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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Biden finds muscle on securing the border

    Heaven knows, President Joe Biden's early mixed messages on the border have been a frustration for many supporters, as well as a gift to the other side. One of his missteps early on was to ease the process for claiming asylum.

    Predictably, a surge of migrants entering illegally ensued. Some genuinely needed refuge. But masses used the lax rules to skip the normal process for immigrating to the U.S. Basically, they could cross the border, get caught and then put in a claim for asylum, knowing they could stay for years before their cases would be heard.

    Biden is using an executive order to stop the free-for-all. "If the United States doesn't secure our border," he stated, "there is no limit to the number of people who may try to come here."

    The U.S. will stop processing most asylum claims at the border when the seven-day average of illegal entries passes 2,500. In recent weeks, unauthorized crossings have averaged 3,700.

    In addition, 4,300 new asylum officers will be hired to issue timely decisions. And the bar for claiming asylum is being raised.

    The politics are obvious. A chaotic border has been a weight on Biden's approval ratings. Polls show most Americans highly concerned about the evident disregard for our immigration laws, not the immigrants themselves. Biden is restoring order while stripping the issue of Trump's sleazy racism.

    It would have been preferable, of course, for Congress to have passed a strong bipartisan bill that would have gone far to address the problem. But because the plan would have worked, Trump ordered Republican House members to kill it. He needed a broken border to campaign on, and his Republican minions did as told.

    Predictably, some progressives are protesting Biden's new muscular policy. Pramila Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, "It's not going to get more (congressional) Republicans coming over to our side." That may be true, but it would sway more Americans to vote for Biden in November. Rest assured, the advocates would prefer a Biden presidency over a Trump one.

    For context on the pressures involved, the Border Patrol reported nearly 250,000 encounters on the Southern border in December. That number dramatically dropped to 129,000 in April. But the reason was not so much stronger enforcement by the U.S., but stronger enforcement by Mexico on its own southern border with Guatemala, where migrants enter on their way to the United States.

    The murderous gangs now plaguing Mexico had found a highly lucrative business in trafficking migrants to the U.S. As mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum devoted the resources needed to slash crime in the capital. Just elected president of Mexico, she should appreciate U.S. actions to stem the flow of migrants through Mexico.

    Trump, meanwhile, has been going on about his plan to build the wall he never built when he could. He would also like to slap 100% tariffs on cars made in Mexico by Chinese companies, in effect, destroying thousands of Mexican jobs. It is clearly also in Mexico's interests that Biden remain president.

    Republicans may come to regret having deep-sixed that bipartisan bill because Trump needed a lawless border as a campaign issue. Had they gone along, they could have at least shared the credit.

    In sum, it was a lack of deterrence that turned the Southern border into a war zone. It took a while, but Biden has buried the impression that anyone who tries hard enough to enter the country illegally can ultimately get through.

    Biden now makes clear that the Southern border can no longer serve as a workaround to U.S. immigration laws. It is good politics for him but needed policy for the country.

    Froma Harrop covers the waterfront of politics, economics and culture with an unconventional approach. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

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