A Texas Department of Public Safety officer is seen on a boat while patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, March 23, 2021, in Mission, Texas.

A Texas Department of Public Safety officer is seen on a boat while patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, March 23, 2021, in Mission, Texas.

The crisis of illegal immigration – to give this calamity its true name – is growing increasingly grave. The reason is no mystery. The Biden administration replaced policies that staunched the illegal flow of migrants with policies that actually encourage it.

Instead of securing the U.S. border, the administration says it wants to deal with the “root cause,” desperation in Central America. That won’t work for two reasons.

First, the administration doesn’t have the tools to markedly change conditions in Central America.

Second, even if the policies could stimulate economic growth, improve safety, and reduce corruption – spoiler alert, they can’t – they won’t have any significant impact for years. Under even the most optimistic scenarios, they couldn’t reduce immigration anytime soon. It’s a policy based on a mirage.

The Biden team is certainly right that bad conditions in Mexico and Central America drive immigration. But it’s easy to show that’s the wrong explanation for our current crisis. The reason, as all social scientists know, is that “you cannot explain change with a constant.”

What is constant here? Poverty, corruption, and danger in Mexico and Central America. Since those “root causes” have not changed over the past year, they cannot explain the dramatic rise in illegal immigration since Biden took office. What does explain it? The administration’s decision not to secure the southern border and to give up any serious effort at preventing illegal immigration. Migrants have gotten the message, and they are coming north in unprecedented numbers. The media, always eager to protect their favorite political party, never asked Vice President Kamala Harris three crucial questions after her “root causes” trip to Guatemala and Mexico.

- Can the U.S. really do much to improve conditions there?

- Would relatively modest improvements have much impact on migration? And, crucially ...

- How long before these policies can have a major impact, if they work at all?

Back in the real world, the best Biden-Harris can expect is some small, slow improvements.

Desirable as those are for humanitarian reasons, they would have no effect on migration for decades.

Normally, the flood of illegal immigration would recede at least briefly during the summer because Mexico’s scorching temperatures make the trek so dangerous. This year, however, the caravans keep coming. Why? Because migrants see a window of opportunity that might close if the U.S. comes to its senses. So do “coyotes,” who profit from trafficking humans and drugs. They need not worry. The Biden administration is locked into its catastrophic policies and its lovefest with their party’s left wing, which refuses even to acknowledge the problem and would rebel at tough policies to prevent illegal crossings. They refuse even to call them “illegal.” Too harsh.

Too accurate.

It is unclear whether administration officials actually wanted more

illegal immigrants or simply wanted to undo everything Donald Trump did and hope for the best. Whatever their goals, they quickly unwound all Trump’s immigration policies without checking to see what was working. They didn’t talk with border patrol agents (they are now firing the leaders) or consult with elected officials along the border – not even the Democrats. They didn’t ask anyone in Mexico City if the Trump policies were working and sustainable. They didn’t check with development experts to see if aid would have much impact. Due diligence was replaced with utter negligence.

What immigration policies did the Biden administration change? What are the results so far?

The Wall 

Trump’s policy: Build an impermeable wall in the most accessible locations, despite strong opposition from Democrats.

Biden’s policy: Stop building the wall on day one. Stop building even portions that were already funded and under construction. Better to waste the money than to complete a successful project.

The result: Gaping holes made illegal crossing easy. Ceasing construction sent a powerful signal to potential migrants that U.S. policy was now much more lax.

The Rhetoric

Trump’s policy: We will keep you out of the country. Migrants and coyotes believed him because he also implemented tough anti-immigration policies.

Biden’s policy during the campaign: We are a welcoming country; Trump’s policies are inhumane. During a 2019 Democratic debate on ABC, he told Univision’s Jorge Ramos, "We're a nation that says, 'You want to flee, and you're fleeing oppression, you should come.'"

Biden’s policy two months into office: You can still come illegally, but please wait a little.

As Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of Homeland Security, put it, “We are not saying, ‘Don’t come.’ We are saying, ‘Don’t come now.’”

Biden’s policy five months into office: Please don’t come.

The result: The Biden-Harris “don’t come” message has gone unheeded. Without concrete policies to back it up, people don’t believe it.

Remain in Mexico While Seeking Asylum in the U.S.

Trump’s policy:

Negotiated agreement with Mexico, requiring asylum seekers to stay there until their U.S.application was decided. Formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Trump’s policy: Get Mexico to guard the U.S. border. As a 2019 Reuters headline put it, “Mexico says it has deployed 15,000 forces in the north to halt-U.S.-bound migration.”

Biden’s policy: End the agreement with Mexico, which also withdrew its troops, leaving the border essentially unguarded on both sides.

The result: After Biden switched policies, hundreds of thousands of additional asylum seekers have crossed into the U.S. instead of waiting in Mexico. Since only a federal judge can decide their cases and since the backlog is now four-to-six years and growing, these migrants are simply released into the U.S. and told to return in a few years for a court date. Some do; some don’t. Those who do attend are mostly turned down and deported.

Refuse Entry Because of Communicable Diseases

Trump’s policy: Under Title 42 of the U.S. Code, customs officers were authorized to prohibit entry of adults who might have a communicable disease such as COVID. Almost three-quarters of adult migrants at the border were refused entry.

Biden’s policy: End the use of Title 42 this summer.

The result: The change will lead to an immediate surge in illegal immigrants. No one knows if that will lead to more communicable diseases and preventable deaths.

Grant Non-Immigrant Visas

Trump’s policy: Sharply limited visas because they posed “a risk of displacing and disadvantaging United States workers.” (Proclamations 10014, 10052)

Biden’s policy: Revoked Trump’s policy a month after taking office because it prevents family reunification and “harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

The result: The numbers of visa admittees will jump sharply, returning to Obama-era levels. According to the State Department’s Visa Office: “From fiscal years 2016 through 2020, immigrant visas ... declined from 617,752 to 240,526. Nonimmigrant visas declined from 10,381,491 to 4,013,210. Among specific immigrant categories, visas for immediate relatives fell from 315,352 to 108,292.” The Biden administration is moving back to the higher figures.

Prohibition on Entry From Some Countries, aka ‘Muslim Travel Ban’

Trump’s policy: Utter chaos shortly after inauguration when he announced Executive Order 13769, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry.” Most countries on the banned list had majority-Muslim populations. After courts injunctions, Trump issued a replacement order, added some non-Muslim countries, and faced still more legal difficulties. The administration’s stated rationale was the countries were not banned for religious reasons (there were lots of Muslim-majority countries not on the banned list) but solely because they could not reliably vet travelers and identify terrorists, which were standard U.S. requirements. In 2018, a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court allowed the Trump program to go into force.

Biden’s policy: Ending the court-approved travel ban on Inauguration Day.

Result: No problems with Biden’s policy, so far.

Will There Be Political Consequences?

Whatever the motives for Biden’s immigration policies, the results have been a fiasco. Nothing is halting the tsunami of illegal immigrants, dangerous drugs, and gang members from coming. Nothing is stopping the human traffickers from scaling up their despicable trade or molesting women and children en route. The effects will be felt across the U.S. as more illegal immigrants move into communities, more gang members set up operations, and more opioids and hard drugs hit the streets.

Biden and the Democrats are likely to pay a political price, even as the media downplays the issue. You can already hear yelps from Democrats representing border districts. Among national figures, the worst hit will be Vice President Harris, who has been the hapless point person for these hapless policies.

In Harris’ defense, she has been handed a no-win job. The administration created the problem, and there is no way they can ameliorate it without infuriating their base. To change policies dramatically would be to concede a huge, unforced error. Worse, it would force Biden to revert to some of Trump’s policies because they actually worked.

That won’t happen. Instead, Biden will cling to his current, failed policies as long as he can. Polls already show voters are unhappy. What they want is a government that fulfills its primary responsibility: provide citizens with a safe environment. They believe our country – any country – has the right to decide who can enter and to demand that they come here legally. If this bunch of politicians won’t meet that responsibility, many voters are bound to think, “Maybe I should vote for somebody who will.”

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma

Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago.

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