Joe Biden’s White House won’t call it a crisis, but it’s not exactly nothing either. Just ask Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and New York’s mayor, Eric Adams.
After days of public discussion between the mayors and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis about which city should be responsible for supporting the influx of migrants, Polis announced that Colorado will stop sending migrants to New York and Chicago.
That was quick. But what’s striking about this new development is how all three pols involved are Democrats.
That’s a departure from the usual political divide regarding the border. Immigration policy in our reputed “land of immigrants” as a general rule tends to be “y’all come” when our economy is robust and “stay away” when it’s not.
In more recent years, it has become as polarized as the rest of our national politics. This has been particularly true after Donald Trump built much of his first presidential campaign around the promise of building a “great, great wall” on the Mexican border and making Mexico “pay for it.”
More recently he has boasted in speeches that “We built the wall,” even though only 452 miles along the 1,951-mile U.S.-Mexico border was actually built, most of which replaced old, existing fencing. And he never got Mexico to pay for it.
But Texas has bused 3,854 migrants to Chicago since last spring, Lightfoot said. New York City has taken in more than 38,000 migrants in the last nine months, Adams’ office said.
For months we have seen Republican governors from Texas, Florida and Arizona sending migrants to northern cities to protest the Biden administration’s border policies or, as some critics would put it, lack of a border policy.
Meanwhile, we have a mess at the border. The number of migrants apprehended trying to illegally cross the border with Mexico has hit record highs. In the 12 months leading up to October, the Border Patrol encountered 1.7 million migrants trying to cross illegally, the highest number since 1960.
And, it is important to note, these are a special category of immigrants: asylum-seekers. Unlike migrants who are seeking jobs or an education, asylum-seekers are trying to escape wars, persecution or political turbulence, but their claim for refugee status has not been determined legally.
Sorting them out is the job of immigration courts which already have a backlog of months — or more — of cases to be processed.
The last time Washington had enough agreement to seriously discuss broad, comprehensive immigration reform was in a 2005 bill introduced by Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.
It included legalization, guest worker programs and border enforcement. Unfortunately the bill never reached the floor for a vote. Such is the price of a Congress that can hardly agree on anything more controversial than the time of day.
I, for one, believe that a nation of more than 330 million people can absorb more than the 1 million legal immigrants we take in every year. And we can absorb hundreds of thousands more who are seeking asylum, which only 1 in 4 is likely to receive, officials say.
But, before Biden recently visited the border for the first time as president, he announced a new policy that tries to have his border-policy cake and eat it too.
The policy would actually expand a Trump-era program known as Title 42, which he had promised as a candidate to end. Perhaps he’s trying to expand the program before the Supreme Court possibly agrees with a pending suit by Republican officials from 19 states who say lifting Title 42 will create an unsustainable spike in border crossings.
Maybe. But much of the existing spike comes from multiple crossings made by asylum applicants who are turned away and come back to try again — repeatedly.
We need a more sustainable approach — and lawmakers from both parties who can stop arguing long enough to seriously put it together and pass it.
Meanwhile, we argue over whether we have a crisis at the border, which reminds me of an old reputedly Chinese definition of “crisis” as a combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” We can fix the danger in our border mess, if we don’t waste our opportunity.
Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach him at [email protected] His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.