Terry H. Schwadron
May 7, 2021
Once again, the Biden administration is announcing actions on immigration without being able to flesh out the details.
This week, we have seen two important developments, even as the rash of immigrants seeking to cross the border appears to have reached a plateau during April.
The first was an announcement that four migrant families whose children had been taken from them at the border by the Donald Trump administration are being allowed to reunite in the United States, and that a lot more of the estimated 1,000 families in like circumstances will follow.
The second was that Team Biden committed formally to up the number of refugees allowed in this country from areas of persecution from 15,000 to 62,500, after pressure from progressives.
Naturally, unless you are Stephen Miller, the Trump immigration whisperer who directed the policies to grab children from parents as a disincentive to other would-be border crossers, reunification was good news, even this initial move involved only four families.
But was remains troubling about the entire process is that it reeks of political symbolism, statement-making, before any of the practical or policy questions are fully worked out that will apply to the hundreds of families who apparently will follow. So, too, the refugee policy is a number without a framework, just as the creation of an oversight role for Vice President Kamala Harris in an ever-evolving role that now seems limited to foreign policy deals with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries in Central America.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer apparently is plotting quietly on ways to use the backdoor budget “reconciliation” process to legalize the status of a good chunk of the nation’s undocumented population, rather than face a divided Senate.
In almost every aspect of immigration, Biden has exposed himself to stinging Republican sloganeering about opening borders, and taking criticism from his own party for not going far enough — all the while, making announcements without being able to answer many questions about how it all will work. It’s enough apparently to strike a blow for humanitarian concern for children and anti-Trump policy, for example, without actually describing what is supposed to happen next.
In the case of the separated family, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been unable to say whether reunited families will remain in the United States beyond a temporary period, how the first families had been identified, how many more will come, what services the government is committing to provide the families towards physical and mental health services or where they will go.
As a Washington Post columnist noted, “Behind the announcement lie some very big unknowns about how far President Biden will end up going in the quest to restore justice.”
The four families were from Honduras and Mexico, and some separated as far back as 2017 — even before the Trump administration formally announced its “zero tolerance” policy that led to upwards of 5,500 separations, with 1,000 still apart. These children were about three years old when separated, Mayorkas said.
Homeland Security and other agencies are looking for several hundred, but lack information about 300 to 400. Among all else, the Trump group kept poor paperwork.
Team Biden is negotiation with Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who took the Trump administration to court to force an end to the family separation policies, about what the next steps should be. The ACLU is seeking permanent legal status and lifetime medical treatment for anguish.
As The Post noted, Trump officials implemented its policies for the explicitly declared reason that such harsh measures might deter more migration. And as an internal review of the program found, it was undertaken with minimal regard for the traumatic impact on children and without adequate tracking policies to facilitate reunification. Ironically, Republicans now are smacking Biden over the images of children now being allowed to cross the border alone overflowing temporary holding facilities — something that also seems to have eased by about half in April.
Harris still plans to visit Mexico and Guatemala to discuss aid programs canceled by Trump that might seek to get at the root causes for people to flee from Central America. Still, it has taken a long while for her role to settle solely on the international problems, and she has been criticized plenty for not visiting facilities on the border itself.
Plan First, Then Execute
What should happen in a reasonable society is that we have the plan in mind, and the appropriate facilities, before we make announcements. But with a Republican opposition that is invested in anti-immigration, that seems not possible. Still, I would expect that Biden’s team should know what it is doing before pulling the trigger on new policies.
Instead, Biden has relied on coronavirus-related Title 42 health rules to keep expelling asylum-seeking adults and families, and for a time declined to raise the cap on refugees in an attempt to have too many immigration problems at once.
For sure, Biden will face more charges of “border crisis” if the government awards these families permanent legal protection for crossing the border without permission. A compromise might involve granting eligible parents reunited with kids parole in this country for 36 months, the ability to work and services.
Meanwhile, that pesky Stephen Miller is forming a new group that is filing lawsuits over Biden immigration policies as well as over an unrelated policy to provide aid to Black and non-white farmers hurt by coronavirus, arguing it gave them an unfair advantage over White farmers. White farmers and ranchers have long been the recipients of substantial federal subsidies that make it possible for farms to operate and keep food prices relatively inexpensive.
Miller has said on Fox that Biden has “border agents that are being instructed to literally drive busloads of illegal immigrants and release them into communities. . . That is functionally, by any definition, open borders.”
April figures from the Customs and Border Protection agency say just under 6,000 people are trying to cross the border daily at the southern border, same as in March, and less than in February.