Biden Should Rethink His Border Plan – The Washington Post

By The Editors | Bloomberg,

With an eye on the midterm elections, Republicans have highlighted a burgeoning crisis at the southern border to attack President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration. The criticism is largely warranted. Biden’s failure to implement a coherent border policy has led to a surge in illegal crossings and caused conservatives to amplify fears of a migrant “invasion.” It’s also making it harder to create the immigration system the country badly needs.

There are currently two main streams of entry into the US: legal and illegal. Each year, about 1 million people gain permanent residency through the legal system. Of that number, half already reside in the US on temporary work or student visas, while the rest come from outside the country. It’s also legal for migrants to present themselves at ports of entry and request asylum. But for many people without a legal pathway, attempting to cross the southern border remains the most viable option. Migrants who have entered the country illegally may still request asylum; historically, they — like other asylum-seekers — have been allowed to stay in the U.S. while their claims are being processed. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. has relied on a different policy for asylum-seekers. Known as Title 42, it permits peremptory deportations on public-health grounds and has been used to deny entry to 1.7 million migrants, who have had no opportunity to make their cases in court. Retaining the measure was understandable, yet it’s done little to ease pressure on the border: Since October, the border patrol has made more than 1 million arrests of people crossing illegally, the highest rate in at least 20 years.

The policy is also creating new complications. The administration has exempted unaccompanied minors from immediate expulsion under Title 42. This has meant housing them in overcrowded shelters near the border or releasing them to the custody of sponsors — sometimes via government-run nighttime flights to the country’s interior. 

The Biden administration promised to scrap Title 42 on May 23, pending court challenges. From a public-health perspective, that may make sense now that the U.S. has ample tools to contain the virus. The problem is that the administration has no replacement policy and is thus inviting another surge of migrants to the border. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that without Title 42, daily border apprehensions could increase from 7,000 to 18,000

A bipartisan Senate proposal offers a reasonable way out. Sponsored by Senators Kyrsten Sinema and James Lankford, the bill would forbid the administration from lifting Title 42 until 60 days after the national public-health emergency is ended and require it to issue a detailed plan for managing any influx of asylum-seekers. It would also increase funding for border agents and immigration courts — bolstering the government’s ability to stop unauthorized entries while making the system for processing asylum claims fairer and more efficient.

In the short term, Biden would be wise to grasp this lifeline. He should delay shutting down Title 42 and press Congress to commit adequate resources to strengthen border security, hire additional personnel to speed up the processing of asylum claims, and increase the number of detention facilities needed to accommodate a potential migration surge. He should also embrace the Migrant Protection Protocols, a policy that requires asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated. Biden should work to expand and improve the program, by coordinating with the Mexican government to provide safe housing and work opportunities for those sent back and to limit the distance asylum-seekers have to travel for court appearances.

By compromising on Title 42, the administration should then begin to forge a bipartisan coalition to reopen the legal immigration valve. Ideally, it would pursue a Canadian-style system that prioritized immigrants’ skills and education, rather than their family ties. That would bolster U.S. leadership in science and technology, promote entrepreneurship, and generally encourage economic growth.

Polls show that such reforms would command public support — but not until the government demonstrates an ability to contain illegal immigration and control chaos at the border. Biden needs to show that he grasps the challenge at hand.

The Editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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