Biden's Impending Immigration Blunder Will Cause a Border Stampede | Opinion

In late December of last year, President-elect Joe Biden sought to lower expectations about any swift changes in immigration and asylum policies once he took office. Though he had pledged to make a clear break with the tough stance against illegal immigrants implemented by the Trump administration, in comments made a few days before Christmas, Biden spoke as if he understood that events were already starting to overtake his desire for a "more compassionate" approach to the issue.

Stating that he was worried about the possibility of having "two million people" attempting to cross the border, Biden opined that encouraging such a surge would be "the last thing we need." The only option was, he said, to wait for "probably the next six months" before changing any rules that would make it easier for the United States to process asylum seekers.

Biden was reacting to reports published earlier in December that outlined what had been happening on the southern border, especially in the aftermath of his election victory. What The New York Times called "a new rush at the border" was unfolding with caravans of migrants forming in Central America and a huge increase in the number of people caught trying to illegally cross into the United States. A 15-year-long decline in detentions and illegal immigration, which had gone even lower after the pandemic-induced measures that had effectively closed the border throughout much of 2020, was ending.

The number of dead bodies recovered of those who had fallen prey to the very real dangers of putting themselves in the hands of coyotes, or running out of water and provisions in the desert, was going up. But the understandable belief that the Trump administration's strict enforcement measures were soon to be replaced by Biden's compassion meant that the number of those willing to take their chances and illegally enter the country was rising.

But that sensible caution is now being tossed into the wind. As reports in both Politico and The New York Times made clear, Biden is going big by unveiling a comprehensive immigration bill on Inauguration Day. The scale of his ambition is immense, with the legislation aiming at providing a path to citizenship for all illegal immigrants currently in the country.

Nor will this be an effort to govern from the center, as the president-elect has often promised to do. Unlike previous efforts at overhauling America's broken immigration system, there will reportedly be nothing in the bill about strengthening security at the border so as to prevent the offer of whole-scale amnesty from acting to increase the flow of people without the legal right to enter the country.

This is exactly what the Democratic base, which supports not just amnesty but also free health care for illegal immigrants, has been demanding for years. The only thing they appear to not like is that Biden's plan will reportedly call for an eight-year waiting period while those seeking citizenship would be legal residents. Advocates for the illegal immigrants and the so-called "DREAM-ers"—those who were brought to the United States illegally while they were children—prefer a waiting time of only four years, but they would still be happy with eight.

While Biden's proposed changes in the asylum system will still likely be on hold for several months as more immigration judges and other personnel are put in place, the caution that he showed a few weeks ago is clearly gone. And any thought of trying to send a deterring message to those in Central America is equally forgotten, even if the new bill will increase aid to those countries.

While the post-November surge should have been enough by itself to remind Americans that the possibility of amnesty has a major impact on the number of border crossings, this is hardly the first time such a trend has been made clear.

President-elect Joe Biden speaking in Delaware
President-elect Joe Biden speaking in Delaware Alex Wong/Getty Images

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in the hope that this grace, coupled with more border security, would solve the problem. But it had the precise opposite effect, as the favor done to those who had entered illegally merely encouraged more illegal immigration. While advocates for the illegal immigrants claimed it was not generous enough, the precedent undermined deterrence and the number of those seeking the same pass for breaking the law continued to grow.

The bipartisan immigration reform put forward in 2013 by the "Gang of Eight" of Democratic and Republican senators, flawed though it was, was still far more balanced than what Biden is now considering. While it too envisioned amnesty for illegals, it also included a promise of more border security in an effort to gain GOP support. But support for the idea even from some who had been enthusiastic about it ultimately evaporated among Republicans, as they came to believe that the mere prospect of amnesty had led to another surge at the border. Ultimately, even those who believed in some solution for illegal immigrants other than the unrealistic prospect of mass deportations came to understand that more border security and ending the flow of illegal immigrant inflow had to precede any grant of amnesty.

Official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants presently in the country range from a low of 10.5 million, according to the Pew Research Institute, to more than 12 million. But a far more realistic and sobering study published by Yale University in 2018 showed that this number was being consistently underestimated for a variety of reasons, including the efforts by illegal immigrants themselves to avoid detection. The Yale study came to the conclusion that the real total was somewhere in the range of 22.1 million.

A new amnesty offer could result in not only a greater increase in those living in the country without permission, but also a humanitarian disaster, as the death toll from those undergoing the perilous cross-border journey is likely to grow even higher.

Nor, for that matter, are they likely to get the amnesty they seek.

With razor-thin majorities in both the House and the Senate, undivided Democratic control of the federal government has encouraged the Biden domestic policy team to think big. But it's far from clear that Democrats are either unified behind such a transformation of immigration policy or have the discipline to ram through such an ambitious scheme. That's true even if it does hold out the prospect of creating many millions of new citizens who would be the beneficiaries of Biden's largesse, and thus likely to feel beholden to Democrats.

But mass amnesty with no increase in border security and the promise of less enforcement will have one other side effect: unifying and galvanizing Republicans.

In the wake of Trump's disastrous exit from office, marred by the U.S. Capitol riot and a divisive debate about impeachment, the GOP is reeling. But anger over Biden's immigration overreach could have the effect of giving back the party the position it had before Trump's ill-advised effort to allege that he had won a "landslide" election, stolen from him by fraud.

Allowing a massive flow of new immigrants—the inevitable result of any amnesty plan—will also help Republicans complete their transformation from being the party of Wall Street (which has abandoned them in recent election cycles) to that of the working class. Such voters rightly understand that such a measure at a time of high unemployment is a gift to large corporations, but a cruel blow to Americans—both whites and minorities—who are sinking further into poverty as a result of pandemic.

Democrats will likely spend the upcoming years trying to pin the blame for the outrage at the Capitol on everyone on the Right. But the impending immigration disaster that Biden is orchestrating can not only bring Republicans together in an effort to stop the bill, but also help change the subject from the events of January 6 and give them a boost toward taking back control of Congress in 2022.

Biden's immigration plan will please the Left, but it will likely alienate many of the centrist voters who turned to him after four years of Trump. His proposal will also remind blue-collar Americans of the contempt in which the Democrats and their corporate donors hold them. It's a disaster for the country in many ways, but it's also the best news Republicans have had in months.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.