tags: Press Releases

Memo: Six Key Facts Mostly Missing from the Border Debate

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Washington, DC – Republicans are going for broke on a midterm strategy that’s heavy on lies and fear mongering in response to the Biden administration’s decision to lift Title 42 restrictions in May and an expected increase this spring in apprehensions at the southern border. Some Democrats are concerned that the administration’s plan isn’t adequate and that GOP attacks will hurt them come November. Below, we present six key facts that should be the foundation for this policy and political debate. 

  1. Title 42 is a public health regulation, not an immigration control policy. Even as a border control measure, it has failed.
  2. Republican “open borders” attacks are a witches’ brew of lies, distortions and dangerous conspiracy theories.  
  3. The Biden administration has developed a sensible border plan in case of a summer increase in arrivals. Critics unhappy with it should help to improve it. 
  4. Republicans are doing precious little to stop the trafficking of deadly illegal drugs into the U.S. except blame Biden and those who apply for asylum. Most Republicans rail against Biden and fentanyl; most Republicans voted against funding for screening and upgrades at ports of entry where 99% of all illegal drugs enter the U.S.
  5. America is a strong, prosperous and diverse nation. We can live up to our best traditions as a welcoming nation, handle the arrival and processing of those seeking refugee status, and protect our borders against those violating our laws or threatening our security. 
  6. The U.S. processed 10,000 Ukrainians through ports of entry over the past two months, underscoring the simple fact that when we put our resources and commitment into it, we can process and protect those seeking refugee status in an orderly and humane way. We need to extend the same commitment to all of those seeking refugee status at our southern border, regardless of race and national origin. 

Fact One: Title 42 is a public health regulation, not an immigration control policy. Even as a border control measure, it has failed.

Title 42 is a WWII law that was dusted off by White House advisor Stephen Miller at the outset of the pandemic. Public health officials have routinely denounced the invocation of the 1944 law, arguing it is a “a grave misuse of public health as a pretext to end asylum.” Worried about rising numbers of apprehensions at the southern border as the U.S. and other nations emerged from lockdowns and many countries in our hemisphere continued to reel from the pandemic, the Biden administration kept it in place – with some exceptions for unaccompanied minors, some vulnerable families, and most recently, Ukrainians – despite the fact that it violates both established law and sound science. Touted as an effective border control measure by proponents, experts consider Title 42 to have been a failure as a border control measure. 

For example, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council recently testified before the House Homeland Security Committee that Title 42 actually resulted in a higher number of apprehensions because Title 42 removed consequences for those who attempted repeat border crossings. In effect, Title 42 expulsions incentivized a four-fold increase in recidivism. According to Reuters, within less than a year of Title 42 going into effect, smugglers began offering package deals that allow multiple attempts at crossing the border for one fee. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, last year one person even admitted to reporters that he had made 30 failed attempts to cross the border, each time being apprehended and expelled back to Mexico. Reichlin-Melnick concludes, “In total, more than a half million encounters at the U.S. Mexico border over the last two years have been repeat encounters of individuals who had already tried and failed at least once before.”

Fact Two: Republican “open borders” attacks are a witches’ brew of lies, distortions and dangerous conspiracy theories.  

America has more agents, money and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. From 1992 to 2022 the number of border agents has increased from 4,139 in 1992 to 19,536 in 2021. Since 1993, when the current strategy of concentrated border enforcement was first rolled out along the U.S.-Mexico border by the Clinton administration, the annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has increased more than ten-fold – from $363 million to nearly $4.9 billion. Since 2003, the budget of CBP, which includes both the Border Patrol and operations at ports of entry, has also nearly tripled, rising from $5.9 billion in FY 2003 to a high of $17.7 billion in FY 2021. Since the creation of DHS in 2003, ICE spending has nearly tripled, from $3.3 billion to $8.3 billion in FY 2021. CBP reports that in Fiscal Year 2021 (October 1, 2020 to September 31, 2021), Border Patrol agents “reache[d] a detection site in a timely manner” 96.9% of the time, the highest rate recorded to date. The fact is the border has never been more secure. 

Think about it: high volumes of border encounters and apprehensions during the last 15 months under Biden are the marks of the exact opposite of an “open border.” Moreover, border “surges” have happened under Obama, Trump and Biden – in 2014, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Do Republicans blame Trump for the 2019 “crisis” and the 40% increase in border arrivals in 2020? Of course not. But when an expected increase occurs in 2022, will the GOP blame Biden? Of course. Because for them, this issue is about political advantage not policy solutions.

And in a dark and dangerous turn, some are working to mainstreaming odious white supremacist theories. Many GOPers assert that migrants seeking refuge at our southern border constitute an “invasion” (see explainer here from America’s Voice). Some even argue that Democrats favor “open borders” because they are committed to the “Great Replacement Theory” (see explainer here from the Anti-Defamation League). The invasion rhetoric is now deployed by GOP leaders from Donald Trump to Elise Stefanik to Paul Gosar. Here’s a sampling:

  • “We are being invaded by millions and millions of people,” Former President Donald Trump told his crowd at his rally in Washington Township, Michigan, on April 2. 
  • Third-ranking House Republican, Elise Stefanik again waded into this racist conspiracy theory writing “Ending Title 42 will worsen the already catastrophic invasion at our Southern Border. Joe Biden and his Far Left policies are destroying our country.”
  • Rep. Michael Cloud (TX-27) wrote: “This is a complete dereliction of duty. Without Title 42, our Border Patrol officers will experience an illegal immigrant surge at record-shattering levels. The Biden administration knows this, and they’re complicit in this continued invasion.”
  • Rep. Lance Gooden (TX-05) wrote:  “What’s going on at the southern border is not immigration. It’s an invasion.”
  • Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-04) wrote: “This is full scale invasion. This is 540,000 in one month. Putin sent 150,000 troops into Ukraine and we are ready to set fire to the world. Eliminating Title 42 will only add fuel to the fire. Madness.”

The “replacement theory” conspiracy is being championed by the likes of Tucker Carlson of Fox News and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance.  How dangerous is this? It’s exactly the type of language that motivated domestic terrorists who perpetrated mass killings in Pittsburgh (2018) and El Paso (2019), as well as the torch-wielding crowd of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (2017).  

Fact Three: The Biden administration has developed a sensible border plan in case of a summer increase in arrivals. Critics unhappy with it should help to improve it.

A frequent complaint over the Title 42 and border debate is that the Biden administration lacks a plan to deal with an expected increase in border apprehensions. Generally, we are in agreement with those who criticize the Biden White House for failing to lean into and communicate their plans. But we don’t agree that there is no plan. DHS is putting in place a whole-of-government strategy to manage any potential increase in the number of migrants encountered at our border: 

  • Standing up soft-sided processing centers to integrate the work of multiple agencies and to keep Border Patrol agents in the field rather than filling out paperwork.
  • Increasing its capacity to process new arrivals, evaluate asylum requests, and quickly remove those who do not qualify for protection.
  • Creating orderly border sector plans to reduce crowding and assess cases across the border.
  • Investing in technology and smart border infrastructure to crack down on cartels. 
  • Deploying the resources to process migrants quickly and safely, making sure families stay together. 
  • Instituting a new asylum process aimed at fast, fair, and final adjudications. This, in turn, will reduce the backlog.
  • DHS is putting in place COVID-19 protocols, including ramping up its vaccination program.
  • The Biden administration is working with regional allies to stem the flow of migrants to the southern border. According to MPI, in the past eight months, Mexico imposed visa requirements for nationals of Ecuador, Brazil, and Venezuela who arrive as tourists, leading to dramatic reductions in arrivals of these nationalities at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Mexican authorities have also increased migrant apprehensions, reaching record numbers of arrests in August, September, and October 2021. It has also become more difficult for migrants to move through Mexico to the U.S. border, due to immigration checkpoints that aim to prevent irregular movement out of the southern border state of Chiapas. After the end of Title 42, the United States may rely on Mexico for immigration enforcement even more.
  • The administration has been working with other countries to stem irregular migration, resulting in increased immigration enforcement in some parts of Central America. Costa Rica in February began requiring visas for Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans; and Panama in March imposed visa requirements for Cubans. In March, the United States and Costa Rica signed a memorandum of understanding that commits to strengthening Costa Rica’s migration and border police and integration programs for asylum seekers and refugees. After meeting with Colombia’s President Ivan Duque, Biden in March announced his intention to sign a regional declaration on migration at the Summit of the Americas in June.

President Biden’s longer-term plan advances a regional approach to managing and mitigating migration by:

  • Investing in the top-sending countries to help stabilize their economies, address insecurity and support agriculture and small businesses;
  • Going after the cartels who now view humans akin to drugs in their business model;
  • Creating more legal options to migrate, such as employment visas, more refugee slots, and legal channels to reunite children with their families; and
  • Working with countries in the region to bolster their own refugee, safe haven and labor visa systems.

Critics who believe these plans can be strengthened should engage with the administration to make concrete recommendations. No administration can keep people from seeking safety from violence or keep smugglers from preying on precarity to boost their business. But the administration should get some credit for having both a short-term and a long-term plan for dealing with this complex and difficult challenge. Meanwhile, this immediate debate happens in the context of a widely-acknowledged truth: as a nation, America badly needs to modernize our entire immigration system so we can secure our borders, advance our ideals and serve our interests. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Republicans refuse to work with Democrats to do just that. Again, for the GOP this is about scoring political points, not fashioning policy solutions.

Fact Four: Most Republicans voted against funding for screening at ports of entry where 99% of all illegal drugs enter the U.S.

According to the Washington Post, over 100,000 Americans are dying from drug overdoses each year, with most fatalities linked to fentanyl. According to the CDC, overdoses from fentanyl have become the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45. 99% of trafficked drugs come through ports of entry in commercial vehicles and passenger cars, not in the backpacks of migrants crossing on foot. Those seeking asylum present themselves to Border Patrol agents in order to apply for refugee status. Drug couriers they are not. 

Congress has asked CBP to come up with a plan to screen 100% of vehicles with the powerful high-energy scanners that can peer deep inside cargo loads. 5% of vehicles are currently screened – 15% of commercial vehicles and 2% of passenger cars. Dictating plans is one thing. Funding them is another. Unfortunately, most Republicans voted against the infrastructure bill that included $236 billion in ports of entry screening technology and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, leading Republicans spew distortions to blame Biden. Here is what leading Republican Senator John Cornyn tweeted just recently: “We recently found out our nation hit a grim milestone: 100,000 Americans died of an overdose in a single year. Pres. Biden’s open borders policies are letting drugs like Fentanyl pour into our communities. This cannot go on – we must secure the border.” If Republicans become more interested in expanding screening than in scoring political points, Democrats would undoubtedly love to work with them on doing what works to crack down on the fentanyl traffickers. 

Fact Five: America can manage migration effectively, protect refugees and asylum seekers who need protection and govern our border with both order and justice. 

When asked for policy solutions, the GOP says Build the Wall, send them back to Mexico, and keep Title 42 in place. They want to re-up the cruel and chaotic policies of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller. Most want to complete the wasteful and failed border wall and name it after Trump. 

The cramped Republican view is grounded in a fearful and insular America. As Stephen Miller stated about lifting Title 42: “This will mean armageddon on the border. This is how nations end.” In response, the invaluable Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council noted, “Stephen Miller is a whiny baby who thinks the United States is a pathetic weakling that will crumble at the slightest pressure. I think the history of the United States has long shown that we are made stronger by adding more strivers searching for the American Dream, not weaker.” 

Remember, Title 42 has only been in place for two years and is not the only tool we have governing our borders. Lifting it is simply reestablishing the regular order of U.S. law. Yes, managing our southern border and upticks in border arrivals is a challenge for the Biden administration, just as it has been for presidents of both parties going back decades. But a confident, strong and capable America is competent enough to manage upticks and downturns in forced migration at our southern border alongside the overdue delivery of broader reforms to modernize our immigration system.

Fact Six: Here is factual evidence on the point above: Over the last two months, the U.S. processed 10,000 Ukrainians through ports of entry. When we put our resources and commitment into it, we can process and protect those seeking refugee status in an orderly and humane way. We need to extend the same commitment to all of those seeking refugee status at our southern border, regardless of race and national origin.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez of CBS News reports that “10,000 Ukrainians have been processed by US border officials in the past two months, a growing and unprecedented number.” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick responded, “Here’s what’s staggering: the overwhelming majority have been processed through the San Ysidro port of entry, in numbers larger than we’ve seen that port of entry process in nearly 6 years. This proves that we *can* process asylum seekers in large numbers at ports of entry … We’ve been telling the Biden administration forever that the goal should be to reopen the ports of entry and throw them open wide. Reduces both chaos and incentives to cross.”

The focus on Ukrainian processing also underscores a question for Republicans about their talking points: Do they want to treat asylum seekers from Ukraine differently than those from other countries throughout the world, and, if so, why? Or, if they favor a blanket exclusionary policy as part of their efforts to extend Title 42 indefinitely, do they want to expel Ukrainians to a nation at war and Russians to a nation cracking down on dissidents and protestors? Where would the GOP draw the line and is there a criteria other than race or the political ideology of the government doing the oppressing?

We need to extend the same commitment to all of those seeking refugee status at our southern border, regardless of race and national origin.

Finally, it is important to note why Ukrainians feel compelled to fly to another country and try their hand at asking for asylum at the U.S. Mexico border. After four decades of obstruction and attacks on immigration reform, trying to go around our system seems to have a better chance of success for Ukrainians than going through our system. As NPR’s Franco Ordoñez reported from Poland this weekend, many Ukrainians – even those with close family members in the U.S. – feel that going to Mexico may be their best option when the U.S. visa program, refugee systems and asylum systems provide only barriers. 

America can do better.