Increased arrivals at the border requires resolve and resources—not a rejection of our laws and values
For years, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to modernize our badly outdated immigration system and build pathways that are sufficient to meet the legitimate needs of American families and businesses. The Biden administration has exercised its executive authorities under law and taken a number of significant steps to prepare for the end of the Title 42 order and the expected increase in people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Humanitarian challenges at the border accompanying the end of Title 42 are likely to be painful and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
It’s heartbreaking to witness individuals and families with children in Mexico in squalid and dangerous makeshift camps or in overcrowded detention facilities and shelters. It is also unconscionable to see people spend days or weeks in Border Patrol stations designed for much shorter stays, which are also no place for a child. It is even more disturbing to know that so many are returned across the border to dangerous conditions that have been so thoroughly documented—and that have been acknowledged by the Department of Homeland Security itself—while we have frequently focused exclusively on failed policies of deterrence without doing nearly enough to invest in our refugee and asylum systems.
Ending the inhumane Title 42 order is the right thing to do. Contrary to the inflammatory rhetoric and disturbing politicization of immigration we’ve seen from anti-immigration extremists, ending Title 42 simply returns us to the long-standing laws on the books at the border before COVID-19. These include tough criminal laws that may be applied to repeat irregular border crossers whose actions receive no criminal sanction under Title 42. We expect that there will soon be even further limitations to the entry of asylum applicants, as the Biden administration has finalized its own harsh asylum transit ban to modify traditional Title 8 authorities.
Anticipating the challenges to border communities and receiving communities throughout the United States that will come on May 11 and in the days and weeks that follow, governors and mayors can do their part by treating migration as an asset rather than a liability to be managed or a political football. The Biden administration should adopt measures toward more orderly and humane border management, including creating an effective, federally organized transportation strategy so migrants can reach their final destinations safely; enhancing coordination with states and localities; and providing local communities with additional resources to support asylum seekers.
Anti-immigration elected officials’ claims on migration management lack credibility
Any characterization that ending temporary Title 42 authorities is some kind of “open borders” policy is false. Such claims are even less credible coming from the loudest voices in the House Republican caucus, who voted against the billions of dollars for border security in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus and the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which invested in strengthening Customs and Border Protection stations and land ports of entry. After repeatedly voting against bipartisan border security funding, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the majority of the House Republican caucus are now apparently okay with slashing border security and drug interdiction funds for fiscal year 2024. They also seek to eviscerate the asylum system; double down on job-killing, mandatory E-Verify policies that hurt American farmers and drive more work into the underground economy; and require American taxpayers to foot the bill for frivolous border wall spending.
Politicians have also raised concerns about child welfare for the 200,000-plus unaccompanied children—allowed to enter the United States in a Title 42 exception that the Biden administration put in place—who would not have been allowed to enter under the prior administration. But we don’t hear much concern from anti-immigration elected officials for the much more desperate situation these children faced in Central America until they entered the United States to seek security. The tragedy of U.S. labor exploitation of immigrant children is unfortunately being used to seize an opportunity to undermine the legal protections for children in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TPVRA), which some congressional lawmakers have sought to eviscerate for years. Meanwhile, at the state level, multiple Republican-led state legislatures are seeking to gut domestic child labor laws that protect immigrant and U.S. born children.
Deterrence alone will not work and is no match for the root causes driving displacement
Deterrence policies alone will not work. Migration in the Western Hemisphere is being driven primarily by push factors rather than asylum policies in the United States. Fallout from the pandemic; energy and food shocks from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; accelerating effects of the climate crisis; repression and state failure in Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; and rampant gang-driven violence fueled in part by the flow of U.S. firearms in an “iron river” of smuggled guns have created an unprecedented set of dynamics forcing a historic number of people to flee their homes across the Americas. The vast majority of those on the move have settled elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean and are not seeking to come to the United States. For example, over 80 percent of the more than 7 million who have left Venezuela since 2015 have resettled across Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States is home to only the seventh-largest Venezuelan population outside Venezuela itself—Colombia, Spain, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Brazil all have larger populations of displaced Venezuelans. As more needs to be done to support host communities in the United States, development finance needs to be mobilized to support host communities throughout the Americas to mitigate additional migration.
The Biden administration should focus on effective, humane policies
The Biden administration should listen to their better instincts on migration. This administration ended the Muslim travel ban; reunified separated children left to languish by the previous administration’s cruelty; is fighting to save DACA; granted TPS designations for multiple countries; and sent Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act outlining a progressive and pragmatic approach to immigration.
The administration is right to be creating more pathways—for humanitarian entrants and others—and to expand regional processing opportunities. Providing safe and humane opportunities for people in need of protection and for families looking to reunite with loved ones is in line with Americans’ values. Providing additional migration channels is also in the economic interest of the United States and can help fill critical roles in major industries; spur economic growth through entrepreneurship; shore up the country’s social safety net; and ensure a more prosperous future.
America can effectively meet the challenge of rising numbers at the border if we recognize that the forces creating anxiety about immigration are so much less powerful than the values that bind us together. Accepting failure is not who we are. We can have security, order, and humanity at the border.