Biden Administration Struggling for Coherent Message on U.S.-Mexico Border: Critics

Critics said Mayorkas’ statement and similar comments from the president himself amount to an invitation to young Central Americans to make the dangerous journey north.

In another example of muddled messaging, the administration released a blueprint in late July for creating what it calls a “fair, orderly and humane” immigration system. But on the same day, it announced that that the Department of Homeland Security would expand its use of “expedited removal” authority, which allows rapid deportation of certain immigrants with no court hearing. 

Instead of receiving positive comments from allies about its broader plan, the administration was slammed by immigration advocates. 

Allen Orr, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called expedited removals “a terrible practice that undermines due process and fairness.” He added, “AILA appreciates the administration’s other efforts to improve humanitarian protection, but this move is a far cry from the humane and fair policy he pledged.”

Pandemic Rhetoric 
A particularly tricky area for the administration has been the combination of migratory issues with the ongoing spread of COVID-19, especially in Texas. The administration’s political opponents, particularly Republican governors of states in which the pandemic is raging out of control, have blamed undocumented immigrants for the recent resurgence of the virus.

There is little actual evidence to suggest that is true. Undocumented immigrants detained at the border are all tested for the coronavirus, subjected to strict quarantine requirements, and in some cases vaccinated against the disease.

But the administration has made it difficult to push back against the claims that immigrants are driving infection rates by opting in some cases to continue using a public health measure known as Title 42 to immediately expel migrants, on the ground that they might be carriers of the infection.

Expelling migrants under Title 42 was initiated by the Trump administration in March 2020, and was widely criticized by Democrats as a blatant misuse of public health laws to achieve a goal — expelling migrants without granting them asylum hearings — that the Trump administration was having trouble achieving by other means.

The Biden administration has retained the policy but exempted unaccompanied minors and some families with young children.

Order in Chaos 
While some see chaos, others perceive a hidden agenda in the administration’s messaging.

It may seem like chaos, but I think chaos is a feature, not a bug, of this plan,” said James M. Roberts, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the author of a recent paper on the Biden administration’s efforts to address the root causes of immigration from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Central America, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

So they deliberately open the border, and have kept it open, and then to distract from that reality, they have asked people to focus on these root causes in the Northern Triangle countries with the source of many of them … in an effort to generate sympathy for these people that they’re letting into the country,” Roberts said. 

Big Numbers 
Whichever side of the question one is on, the numbers coming from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are certainly remarkable.

In July alone the administration estimates it apprehended approximately 210,000 people, the largest number in two decades. That total includes 19,000 unaccompanied children. The estimates for July bring the total apprehensions at the border in fiscal 2021 to over 1,329,000 — more than 114,000 of those unaccompanied children — with two months left in the fiscal year.

U.S. authorities note that some apprehensions are of repeat border crossers, making the actual number of migrants harder to calculate. Even so, perceptions of out-of-control migration have become widespread.

Republicans in Washington have gone so far as to introduce legislation calling for the impeachment of Mayorkas, who oversees CBP.

This is a catastrophe of gigantic proportions on our southern border where we had a secure border seven months ago and now it’s a train wreck down there,” Georgia Republican Representative Jody Hice said in an appearance on Fox News Wednesday. 

 “We are having records [numbers] of people coming across. We have COVID. We have violent criminals, gangsters, terrorists, and the American people are footing the bill on all of this. It’s time now for heads to roll.”

In fact, CBP numbers show that, after dropping for much of fiscal 2020, border apprehensions were on the rise in the final months of the Trump administration ahead of Biden’s January inauguration. 

A Washington Story? 
While political messaging is an obsession in Washington, the general public’s perception of how an administration handles issues often varies.

It’s not clear that the controversy in Washington has dramatically affected the way the general public feels about the administration’s handling of immigration in general. In late March, after Biden had been in office for about two months, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 36% of respondents said they approved of how the president was handling immigration compared with 48% who disapproved.

When the same question was asked in a poll released July 28, the figures had moved only slightly, to 35% approval and 50% disapproval, a difference within the poll’s margin of error. 

Rob Garver writes for Voice of America. This article  is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA).