From the Center

This viewpoint is from a writer rated Center.

For some reason, Joe Biden and his advisors have determined that referring to the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs at the U.S.-Mexico border as a “crisis” is to their political disadvantage. So White House staffers have been tearing apart the political thesaurus looking for less alarming synonyms to describe the worsening situation and human tragedy that is unfolding at the border. In the meantime, the something-other-than-a-crisis has now become a catastrophe.

While the Biden administration focuses on such semantic questions, the real-world challenge of securing the border with the type of humanity that has been missing from the nation’s immigration policy for the past four years has become increasingly daunting. Biden harshly criticized Donald Trump during last year’s presidential campaign for his aggressive efforts to minimize the number of immigrants coming into this country during his term in office, and promised a more accommodating approach if he were elected. Large numbers of individuals and families from around the world who had been considering moving to the U.S. took Biden at his word: the result has been a tremendous influx of new arrivals at the border and a new administration largely unprepared for the surge.

The greatest challenge has been the sizable increase in the number of unaccompanied minors who are making the trip. Their parents have learned that while Biden is still preventing most adults from entering the country, most children and teenagers are being allowed to stay. Not surprisingly, more young people are arriving every day, and Biden’s appointees are scrambling to find them safe and healthy accommodations until they can be connected with family members stateside.

Republicans, who are eager to talk about anything other than Biden’s popular coronavirus relief legislation, have latched onto the something-resembling-a-crisis at the border with a vengeance.

While the GOP demands a more assertive interdiction strategy, progressive Democrats are warning the White House in increasingly strident terms that rejecting or mistreating these young migrants is unacceptable. Biden himself, who began his presidency barely two months ago by proposing an ambitious immigration reform package that called for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in this country, is trying to find a way to appear welcoming to new arrivals – but just not quite yet.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas first attempted this intricate messaging strategy with this confusing advice to those considering the trip: “Don’t come now.” For a desperate refugee fleeing violence, corruption, poverty or possible death, the advice to wait at home for the time being was not useful and has been widely unheeded. Biden has since appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to oversee the almost-crisis, specifically instructing her to work with the leaders of Mexico, and the Northern Triangle nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to develop a multinational strategy to stem the human flow.

Biden is correct that the long-term solutions rely on creating more stability and opportunity for would-be migrants in their home countries, and his reform proposal contains funding for economic development, anti-corruption and public safety programs in Central America. But in the meantime, the number of arrivals at the border continues to grow, and public opinion polling now demonstrates that support for immigration reform in this country has begun to diminish. A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released this week showed that only 43 percent of voters favor a pathway to citizenship, down from 57 percent in January and driven by a 15% drop among voters in Biden’s own Democratic party over that short time.

Biden’s immediate challenge at the border is difficult enough, but it now appears that it is impacting his long-term policy goals as well. The centrist Democrats whose support he requires for comprehensive reform are becoming very nervous about the near-crisis that they see in the news every night. The cruel irony is that the more welcoming the president is to newly-arrived immigrants, the more difficult it will be for him to pass a broader reform package.

The prospects for a pathway to citizenship bill passing anytime soon are shrinking rapidly and it appears that Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress will be willing to settle for more targeted legislation that provides citizenship only for smaller numbers of young people who were brought here as children and for a few other more specific categories of migrants. But even prospects for more limited reform will be further endangered if the immediate crisis-ish border emergency is not resolved soon.

Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

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This piece was reviewed and edited by Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).