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Don’t Buy The Media’s Spin About Illegal Border Crossings Being Down

Liberal pundits are celebrating seeming immigration-related victories after recent historic highs in illegal border crossings.

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Since December, illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border are down more than 40 percent, and have been relatively stable thus far this year. It’s the first time in seven years that illegal border crossings did not increase from February to March.

In a May 10 interview, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NPR: “We have also removed or returned an historic number of people more this year than I think in any year since 2011.” Economist Ernie Tedeschi meanwhile in an April report noted that the rise in the immigrant population since 2020 has accounted for about one-fifth of U.S. growth during that period.

Liberal pundits, unsurprisingly, are celebrating these seeming immigration-related victories for the Biden administration given recent historic highs in illegal border crossings. “GOP talking points are out of date. Border crossings have plummeted,” read the title of a May 8 op-ed by Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell. “Biden’s ‘border crisis’ is actually an economic success story,” was the title of an April 8 MSNBC op-ed by Zeeshan Aleem. Yet a closer look indicates more of a failure than a success when it comes to current U.S. policies on immigration.

Not Exactly an Immigration Triumph…

“And to be fair, April’s border apprehensions, at around 130,000, remain high by historical standards,” Rampell acknowledges in her WaPo column. Indeed, even the data cited by Rampell quite clearly shows that the number of illegal border crossings from January through April of this year has hovered between 125,000 and 140,000 per month. That number is more than double (and almost triple) what we saw from 2010-2019, when numbers consistently hovered around 50,000 per month. Thus Rampell’s crowing is a bit like rejoicing that instead of losing a million dollars on your investment like you did last year, you only lost $600,000. Yay?

Moreover, the main reason for the decline in illegal border crossings thus far this year isn’t a result of U.S. policies, as Rampell readily admits. Following negotiations with the Biden administration, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador agreed to provide more funding and security resources to the immigration emergency, such as military patrols, highway checkpoints, and busing migrants away from the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s mostly about Mexico’s interdiction efforts, especially the ongoing efforts to stop migrants from getting to the U.S.-Mexico border,” explained Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. According to this reasoning, the Biden administration should claim a diplomatic victory for reducing a crisis… to what are still crisis-level numbers. And should we really be entrusting our nation’s fate to a country whose politicians are chosen by the cartels?

Alternatively, as Todd Bensman noted in a Federalist article last June, the Biden administration has been granting humanitarian fast-pass entrance slips to would-be illegal border crossers through a cell phone app called “CBP-One.” This program has allowed those who intended to cross illegally between land ports of entry not to be counted in the “illegal crossings” category. In other words, a decline in “illegal crossings” is highly deceptive, given this spurious naming game.

… Nor an Economic Victory

Much the same can be said for arguments claiming that America’s lax immigration enforcement on our southern border is supposedly an economic success story. Yes, the nation’s gross domestic product is slated to grow by trillions of dollars because of immigration, much of it illegal, though much of that wealth will go not to American citizens but to those immigrants themselves. Almost 60 percent of illegal immigrant households rely on welfare, and those immigrants cost local and state governments billions of dollars in education services. Immigration expert George Borjas has noted that immigrants receive government assistance at higher rates than natives while competing with American laborers and driving down wages among the working class.

This points to a broader point about American economic growth due to immigration: There are clear winners (e.g. employers, the elite class) and clear losers (e.g. the working class) when it comes to the redistribution of wealth caused by immigration. There are also winners and losers among non-Americans. Along with illegal immigrants who increase their earnings in the American economy are the cartels who facilitate much of the human trafficking, as Todd Bensman relates in his book Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed The Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History. As the federal government is well aware, the cartels are making billions of dollars off smuggling networks that move people from across the world to the Rio Grande.

Many of the smuggled are in turn losers — almost a thousand illegal immigrants now die annually on our southwest border, and thousands of young women and children are smuggled across the border each year, many of them sexually exploited before and after entering the United States. “The most dangerous border in the world,” was what the United Nations called it in a July 2022 special report.

Who Is Really to Blame for the Border Disaster?

In his book, Bensman relates interviewing cartel members on the U.S.-Mexico border. One such smuggler referred to what he termed “la invitación,” the newly elected Biden administration’s not-so-implicit welcome to immigrants to cross the border and remain. Indeed, the hundreds of immigrants Bensman interviewed readily acknowledged that they had waited until Biden was elected to make the trek to the border because they viewed his administration as far more welcoming to illegal immigrants. “Millions of foreign nationals saw it all as opportunity and joined Club America in the Biden administration’s first two fiscal years alone,” he writes.

Bensman possesses the street cred to write authoritatively on this topic: He’s written long-form investigative reports on Mexico’s internal drug war, two of which won National Press Club awards, and then worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety and Center for Immigration Studies examining the migration crisis. Thus we should listen when he observes that until the current presidential administration, the highest number of Border Patrol apprehensions ever recorded was in fiscal year 2000 (1.6 million) and that such numbers did not occur again until fiscal year 2021, which saw a 400 percent increase from fiscal year 2020. When Mayorkas was asked during a 2022 Fox News interview what Congress could do to help DHS deport more illegal immigrants, Mayorkas asserted that deportation was not a priority for his organization.

What Real Success Would Look Like

At the end of Overrun, Bensman urges politicians to carefully consider any legislation according to this litmus test: Will the proposal increase or decrease the odds of encouraging foreigners to enter the United States illegally? Yet he goes far beyond that, offering several explicit suggestions for how to begin to address our incredibly complicated border catastrophe. He recommends withdrawing from the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees treaty because it enables an asylum policy that “nullifies most congressionally approved immigration statutes that should, if actually executed faithfully, staunch mass illegal immigration.” Currently, America is bound by this treaty to consider even the most specious asylum claims by illegal immigrants, which they (and human smugglers) well know.

Bensman also suggests reconstituting the Trump-era stop-gap measures that had stymied the attraction of the asylum system. He urges amending the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to require the same treatment of non-Mexican children as Mexican children, which would allow for their expedited removal. He calls on the government to demand other countries end their controlled flow policies in favor of U.S.-funded infrastructure that would fly would-be immigrants to origin countries.

As Bensman rightly notes, the current immigration crisis — which is still a crisis, despite the premature celebrations of liberal pundits — presents a rare opportunity, given bipartisan agreement to shore up our southern border and deter illegal immigration networks that threaten our economy, increase crime inside and outside the United States, and enable cartels. Polling indicates that even most Democrats disapprove of mass migration crises like the one we have experienced for years. Nor, ultimately, would it require a significant legislative lift — once our government scraps the asylum law that so kneecaps U.S. policy, Bensman believes the laws we already possess are “sufficient to end mass illegal immigration if merely enforced to the letter.”

The question then becomes: Who has the political will to do what is necessary to help both Americans and the millions of noncitizens encouraged and exploited to come here?


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