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So, About That Border Wall
The Biden administration's hypocrisy is on full display, but its reversal is too little, too late.
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It is testament to how bad things are at the border, and how bad Biden is doing in the polls, that his administration has broken the emergency glass around an option that the president and his running mate emphatically rejected during the 2020 campaign.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently announced that the Biden administration will be waiving 26 federal laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, that prevent the government from building a wall at the Rio Grande, citing an “acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the border of the United States in order to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas.”
Needless to say, the decision opens the Biden administration up to the charge of hypocrisy.
“It’s imperative that we secure our borders, but ‘build the wall’ is a slogan divorced from reality,” Biden wrote in a 2019 op-ed condemning the Trump White House’s “racist” policies toward the “Latinx” population. Biden doubled down once he secured the Democratic nomination. “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration,” the future president said in an August 2020 interview with NPR.
Kamala Harris was just as unequivocal in her rejection. She called Trump’s wall a “medieval vanity project,” and said it was “stupid,” “useless,” and “a complete waste of taxpayer money [that] won’t make us any safer.”
Fellow Democrats echoed these sentiments. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the wall a “xenophobic campaign stunt.” Ilhan Omar also said it was “xenophobic.” Nancy Pelosi described it as “an immorality” that was likely driven by Trump’s obsessive hatred of Hispanics. “Anyone who supports this is supporting racism,” Pete Buttigieg replied when asked in a 2019 Democratic debate if Trump supporters who chanted “build a wall” were motivated by hatred. Elizabeth Warren called the wall “racist” during a 2020 CNN town hall and introduced legislation to redirect funds allocated for the project towards the government’s pandemic response. And so on.
And don’t forget the media, which obsessed over Trump’s wall and treated its construction as evidence of the former president’s racism, but which is now depicting Biden’s about-face as a savvy recognition of political reality.
That political reality is based on dismal poll results1 and the heat the administration is feeling from blue-state and big-city Democrats, who never thought they’d have to follow through on their sanctimonious sanctuary promises, and whose education, health-care, social-welfare, and law-enforcement resources are grossly inadequate to deal with the resulting crisis.
Biden’s sudden conversion to border-wall construction has led to primal caterwauling histrionics among Democrats’ intersectional left-wing base—which takes it as an article of faith that opposition to open borders is racism. Used to having their way with our octogenarian-in-chief, the nation’s utopians are pulling their dyed-blue hairs out. So, Biden is simply lying and claiming that he had no choice.
“The money was appropriated for the border wall,” he groused at the White House last Thursday. He really, really tried to get Congress to redirect it, but those dirty, no-good, rotten Republicans wouldn’t allow it. This is coming from the same man who continues to try canceling student loans that Congress has not authorized him to cancel, even after the Supreme Court ruled that doing so violates the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.
So now, laments the president, “there’s nothing under the law other than [for my administration] to use that money for what it was appropriated for.” But as Andrew McCarthy highlighted, the wall-construction funding was appropriated four years ago. Which begs the question: Why hasn’t Biden been forced to build any border wall until now? And if he “had to,” then why immediately upon taking office did he order a cessation of border-wall construction?
Desperately attempting to maintain good will among progressives, Biden answered “No” when asked if he thought the wall construction would be effective. And even as he carries out Biden’s policy, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas insists, “From Day One, this administration has made clear that a border wall is not the answer. That remains our position and our position has never wavered.”
But the left is not having it. Credit where credit is due, AOC pointed out the bull: “The Biden administration was not required to expand construction of the border wall,” she said, “and they certainly were not required to waive several environmental laws to expedite the building.”
She’s 100% correct. In the notice of determination posted in the Federal Register by Mayorkas, he announced that the construction of a wall would resume in response to record numbers of illegal crossings, including what he admitted were “over 245,000” such “entrants” between ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley Sector alone during the fiscal year just ended—a total that doesn’t include the “got-aways” not encountered by Border Patrol agents. In issuing this directive, Mayorkas made it clear that he was relying on his authority under §102 of the Clinton-era Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). This is important, because the IIRIRA states that the secretary’s authority is discretionary. For example, in a provision concerning the “Construction of Fencing and Road Improvements Along the Border,” the IIRIRA says:
Nothing in this paragraph shall require the Secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location.
In other words, if Mayorkas believes there’s a better answer than a border wall, he’s not required to build one.
And as far as the 26 laws being waived, the IIRIRA elucidates that the president, through the DHS secretary, has complete authority over whether to suspend enforcement in order to secure the border.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section [amending this section]. Any such decision by the Secretary shall be effective upon being published in the Federal Register.
Hence Mayorkas’ assertion that he’s waiving statutes on his own authority, not because Congress is forcing the administration to do something it doesn’t want.
Don’t let the reversal fool you, though: The White House remains an enemy of good order at the border. Only 20 miles of wall will be built under this new directive—less than 5% of what Trump built during his time in office. The Biden administration continues to stand federal immigration law on its head, transmogrifying it from a statutory presumption that illegal migrants must be detained in order to discourage more unlawful immigration into an administration policy that illegal migrants must be released into the country’s interior, then live and work here in the legal gray zone the White House has created for them indefinitely while they press their claims for asylum, no matter how baseless.2
“There’s no enforcement of the current immigration laws on the books,” said Manny Bayon, a Border Patrol agent and president of National Border Patrol Union Local 1613. “Obviously, the prior administration under Trump, we did have enforcement, and that’s what we were doing, enforcing immigration laws.”
It is impossible to know the exact number of illegal migrants who have made it into the country in the past 33 months, but Biden has lawlessly admitted more than 2.3 million with nothing more than a Notice to Appear (NTA) for immigration-court proceedings—which the majority of them will never do, and which proceedings take years to process. There have also been well over 1.5 million “got-aways” who were never “encountered” by Border Patrol. It’s safe to assume that more than 4 million total migrants have illegally entered under Biden’s watch. In the past two months alone, almost half a million have crossed the border, with September’s 260,000 setting a new monthly record.3 The Biden illegal population now exceeds that of roughly half the states (Louisiana, ranked 25th, has 4.5 million residents) and every major American city except New York, which has half of its hotel rooms occupied by migrants on the taxpayer dime.4
Some more incredible numbers courtesy of the American Main Street Initiative:
The average number of monthly encounters at the southwest border has risen from 47,876 in the eight years preceding Biden to 193,337 under Biden—a 4-fold increase.
There have already been 1.73 million more border encounters in just two-and-a-half years under Biden (6.3 million) than there were in the prior eight years combined under Obama and Trump (4.6 million, made up of 2.2 million under Obama, and 2.4 million under Trump).
In December 2020, the last full month under Trump, Border Patrol released 17 illegal migrants into the U.S. Just two years later, in December 2022, under Biden, it released 140,355—more than 8,000 times as many.
In Biden’s first two years, the U.S.’s foreign-born population over the age of 16 rose by 3.9 million—more than enough people to populate a new Los Angeles.
The border crisis is a man-made disaster of a completely novel scale. What we’re witnessing is the involuntary transformation of the nation itself, an unarmed invasion that’s making a fundamental change to the character of America without its political consent. And I believe it has been deliberate—not a matter of incompetence, and not a result of extraordinary phenomena.
As Jason Richwine points out, Congress sets limits on immigration to avoid the destabilizing cultural and political transformations that can accompany mass movements of people. The Biden administration’s insistence on rolling out the red carpet for millions of inadmissible migrants is furthering a long-term change to our national character that will be especially damaging to the right while serving the agenda of the global left.
We often hear politicians talk of migrants in terms of their economic impact, whether as contributors to entitlement programs or laborers in the market, but a country’s people define its culture. We owe our relative freedom and prosperity to those who settled this country, whose culture was conducive to both. “Would America be the America it is today,” the political scientist Samuel Huntington once asked, “if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.”
Converging lines of evidence from history, political science, and sociology show that key cultural traits brought by immigrants do not disappear into a melting pot. Indeed, the historian David Hackett Fischer has traced certain regional differences in the U.S. today all the way back to different groups of British settlers and the varying attitudes they had about everything from education to crime. In The Culture Transplant, economist Garett Jones explains how, far from assimilating, immigrants bring with them distinctive values and behaviors from the Old Country they transmit to their descendants, who then perpetuate them in their new country, which effects quality-of-life indicators in the regions they settle. This culture “transplanting” contradicts claims that mass influxes of illegal migrants will cause little or no change to the social fabric.
The point is that illegal migration at the scale we’ve witnessed in recent years will have a notable impact, with the consequences extending beyond our lifetimes. Whom we should allow to cross our borders is therefore an essential issue.5 But the left doesn’t care, because rapid immigration-induced cultural transformation is not only inimical to conservatism, which cherishes America’s history and traditions, but it reduces the viability of conservatism as a political movement. The left is setting up future election victories not by changing voters’ minds, but by changing the voters themselves.
According to exit polls, naturalized citizens gave about two-thirds of their votes to the Democratic Party in 2016. Although citizenship was apparently not collected in the 2020 election, exit polls showed Hispanic and Asian voters — a rough proxy for post-1965 immigrants and their children — voted for Democrats by around the same two-thirds rate. As the political scientist George Hawley has shown, immigrants tend to favor the Democratic Party simply because they’re to the left of the average American voter.6
As the political center is pulled leftward by ever-greater numbers of illegal migrants, the Republican Party platform will have to shift in that direction as well. Progressives will benefit, while conservatives will be at a long-term disadvantage.
Sure, the Biden administration hasn’t outright stated that it turned the border into an illegal migrant doormat out of a desire to accelerate the cultural and political changes described above. But whatever the motivation, the consequences are the same. Inviting millions to unlawfully enter the country will have long-term impacts that will be especially damaging to the administration’s political opponents. Meantime, we’re all being forced to accept a new foreign population the size of Panama comprised of unskilled, destitute migrants without any kind of supervision or sanction from the federal government. The only bright spot is that, because the border crisis has reached Blue enclaves in the north and is killing Biden in the polls, the administration might actually have to start enforcing our immigration laws.
For example, a survey from Marquette University shows that voters think Trump would handle border security better by a margin of 24 points, 52–28.
The Biden administration is even giving completely novel five-year work permits to half a million Venezuelans, which will no doubt incentivize even more to come.
I should add here that I’m not against legal immigration, and some asylum claims are legitimate.
In the past, the GOP has increased outreach through pro-immigration policies in an attempt to win over more immigrants. Republican presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan through John McCain attempted that strategy, but the results were disappointing. In the face of ideological differences, messaging and tone can only go so far.