That won’t be easy. This is a problem that Biden helped resuscitate with his rhetoric, even before he was sworn in, enticing desperate migrants fleeing violence and poverty to try and illegally cross our border, and then with his move as president to roll back some of his predecessor’s border policies. As The New York Times noted in a story about thousands of migrant children who are crossing the border each week, “Their parents were encouraged to send for them by President Biden’s more welcoming approach to immigration.”
Since March, Biden has been telling migrants not to come, but that messaging was too little, too late. This week, Politico reported that “The Department of Health and Human Services has diverted more than $2 billion meant for other health initiatives toward covering the cost of caring for unaccompanied immigrant children, as the Biden administration grapples with a record influx of migrants on the southern border.” That money may help but the fact he had to quietly move it there (never mind what other important “health initiatives” may now be given short shrift) makes it clear how much trouble he’s having handling this surge, or finding a solution past hoping it goes away on its own before it becomes a defining failure of his presidency.
As is his M.O., Biden’s strategy has been to act as if everything is going off without a hitch. “Nothing has changed. As many people came—28 percent increase in children to the border in my administration; 31 percent in the last year of—in 2019, before the pandemic, in the Trump administration. It happens every single, solitary year,” Biden declared in late March. Unfortunately, the facts say otherwise. “In April alone, 178,622 people were encountered by the Border Patrol, the highest number in 20 years,” according to the Times. Things keep getting worse on the border, even as Biden talks down the problem. And if history is a predictor, the month of May, often a peak month for border crossings, could turn out to be even worse. That’s partly because it’s not just people fleeing gang violence or poverty in Central America. Thanks to COVID-19, we are seeing a dramatic rise of people crossing the Southern border from countries as far away as India.
As Biden and his administration have talked down the border and emphasized other issues the influx on his watch has received some significant media attention, but not a lot of media emphasis. It isn’t driving the kind of news coverage afforded to Israel vs. Palestine (or even Liz Cheney vs. Elise Stefanik), but the border crisis won’t just disappear and could easily be the SNAFU that defines 2022 for Biden and Democrats, especially in states like Arizona, where even Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly was recently critical of the administration.
Republicans have been especially critical of Kamala Harris, Biden’s presumptive (some day) heir apparent, for her lack of attention to the crises. Last week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sent a letter to Biden, calling Harris’ work on the border “absolutely abysmal,” and urging that Harris “be replaced as America’s ‘border czar’ with a federal official who see the crisis first hand and to work with state partners to address it.”
“Kamala Harris could’ve walked to the Texas border in the time that she’s been given the responsibility to solve this problem,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott said.
It’s unclear why the Biden administration tapped Harris with this thankless role to begin with. Clearly, at some point the determination was made that actually sending her to the border would be a mistake, inasmuch as it would draw attention to the existing problem. As a result, the messaging has been that Harris is working to fix the systemic problems that are plaguing countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. God bless her if she thinks she can fix Central America in the next three months; but assuming she can’t, this strategy seems untenable.
It’s a tight corner for Biden, who risks angering progressives (if he is not compassionate enough) and conservatives (if he is unable to reduce the number of border crossings).
When you consider all the problems Republicans have (a defeated president who incited an insurrection and is poised to start holding rallies again, just to name a few), one would think that Democrats should be poised to become a permanent governing majority. Not so. Democrats already hold a slim congressional majority, and history seems to suggest that Republicans are poised to take back at least the House of Representatives next year if the party’s own Trumpy dysfunction doesn’t get in the way.
And when you consider the storm clouds on the horizon—the potential for inflation and a prolonged border debacle—you start to see how things could go south real quick. The GOP isn’t cleaning its own house, that’s to be sure. But Biden is on the cusp of making amess of his house, and this is buying the GOP space to win without the hard work of making any changes.
In fact, the GOP’s mess might be giving Biden enough rope to hang himself. With so much of the media focused on the clown car that is the modern Republican Party, it’s easy to overlook the slow accretion of looming problems for the Democrats. But Biden would keep doing so at his peril.