The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The border crisis has never been worse. And Biden seems fine with it.

A group of migrants, mostly from Cuba, line up to board a bus after crossing the border near Yuma, Ariz., and surrendering to authorities to apply for asylum on Nov. 3. (Gregory Bull/AP)

Last year, President Biden presided over a record crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico. This year, by every conceivable metric, that crisis got far worse.

In the 2021 fiscal year, we had more than 1.7 million encounters at the Southern border. That was a record … until this fiscal year, when it rose to almost 2.4 million. And the 2023 fiscal year, which began in October, has already seen more than 500,000 encounters — putting us on track to exceed this year’s record.

That’s not all. In 2021, there were nearly 390,000 known “gotaways” — migrants we know evaded U.S. Customs and Border Protection and slipped into the country; this year, the number of gotaways grew to more than 600,000. In 2021, there were 15 terrorism watch list arrests at the border; this year, that grew to 98 (and who knows how many violent criminals were among the gotaways). In 2021, more than 557 migrants are known to have died crossing the border illegally; this year, that rose to more than 800 migrants. That figure does not include a 22-year-old National Guard soldier, Sgt. Bishop E. Evans, who gave his life trying to save two drowning migrants crossing the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Tex., and other agents killed in the line of duty.

As bad as that is, things are about to get worse when Title 42 — the Trump-era public health order that has allowed border officials to turn away hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to prevent the spread of covid-19 — expires on Dec. 21. When migrants can no longer be expelled under this order, even more will try illegal crossings — and the floodgates will truly open. Yet the Biden administration is pushing for a cut in funding for detention beds in the omnibus spending bill from the current level of 34,000 to 25,000 just as the need for these beds will dramatically increase.

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Ironically, Biden’s push to cut detention bed funding comes at the same time his administration is arguing before the Supreme Court that it must have the discretion to release migrants with criminal records, including aggravated felons, while their deportation cases are being adjudicated — despite the clear requirement under federal law that they “shall” be detained — because … wait for it … Congress has failed to adequately fund detention. They are telling the Supreme Court they can’t follow the law because they don’t have enough resources to detain them, while simultaneously urging Congress to cut the number of detention beds. You can’t make this up.

Biden has done everything in his power to remove deterrents to mass migration. On taking office, he moved to get rid of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which had required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims were considered. He terminated the “safe third country” agreements Donald Trump negotiated with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which required migrants to apply for asylum in the first foreign country they crossed into. Biden’s administration also pushed for an end to Title 42 without a plan to deal with the influx of illegal migrants it will unleash. And on his watch, deportations have dropped to the lowest levels in Immigration and Customs Enforcement history as fentanyl continues to make its way across the border, killing record numbers of Americans.

Yet, despite these disasters, when asked why he was not visiting the border during a trip to Arizona, Biden said he had “more important things going on.” More important things? The message could not be clearer: The calamity unfolding on the Southern border is fine by him. Securing the border is not a priority for the commander in chief.

Biden says he wants Congress to pass immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the “dreamers” — migrants who overstayed visas or were brought here as children. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) have put forward a deeply flawed proposal that could, under different circumstances, be the starting point for bipartisan discussions. Polls show that large, bipartisan majorities want to increase the number of border agents, secure the border, bring dreamers out of the shadows, increase skilled immigration and overhaul our immigration system to make sure we are bringing in the right people with the talents and abilities we need for our economy.

But that will never happen so long as we have a president who seems not just uninterested in securing our border, but intent on opening that border up to any and all comers.

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