FORT WORTH, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Whether you agree with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s politics or you think his lifting of COVID-19 restrictions was the result of “Neanderthal thinking,” it’s difficult to argue with his characterization of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy as “reckless open borders.”
How better might someone describe a circumstance in which the number of illegal border crossings (so far this year) is on track to surge past the crisis levels of 2019? Especially when an increasing number of the migrants are vulnerable, unaccompanied children.
Abbott’s comments, made [March 17] in Dallas, near the Kay Bailey Hutchison convention center, which is expected to house about 3,000 immigrant teenagers for up to 90 days as a “decompression center,” will no doubt be denounced as rank partisanship and political opportunism by a governor in desperate search of a good headline.
Maybe they were.
But to say that the current migrant surge has nothing to do with Biden’s policies and rhetoric and the hope he has given would-be immigrants, and everything to do with those of his predecessor, ignores the reality that Biden — who spent the early days of his presidency issuing executive orders to undo Trump administration policies — has created an incentive structure that makes the often harrowing trip to the U.S. entirely worth the risk, even for minors traveling without their parents.
And it shows.
Abbott said that more than 11,000 minors have been apprehended crossing the border into Texas this year — a situation that will soon become a humanitarian crisis if it isn’t already, regardless of the Biden administration’s willingness to admit it.
“This situation on the ground is certainly challenging,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “in part because we inherited a dismantled system that wasn’t prepared for processing asylum requests.”
According to people who worked on immigration policy in the previous administration, that’s categorically untrue.
As National Review’s Rich Lowry recently detailed, many Trump-era policies deterred illegal immigration because they tightened up asylum practices and expedited processing, including the quick repatriation of those who did not meet the requirements for asylum.
The former administration also developed its Migrant Protection Protocols, which allowed for migrants to be returned to Mexico while awaiting immigration proceedings, instead of overflowing U.S. detention facilities or becoming part of the “catch and release” program that sent immigrants here illegally into the U.S. interior, never to be heard from again.
Under the protocols, Mexico offered work permits and other assistance to those awaiting hearings, although many assailed the program for creating refugee camps across the border.
For all of the criticism rightly directed at Donald Trump’s inexcusable rhetoric, particularly on child separation, his administration was ultimately successful in deterring people who would not qualify for asylum from crossing the border in the first place.
That arguably prevented a lot of suffering and the prolonged detentions we are witnessing now in overcrowded facilities on both sides of the border.
Biden, of course, having ended Trump’s protection protocols along with other programs, has effectively welcomed more illegal border crossings. That unsurprisingly created new refugee-like camps of people waiting to cross the border into the U.S.
We can expect a lot more suffering to come.
Still, Psaki insists that “the border is not open. But as you know, we also have changed our policies to approach it in a more humane way — and keep kids safe.”
That remains to be seen.
The Biden administration’s decision to no longer turn back unaccompanied minors may be a compassionate departure from the Trump years.
Or, as Abbott worries, it will incentivize human traffickers and smugglers to increase their activities, sending more vulnerable youth across the border and into the arms of those who would harm them.
It may further encourage parents to surrender their children into the hands of so-called coyotes who care little for their safety and well-being.
And given the ongoing pandemic, housing minors in overcrowded facilities that lack resources to test children for COVID-19, let alone care for or quarantine those experiencing symptoms, isn’t in keeping with the Biden administration’s promise to keep kids safe, not to mention its public health protocols.
That’s the thing about “Neanderthal thinking.” At some point, it’s going to apply to you, too.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2021 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.