylum in the United States were required to wait for the adjudication of their cases under the Remain in Mexico policy.
Biden ended that policy but kept part of the Title 42 authority in place, which has allowed for the rapid expulsion of most single adults apprehended at the border since Biden took office in January. If Title 42 is scrapped as part of the lifting of travel restrictions, it will likely trigger a new and even larger surge in illegal immigration. One CBP official told CNN earlier this month, “We don’t have the manpower, and that is the reality.”
How bad is the border crisis right now? One indication that it’s getting worse is that the corporate press has largely stopped covering it. Another is that two weeks into July, CBP still has not released the border numbers for June. There’s no good reason for this, unless border authorities are so overwhelmed they haven’t been able to process the people they’ve apprehended or run basic background checks on them.
More likely, the Biden administration doesn’t want the numbers to come out for political reasons. In May, federal authorities made more than 180,000 apprehensions at the southwest border, a record for that month. All told this fiscal year, excluding June, border apprehensions have nearly exceeded 930,000 — a 20-year high.
Where are the June border numbers? @CBP should have released them by now. No June data by now (2 weeks into July) means either that the border is so overwhelmed they can't process and log those they have apprehended, or that the Biden admin is hiding the data on purpose.
— John Daniel Davidson (@johnddavidson) July 14, 2021
Indeed, politics has largely driven Biden’s response to a crisis of his own making. This week, Cuban-born Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas seized on widespread protests against the communist regime in Cuba to threaten Cubans with deportation if they try to flee to the United States by sea.
“Allow me to be clear. If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States,” Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday. “The time is never right to attempt migration by sea. To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking.”
This is a cowardly and politically motivated line from Mayorkas, whose own family came to the United States decades ago fleeing the very same communist regime. The only reason to make such a statement now, it seems, is to appear conciliatory toward the communists who control Cuba.
DHS Secretary @AliMayorkas threatens fleeing Cuban refugees: "Allow me to be clear, if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States … Again, I repeat, do not risk your life attempting to enter the United States illegally. You will not come to the United States." pic.twitter.com/gSsLbbCuSH
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 14, 2021
What’s more, of all the tens of thousands of people illegally crossing the border each month and claiming asylum in the United StatesCubans fleeing the communist dictatorship have among the best claims for asylum. And large numbers of Cubans have been doing just that for months now. As of May, more than 23,000 Cubans have been apprehended by CBP so far this fiscal year, with more than 2,700 apprehended in May alone (compared to just 539 in May of 2020).
But the way Biden’s border policies might be shaking out, Cubans apprehended at sea would be turned away, while Cubans who walk across the border from Mexico would be allowed to stay and pursue their asylum claims in the United States.
All of it speaks to the Biden administration’s haphazard, disorganized, and blatantly political approach to managing an increasingly chaotic border, which is about to get worse.