Biden’s crackdown on asylum-seekers put him on a path to the failed policy of his predecessors of both parties.
Richard Parker, Tribune News Service
Perhaps the most fitting sight of President Joe Biden’s recent trip to the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border was this one: He went to the less important bridge spanning the Rio Grande.
In his brief and muted visit to my hometown of El Paso, where two nations meet, the president’s first stop was the Bridge of the Americas, presumably because it’s a port of entry. It has been upriver, however, at the older, narrower Santa Fe Bridge that I’ve lately seen thousands of people lined up waiting for asylum.
The choice of the Bridge of the Americas did give the White House a remote, secure place for the president to talk with US. Customs agents and watch their drug dog sniff a car. When all was said and done, Biden reduced the human tide seeking entry into the United States to a typical Washington equation: “They need a lot of resources and we’re going to get it for them.”
The administration didn’t clarify who “they” are, but since Biden’s visit focused on border enforcement workers, his statement telegraphed boosting the current border system. Which is precisely the wrong response. Tackling migration in the Western Hemisphere is not a simple matter of more agents, guns, fences and money stacked along one of the world’s most dangerous borders. This exodus of men, women and children is historic, leading to a record nearly 2.4 million encounters between migrants and US personnel at the southern border in fiscal year 2022. Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean require the attention of the resident superpower in this region. Instead, Biden has engaged in a foreign policy of not-so-benign neglect, allowing immigration, drugs, cartels, poverty, violence and dictatorships to pile up as one unmanageable ball of wax. This, in turn, has allowed Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who performed his own cheap stunt of hand-delivering a letter and admonishing Biden to “do your job” upon the president’s arrival in El Paso — to dominate the narrative on a situation no less complex than mass migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. “He’s two years and about $20 billion too late,” Abbott said on the tarmac.
Abbott, who has squandered billions of dollars on border initiatives with questionable returns, went so far as to ask the president in his letter for more walls and more troops. Despite the failure of those approaches, Biden’s trip and recent crackdown on asylum-seekers put him on a path to the failed policy of his predecessors of both parties: throwing more of the same at the border.
Yet immediately after leaving El Paso, Biden had to convince Mexico he is a strong ally: He sat down this week with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the two-day North American Leaders’ Summit. It was a fraught case to make. Despite a pledge early in Biden’s presidency to send $4 billion to help development in Central America and stem the passage of people northward, as López Obrador complained last summer: “Almost nothing has been invested so far.”
Mexico, too, has increasing leverage against the United States. It’s growing stronger as a U.S. trade alternative to China. Unlike Biden, López Obrador doesn’t have to worry about reelection (under Mexican law, he can’t run again). Biden also needs Mexico to cooperate on immigration. Last week, he announced that Mexico agreed to accept more asylum-seekers whose claims were rejected by the United States. But Mexico pushed back on other US requests to absorb more migration. During his meeting with Biden on Monday, López Obrador chastised: “End with this forgetfulness, this abandonment, this disdain toward Latin America and the Caribbean” (though he concluded the conference with more conciliatory remarks).
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