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Opinion To stop inflation, we need to secure the border

Asylum-seeking migrants cross the Rio Grande near El Paso on Oct. 3. (Paul Ratje/Reuters)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says “the best thing that we can do for our economy is comprehensive immigration reform.” Here’s what she left out: It is President Biden who has made it impossible to pass any bipartisan immigration reform by unleashing the worst border crisis in U.S. history.

The news from the southern border keeps getting worse: Not only have we seen a record 2.15 million arrests of migrants so far this fiscal year, but Fox News’s Bill Melugin also reports that the 2022 fiscal year saw at least 599,000 known “gotaways” — illegal migrants we know evaded U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and slipped into the country. That is a significant increase from 2021, when the Department of Homeland Security reported 390,000 gotaways. By contrast, before Biden took office, there were just 69,000 gotaways in fiscal year 2020 (about half of which took place during the pandemic) and about 200,000 in 2019.

This means that, over the past two fiscal years, nearly 1 million people have illegally snuck across our southern border and disappeared into the country. We don’t know who these people are but, unlike asylum seekers, who turn themselves in to border officials, they intentionally evade detention. They could be violent criminals, drug smugglers or terrorists. And those are the ones we know of; many more could have crossed our porous southern border without being detected.

Yet the Biden administration continues to insist, against all evidence, that “the border is secure.” This is Orwellian. If the border was so secure, Mexican transnational criminal organizations would not be flooding our country with deadly fentanyl, which is fueling an overdose crisis that claimed a record 108,000 lives in the United States last year.

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Not only do Democrats refuse to acknowledge the unprecedented crisis their policies have unleashed, Pelosi argues the deluge of illegal migrants is a positive for America — because we can put them to work. “We have a shortage of workers in our country,” she said. “And you see even in Florida, some of the farmers and the growers saying, ‘Why are you shipping these immigrants up North? We need them to pick the crops down here.’ ”

It is true that we are experiencing the worst labor shortage in U.S. history. There are some 10 million unfilled jobs in the United States, and 49 percent of all small businesses report that they have job openings they cannot fill, which far exceeds the 48-year historical average of 23 percent. This labor shortage is helping to drive inflation because, without workers, supply can’t keep up with rising demand, which causes prices to rise.

We need immigrants to help fill these jobs. How do we know? Because despite the plethora of available jobs, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt points out more than 1 in 10 prime-age men are “labor-force dropouts — neither working nor looking for work.” While foreign-born workforce participation appears to be back to pre-pandemic levels, Eberstadt says, “Almost all of the residual manpower shortfall appears to be among native-born Americans.”

But the answer is not to throw our borders open to anyone who decides to show up. We need to expand the number of legal immigrants and reform our immigration system to make sure we are bringing the right people into the country with the skills our economy needs. The American people generally support a welcoming immigration policy. But there will be no political will in Congress or the country to take on immigration reform until the Biden administration stops the deluge of migrants and drugs flooding into our country illegally.

It was the same with criminal justice reform. The only reason President Donald Trump in 2018 was able to sign the First Step Act — which shortened federal prison sentences and gave people additional chances to avoid mandatory minimum penalties for nonviolent offenses — was because violent crime in the country was under control. We could never do what he did today because we are in the midst of the worst crime wave in many cities since the 1990s. Similarly, you cannot pass immigration reform in the middle of the worst border crisis in U.S. history. You have to secure the border first.

Indeed, Biden’s failure to secure the border is ironically helping to fuel the inflation that is undermining his presidency. We need foreign workers to help supply-side of the economy meet rising demand, but we cannot pass legislation to bring in those workers until the border is secure. So, the inflation crisis and the border crisis spin out of control together.

So, Pelosi is right: We do need to reform our immigration system. But the prerequisite for any immigration reform is a secure border.