Joe Biden has spent his first couple of months in office enjoying what his predecessor never had: a presidential honeymoon. Americans have rewarded Biden with early approval ratings of 60 percent or higher. He may be benefiting from the inevitable diminishing of the coronavirus as cases decline and more states reopen. Or the public may simply be relieved to have a president who isn’t perpetually in the spotlight, even if he doesn’t always seem aware of the fact he is president.
But no honeymoon can last too long, and Biden’s is coming to an end at America’s southern border, where a crisis is escalating. Eighty thousand people tried illegally to cross the border in January, double the figure of a year ago. In February, nearly 100,000 did the same. At current rates, the spring and summer may bring hundreds of thousands more. Caught off-guard, the Biden administration has scrambled to reopen ‘facilities for migrant children’. Just weeks earlier, Democrats had called such facilities American ‘concentration camps’.
America’s border has become the first serious failure of the Biden presidency. Texas congressman Vicente Gonzalez has warned that the rate new arrivals are being admitted at will invite thousands more to make the journey north, and will be ‘catastrophic’ for his district and the country. Gonzalez isn’t a white nationalist; he is a Hispanic Democrat.
In Tijuana, migrants have sported t-shirts and printed signs begging ‘Biden, Please Let Us In!’ And why shouldn’t they? It is exactly that kind of sentimentalism that will inevitably push Biden to do exactly that.We can all pretend to be merciful.
But the difficult truth is that no act of God created the disaster at the border. It is a wholly human mess, created by America’s leadership class. Migrants have discovered that if they arrive at the border and say the right words about violence in their perpetually violent home countries, they will be freely admitted without fear of deportation. Once inside the country, they can benefit from a glacial asylum-review process, and even if their petition is rejected, they had little to fear from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Despite several blunders and his excessive emphasis on that signature wall, President Trump had by 2020 stabilized the situation with his ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. Without the promise of easy entry to America, new arrivals at the border dried up.
Throughout 2020, Joe Biden openly campaigned to throw out everything Trump had done and start over. He didn’t just promise to halt construction on Trump’s wall and junk the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. He also promised to reverse Trump’s public charge rule, which blocked immigrants from instantly claiming public benefits. Biden promised a path to citizenship not just for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, but every illegal immigrant in the US.
Most memorably of all, Biden promised that in his administration, ICE would only arrest immigrants suspected of felonies, and in his book drunk driving wasn’t a felony. Biden described his plans as ‘reform’. But to millions abroad who wish to come to America, Biden was promising something more: if they arrive at America’s doorstep, they’ll never have to leave. For purely political reasons, Biden took a manageable situation and broke it. And thanks to the nature of the modern Democratic party, he will find it difficult to fix a second time. While the American proletariat has gradually grown addicted to pain pills and antidepressants, Washington is addicted to an even more pernicious drug: sentimentality. Leaders increasingly believe there is no difference between the best policy and the most superficially feel-good one. All the difficulties of governing throughout human history, apparently, are the work of masochistic minds eager to choose an inferior and painful policy over the correct and easier one.
And so America has stayed in Afghanistan for 20 pointless years, motivated less by stopping terrorism and more by the fantasy that US troops and money can transform a backwards Islamic tribal society into the egalitarian Sweden of Central Asia. America’s federalized student loans charge the same interest rate to all borrowers, because why shouldn’t a future English PhD’s economic prospects be just as bright as a future electrical engineer’s? How do we stop crime? Close prisons and defund the police. How long can the country run trillion-dollar deficits? In Washington, the consensus is apparently ‘forever’.
Nowhere is sentimentalism more rampant than in immigration policy. Even before Donald Trump ran for president, among progressives a growing moral consensus held that borders were at best inefficient and at worst, gravely immoral. How is it fair that some people may live in rich, safe nations, while others are trapped in poor, dangerous ones simply by accident of birth? Modern progressivism lacks the intellectual scaffolding to even answer that question. Four years of a Trump presidency hardened the new consensus into dogma. Bill Clinton may have bragged about curbing illegal immigration and Barack Obama may have voted to build a border fence. But in 2021, the de facto Democratic position is that America’s borders are an abomination.
This leaves President Biden more hobbled than Obama ever was in fixing the situation at the border. Thanks to Biden’s policies, soon there will be countless new arrivals, claiming to fear violence in their home countries, and bringing along young children, whether related, accompanied or neither. If his party believes that mere poverty creates a valid asylum claim, that real borders are morally illegitimate, that minors must be admitted immediately, that families must never be separated and that ICE must be defanged or abolished, what can Biden do besides let everybody in?
President Biden will have to find the courage to resist his own party’s new ideology, or the border crisis of his first months could turn into the defining problem of his entire presidency.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s April 2021 US edition.