Vice President Harris, tasked by the president with devising an immigration blueprint, has laid out a perfectly sensible long-term strategy to address factors driving illegal migration, buttressed by five “pillars,” or specific problem areas in Central America requiring Washington’s focus. They include the region’s anemic economy; pervasive corruption and weak democratic and justice structures; attacks on human and labor rights as well as the media; mayhem and extortion by criminal gangs and trafficking networks; and sexual and domestic violence.
That’s fine as far as it goes. It’s also a list that anyone with a passing knowledge of the region could have compiled. What is mostly missing from the sweeping rhetoric and broad-strokes analysis is an actual plan for action.
Ms. Harris and administration officials have also described short-term steps designed to get a handle on deterring the current tsunami of migrants and asylum seekers at the border. But the convoluted messaging — telling migrants not to seek entry to the United States while at the same time relaxing or scrapping an array of measures that would actually dissuade them, and providing relief to migrants on both sides of the border — has been a failure.
That failure is measurable, and it is politically toxic. As of mid-July, a staggering 1.1 million unauthorized border crossers had been apprehended so far in the current fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1. Nearly 190,000 migrants, a record monthly total high, were taken into custody by border officers in June alone, when the early summer’s heat often deters many from making the trek. At the current pace, officials project that apprehensions will reach 1.5 million by the end of the fiscal year, the most in more than two decades.
Alarmed by the numbers, the administration infuriated immigration advocates by announcing it would retain a Trump-era public health measure, originally justified on grounds of the pandemic, that blocks migrant families from seeking asylum at the southern border. Yet that measure, known as Title 42, has proved increasingly ineffective as a deterrent. Even while knowing they may be expelled without an asylum hearing, migrants often attempt to cross the border again and again.
For the most part, the administration’s impulses are humane. However, they have driven a policy whose incoherence has yielded pressure at the border that may cost the Democrats control of one or both houses of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. So far, there is nothing in the administration’s short- or long-term strategizing that is likely to shift that dynamic.