Opinion: Biden finds border isn’t ‘pretty simple’ after all — he may even need Trump’s old policies

Photo/Doug Mills/The New York Times) / President Joe Biden walks with U.S. Border Patrol agents along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, Jan 8, 2023.

Before I had kids, I can remember thinking, as I watched a mom struggling with her toddler in the grocery store: I won't ever find myself in such a predicament. I've read a ton about effective parenting strategies. I will know what to do. It's simple.

Eight years into motherhood, I recognize the absurdity of such a thought.

Your high ideals fade away, and the "simple tricks" heralded by all the "parenting experts" go out the window very quickly. Because, reality.

Governing is the same way: There are challenges you don't truly appreciate until you're in the thick of it.

And, of course, you never imagined that your proposed solutions, so seemingly simple and straightforward, might actually fail -- sometimes spectacularly.

That's the first thought that crossed my mind when I read a headline about how the Biden administration is considering restoring the Trump-era immigration policy of family detention -- a policy that President Joe Biden vehemently criticized during his campaign and swiftly ended after taking office.

Reality seems to have set in for the president, along with the realization that there aren't any easy fixes and that many of his idealized, progressive border policies only exacerbated existing problems.

This reality includes months and months of record border crossings, increased violence along the Southern border, and the bombshell story that many of the migrant children released into U.S. custody (under Biden) end up with sponsors who force them to work full-time jobs in violation of federal law.

The approach to migrant families crossing the border illegally that he once called "pretty simple" actually creates even more complications.

The risky but ultimately genius political maneuver by Gov. Greg Abbott, who bused hundreds of migrants to northern "sanctuary cities," also proved effective at driving home the practical challenges of a porous border.

Public services and even charity groups were overwhelmed by what amounted to a fraction of the humanity entering Texas border towns every day.

But a window into the practical consequences of oversimplifying our nation's border challenges was opened, as Texas problems became New York City and Chicago problems, too.

Last month the administration announced a proposed rule that would establish "a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility" for anyone who passes through another country to reach the U.S. border with Mexico without first seeking protection there.

While the rule would offer a few exceptions to migrants in extreme circumstances, it is otherwise very similar to -- surprise -- another vilified Trump-era proposal struck down by a federal court.

Still, news of the possible policy reversal is a trial balloon and not yet a decisive policy change. The administration is testing the waters to see just how angry its most progressive allies will get.

If the musings of MSNBC analysts and op-ed writers in progressive journals are any indication, the pushback will be fierce.

But the return of family detention will be only one of many immigration proposals the administration will tease before Title 42, the pandemic-era policy that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the Southern border for public health reasons, expires May 11, when illegal entries are expected to soar.

Whether the administration's apparent immigration policy reversals are an attempt at triangulation as the presidential campaign draws closer or a trial balloon that will pop, it's evident that when it comes to immigration, the realities of governing don't fit nicely on a bumper sticker.

Even for Biden, nothing is "pretty simple" when it comes to managing the border.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram