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Barone: Biden open-door policy – Some facts and historical context

By Michael Barone - | Feb 26, 2024

Michael Barone

What’s been missing these past couple of months from the coverage of and debate over the failed immigration bill? Some important basic facts and lots of historical context.

First, basic facts. Coverage in left-leaning newspapers and even in the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page has suggested that without new legislation, the Biden administration would lack the legal authorization to reduce the record number of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border and remaining in the United States.

The record is not in doubt. Customs and Border Protection has reported 302,000 immigrant encounters in December, the highest in history. Similarly, the total for the first three months of the fiscal year — October, November and December 2023 — was 785,000 encounters, again a historical high. There’s no escaping the fact that illegal border crossings have been at record levels during the Biden administration.

And there’s no escaping, though in journalism, there’s been plenty of evading, the fact that this surge of illegal immigration is the direct and predictable result of changes in regulation and administrative practice by the Biden administration.

For example, the president long boasted of signing on his first day in office an executive order repealing former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. That policy was the product of Trump’s pressure on Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in response to a significantly smaller border surge.

Biden should be able to undo by executive order the policies he put in place by executive order. Any order issued on Day 1 of an administration should be revokable just as rapidly by the same administration.

Evidently, some Biden advisers agree. According to the left-leaning Axios website, President Joe Biden “has considered … an executive order that would dramatically stanch the record flow of migrants into the Southwest,” to be issued before his March 7 scheduled State of the Union address.

So the claims that Republicans, by opposing the Senate measure the Senate never passed, have prevented Biden from effectively enforcing the border are incorrect. And the reason for Republicans’ skepticism about whether Biden would use enhanced border control authority is obviously justified by Biden’s refusal to use the authority he currently has.

Biden has let in this record surge of illegal immigrants. He could cut it off.

This surge, by the way, includes relatively few Mexicans. Instead, many are from troubled Latin nations — Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador — and, as Fox News’ Bill Melugin reports, from farther afield: China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey, Africa.

The fact is that when Trump came down the escalator in June 2015 and said Mexico was “not sending their best,” the surge of low-skill immigration from Mexico, which lasted from 1982 until the mortgage security crisis in 2007, was already over. We were in the midst of a pause in mass immigration, something like the pause that occurred after the 1924 Immigration Act, which limited immigration beyond western and northern Europe.

Immigration restrictionists say that earlier pause allowed or furthered assimilation of the huge 1892-1914 Ellis Island surge of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. The post-2007 pause seems to have facilitated the assimilation of legal Latin immigrants, as evidenced by, among other things, increased willingness to vote Republican, which I noted in a recent column.

That 1982-2007 immigration surge may have occurred in response to the labor market’s low supply of low-skill workers due to reduced workforce participation by low-skill black and white Americans. The argument then made was that it was too much to expect urban ghetto residents to travel a dozen miles to new suburban workplaces. But Mexican immigrants proved willing to travel 1,200 miles and more for those jobs.

There’s an echo here of the 75 years after the Civil War, when few black or white Southerners were willing to move to the higher-wage but culturally hostile North. Instead, the rapidly expanding number of jobs in garment sweatshops in Manhattan and steel mills along the Monongahela and Mahoning rivers were filled by Ellis Island immigrants from Eastern Europe and southern Italy.

Are the million-plus illegal immigrants that the Biden administration has let into the country, with some told to report for court hearings in 2031, filling a gap not filled by American workers? Or, as seems more likely, is America getting a million-plus low-skill residents who will be stuck in illegal status indefinitely?

There’s little evidence the Biden administration ever pondered such questions in its haste to overturn the policies of the Evil Orange Man and slam the border wide open.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. His new book, “Mental Maps of the Founders: How Geographic Imagination Guided America’s Revolutionary Leaders,” is now available.


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