Is the Border Crisis a Crisis?

Philip Bump at WaPo provides a really good backgrounder on what’s going on with the Mexican border and how old immigration patterns everyone was used to have been scrambled, possibly forever. It’s worth reading all the way through.

At the moment, there’s no question the number of people trying to enter the U.S. from the southern border is increasing from what it was late last year. However,  that number is still below what it was in May 2019. See this WaPo graphic:

I don’t remember Republicans screaming about the border crisis in 2019, do you? It appears there was one. It’s also the case that the Biden Administration did not inherit falling numbers from the Trump Administration, as Republicans are claiming. The increase we’re seeing now is part of an already established upward trajectory.

The crisis is a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied minors being detained. Right now, there are about 10,000 children with the Department of Health and Human Services, and another 5,000 with Customs and Border Protection. This is double the previous record.

Note that last November a federal judge ruled against the Trump Administration policy of expelling unaccompanied minors. Biden doesn’t really have a legal choice about the unaccompanied minors.

Another complication is the Flores Agreement from 1997, which stipulates that detention facilities for minors meet certain standards and that minors should not be detained longer than 72 hours. Exactly how much the Flores Agreement has ever been upheld I do not know. The Trump Administration totally blew it off, obviously, and got away with it. The Biden Administration is scrambling to uphold the Flores Agreement, although they are still falling short. I assume they will continue to throw resources at the border until conditions are better. I assume bringing conditions up to code is do-able.

The point, though, is that from the perspective of the Biden Administration the crisis at this point is mostly about unaccompanied minors. Currently, other people apprehended crossing the border without documentation are being detained and expelled from the U.S., just as they were under the Trump Administration. This is true no matter how hysterically Jeanne Pirro shrieks otherwise.

Unaccompanied minors are coming here from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador because they are fleeing gang or drug-related violence, including rape and sexual abuse. They are also fleeing hardships caused by economic crises and  crop losses caused by climate change. If they are expelled, many of these young people could die. If they survive, they may be driven into the gangs that righties are always shrieking about.

Will Bunch writes at the Philadelphia Inquirer that the Biden Administration is making a mistake in not allowing more transparency and press access to what’s going on at the border.

The border situation is neither the first crisis facing the new administration nor close to the biggest — not with a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and the related economic crisis leaving 10 million out of work — but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry. Indeed, the Sunday morning talk shows — ABC even flew its panelists to an outdoor location at the border — seemed to openly salivate at a return to the days of swinging at Democrats with a club furnished by the RNC.

With America’s former demagogue-in-chief retired to a golf pasture and banned from Twitter, House GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has gamely stepped up to the plate — claiming that “this crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration” and tweeting nonsensically about “open borders” when the reality is instead that thousands are detained. But attacks like McCarthy’s are now driving off-kilter coverage like Sunday’s breathless, four-byline lead story in the Washington Post that centers the notion that Biden’s policies are to blame — with amnesia about the Post’s own reporting last fall while Trump was president that awful conditions in Central America were already driving an uptick in refugees, let alone the role that the inhumane policies of POTUS 45 have played in making things worse. What’s more, overall border crossings right now are similar to 2019 — when Trump was in the White House.

Will Bunch points out that many critics of the Biden Administration are hailing the “success” of Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy that blocked all asylum seekers and left families crowded together in squalid camps south of the border. Apparently inhumane conditions are okay if they’re in another country.

See also EXPLAINER: Is the US Border With Mexico in Crisis? by the Associated Press.

Trump, responding to a massive increase in Central American families and children that peaked in May 2019, expanded his “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. It was unquestionably effective at deterring asylum — less than 1% have won their cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse — but asylum-seekers were exposed to violence in Mexico, as documented by advocacy group Human Rights First and others. Attorneys were extremely difficult to find in Mexico.

Other Trump-era policies included fast-track asylum proceedings inside U.S. Customs and Border Protection holding facilities, where access to attorneys was next to impossible. Agreements were struck with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for the U.S. to send asylum-seekers to the Central American countries with an opportunity to seek protection there instead.

The Biden Administration is expanding detention facilities while working to release children and minor teens to relatives or possibly foster care in the United States. “The Biden administration is also stepping up efforts to have children apply for asylum from their homes in Central America instead of making the dangerous journey to the U.S. border,” the Associated Press says. Long-term, the Biden Administration wants to address the root causes of the violence and economic deprivation in Central America. but that’s probably down the road a bit.

But for right now, the issue is that there is a huge wave of children seeking refuge in the United States, and the previous administration left us entirely unprepared to cope with it. This is not the result of a policy failure on the part of President Biden.

7 thoughts on “Is the Border Crisis a Crisis?

  1. I am not sure but are some parents who have camped in Mexico for months (or longer) sending their kids to the US unaccompanied? Is it a move to save the children because we are required to treat them in a humane manner? As you mentioned, Maha, court rulings don't permit the expulsion of unaccompanied minors. 

    The answer isn't easy. The US has to take a leading role in stabilizing Central American countries so there is some opportunity, some safety, some justice, and government that represents the people. This is work that will take decades and will be opposed by the aristocracy in each country in need of reform. 

    Look at the standard of living for the poorest in the US v the poorest in these Central American countries. The greater the difference, the greater the pressure to migrate to the US. The Trump solution was to make the border so repressive and brutal that the perceived difference made the attempt a poor bet. Easier to starve where you are than migrate to Trumpian concentration camps.

    The Trumpian solution is unacceptable – I do not support open borders. So the answer is going to take time, resources, and wisdom. Plus some heavy-handed diplomacy. If there's some other answer, I'd love to hear it.


  2. GOP POV:

    The word "immigration" is now a 4-letter word no matter how many letters are in it!

    People will die.  Many of them.

    All for not being White.

  3. W. Bunch: …but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry.

    Mr. Bunch is making the Clinton E-mails fallacy – he assumes that some level of transparency and "getting ahead of the issue" would prevent the Republicans from mounting a bad faith attack. And, I'm sorry, after the pandemic, the election, the insurrection, and both impeachment trials (both of which they insisted were politically motivated), any journalist should realize that there is no attack so outlandish that the Republicans won't try it, if they think it will help their poll numbers, regardless of the truth.

    I mean, look at "we can hope that it will be considered safe to have small, non-family gatherings, by the fourth of July" getting turned into "Who is Joe Biden to tell me who to gather with on the fourth of July?"

    That's not as bad as insisting that up is down, and therefore Trump won the election, but it's as obviously factually incorrect, and as obviously an unfair a charge to level. Honesty and fairness are considered meaningless. In the face of that situation, you can't prevent the attacks, no matter how hard you try.

    You just have to try to do what's right, and hope journalists will speak truth to power, even if they're accused of being partisan for doing so.

    • "Mr. Bunch is making the Clinton E-mails fallacy – he assumes that some level of transparency and "getting ahead of the issue" would prevent the Republicans from mounting a bad faith attack."

      To be fair, that's not exactly what he said. He's not saying that more transparency would prevent the Republicans from mounting a bad faith attack. He's saying that the Biden administration needs to be more assertive about telling its side of the story, because in the vacuum of other information the mainstream media is repeating what the Republicans are saying. 

      • Fair enough; it's true, you need to *engage* the press to get good coverage, and it's possible he could have done more of that. Heck, maybe he could have offered tours of journalist chosen holding locations, showing he's different from Trump showing two staged holding locations.

        The downside of that is, if one location is actually temporarily overcrowded, or has a supply shortage, that becomes *the* story, rather than "we have an honest, humane President again." And we know darn well the right wing press would do all they could to find such a location.

  4. "As both Biden and Mayorkas have made clear, all of this is still a work in progress as they attempt to rebuild a humane asylum system that had been completely dismantled by the Trump administration. Anyone who critiques what is happening now should be pressed to identify which change Biden has implemented that caused the problem and explain why it should be reversed. But, of course, they won’t do that. It is much easier to simply claim that Biden is implementing an “open border” policy…which is complete nonsense."

    The press is coming after Biden on "immigration" as if Trump had fixed everything at the border and then Biden's policies screwed it up again, when it is obvious that neither of these are true.  Or that Biden should have fixed in two months four years of Trump ineptitude, spite and vindictiveness that caused this level of a problem to begin with. Biden team pushback should include, as the writer says, pressing critics to identify the policy Biden has supposedly implemented or changed that made the problem "worse," even though its been like this for the last four years under Trump.

    As disturbing as this press fail is, its not surprising.  This is why the GOP gets so much mileage out of their BS because they can count on the press picking it up and legitimizing it.  

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