Opinion: Another political failure on immigration

File photo/Paul Ratje/The New York Times / Seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, migrants wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 29, 2023.
File photo/Paul Ratje/The New York Times / Seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, migrants wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 29, 2023.

President Joe Biden's assertion that he's ready to sign a border deal — one that would make it much harder for migrants to enter the United States — is a necessary and long overdue step to restore the public's confidence in the federal government's ability to maintain control over immigration.

The crush of asylum-seekers crossing the Southern border has overwhelmed the government's capacity to deal justly with their claims. The needs of the migrants have strained the resources of cities and towns across the country. This situation is untenable.

Democrats have been too slow to respond to the increasingly urgent pleas from mayors, governors and voters to act. Republicans deserve credit for pressing for action, and they ought to be celebrating that Biden has now accepted many of the strict border security measures that they have long pushed for. But Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, insists that Republicans reject the legislation taking shape in the Senate. Several Senate Republicans have said Trump is blocking it to keep immigration alive as a campaign issue. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana called this move to derail the negotiations "tragic."

House Republicans, however, don't seem interested in writing laws; they have instead submitted to Trump's demands. House Speaker Mike Johnson says any bill the Senate sends to the House will be "dead on arrival." Instead of negotiating with Democrats, they are pressing ahead with a farcical effort to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security.

Republican leaders outside Congress are engaged in other forms of sabotage. The Oklahoma Republican Party voted to censure Sen. James Lankford for his role in leading the Senate negotiations. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has long used human lives as political props, has directed the Texas National Guard to impede the work of federal immigration officers along the Southern border. These actions have set off a constitutional standoff between the state and federal governments and created dangerous conditions.

These political maneuvers are counterproductive and a distraction from the scale of this issue: The number of migrants entering the United States from the Southern border has never been greater. As Miriam Jordan of The New York Times reported, 2.5 million people crossed in the 2023 fiscal year, "more than live in most U.S. cities."

It is a migration driven by problems in the places left behind, by opportunities in the United States — and by the ease of entering this country and staying here. It is common knowledge that people can enter the United States legally by presenting themselves as applicants for asylum. Without the resources to judge those claims quickly, the government lets hundreds of thousands of people live and work in the United States while awaiting a hearing.

The deal under construction in the Senate reportedly would raise the bar for asylum claims and provide funding to expedite decisions. It would expand other forms of legal immigration, which could help to take some pressure off the asylum process. It also includes a provision, which Biden has embraced, that would establish limits on the number of migrants able to ask for asylum on any given day — a provision that could bar many people from claiming asylum, no matter how strong their cases.

Whatever the fate of this piece of legislation, Americans should not lose sight of what Congress could do if it chooses: Congress can and should invest the needed resources and provide the needed powers to regain control over immigration. It needs to provide aid to border cities and cities far from the border dealing with influxes of migrants. It needs to act so that people without legitimate claims cannot walk into the United States — not least so that others are able to do so.

Upcoming Events