UPDATE: President Donald Trump has decided to give Mexico another year to improve the situation at its border with the U.S.
When historians look back to this era, they will wonder why we insisted on outsourcing our border control to a foreign country. President Donald Trump’s threat to close down the southern border with Mexico isn’t a sign of strength, but of frustration fading into desperation.
There were more than 100,000 apprehensions at the border in March, an increase from the 76,000 in February. The numbers for both months were the highest in 10 years. The total for the fiscal year could hit a million, a historic surge completely overwhelming our capabilities. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen warned Congress of “the real-time dissolution of the immigration system.”
It’s not that border control has been tried and failed; it hasn’t been tried. Thanks to court decrees and congressional enactments, we don’t permit ourselves to quickly return minors from Central American countries, or to detain them for any significant period of time. They get released, along with the adults accompanying them.
The asylum process is broken. The initial so-called credible-fear interview to determine whether asylum-seekers get to the next step of the process approves almost all of them, even if they are unlikely ultimately to win asylum. In the meantime, they are waved into the country and probably never removed.
The migrants coming in increasing numbers realize that we are helpless to exclude them and, indeed, surrender to Border Patrol agents when they get here. Congress could fix all this in an afternoon, with a few key changes in the law. Trump has a Nancy Pelosi problem much more than an Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador problem.
But, since Speaker Pelosi is unmovable, Trump has to try to work the Mexican president. The talk of cutting off the border isn’t aimed at the migrants, who largely don’t come through ports of entry, but at forcing the Mexican government to do more. Maybe the mere threat of the resulting economic disruption will work.
But if Trump goes through with closing the border, the strategy has some of the same weaknesses as the government shutdown earlier this year. Where does it end? If Mexico doesn’t act quickly, how long are we going to keep the border closed? The longer it’s closed, the more pain will be felt in the U.S. economy at a time when there are already signs of softness.
What if Mexico initially buckles, then backslides? Will we shut down the border again, or threaten to? It’s insane that a sovereign country of unparalleled power has tied its own hands such that it must try to bully and cajole a foreign nation to do immigration enforcement for it. In a more rational world, Congress would take seriously the spectacle of U.S. officials – and humanitarian organizations – scrambling to handle a flood of humanity showing up every day, and give them the legal authorities and resources to get the situation under control. That it won’t is a dereliction of duty of the highest order.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. (c) 2019 by King Features Synd., Inc.