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Froma Harrop: Biden's border policies are better but not good enough

Biden's repeated vows for a "humane" process sound good. The reality, however, is that a gentle approach is hard to maintain when thousands of migrants are surging across one's border.

Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Joe Biden has done so many things well -- saving Ukraine, confronting China, signing a bipartisan gun control bill. And in a week of right-wing crazytown, he stood out as a comforting keeper of stability.

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But there's one thing he hasn't gotten right: curbing the chaos at the border. The problem isn't just the policies themselves, which are a mixed bag. It's the messaging. It's the air of apology when he does something real to stop illegal border crossing. He seems afraid to displease some progressives in his party who think anyone poor should get in.

Biden's repeated vows for a "humane" process sound good. The reality, however, is that a gentle approach is hard to maintain when thousands of migrants are surging across one's border.

Canada and Australia have big, generous immigration programs, but neither tolerates breaking of the laws nor do they express any guilt over their strict enforcement. It can be argued that their systems are more humane because clear rules dissuade dangerous attempts to get around them.

This said, Democrats should not have the border mess hanging around their necks and not Republicans' as well. Polls show most Democrats want an orderly immigration system. And Republicans continually stymie serious efforts to get there.

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It happens that illegal immigration to this country hit a 50-year low, not under Donald Trump, but under Barack Obama. Identity activists accused Obama of being "deporter in chief," but he persisted. Biden must learn to hang tough against inevitable sniping from a vocal minority on his side.

In 2013, a bipartisan Senate passed an immigration reform bill that would have required all employers to electronically verify a new hire's right to work in this country while legalizing the status of many undocumented migrants. Obama's strenuous enforcement program may have been intended to calm concerns that the legislation would be just another amnesty.

The bill would have also passed the House with Democratic and significant Republican support. But then-Speaker John Boehner refused to put it up for a vote because a majority of Republicans were not willing to vote yes. And so America to this day does not have a federal law mandating that all employers use E-Verify, the electronic system that could have greatly weakened the economic magnet that draws most of the illegal entrants.

When President Trump was asked whether he would support a national law requiring E-Verify for all new hires, he said no. It would be too "tough" for farmers. Other Republican big-mouths on border security have similarly preserved that access to cheap illegal labor.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that requires only state government and large Florida businesses to check the immigration status of job applicants. Left out were the very industries heavily dependent on illegal workers: restaurants, hotels, maintenance companies and so on.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an even sneakier bill. It forces only state agencies and institutions of higher learning to use E-Verify. In other words, almost nobody. When border hawks called on him to expand E-Verify for all private employers in Texas, Abbott went limp. Rather than taking real steps, he puts on little shows, like depositing lightly dressed asylum seekers in Washington on a freezing Christmas Eve.

Biden has gotten tougher. He has added 300 new Border Patrol officers and just made it easier to turn back unauthorized migrants who just show up at the border. And he's keeping for now Title 42, a pandemic-era measure that lets migrants seeking asylum be quickly turned away.

Of course, we can restore order. But that will require breaking up the marriage of cheap-labor Republicans and diversity Democrats. Biden should push harder for that and hold the apologies.

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Froma Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work is published regularly in the Grand Forks Herald.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Froma Harrop covers the waterfront of politics, economics and culture with an unconventional approach. She takes public policy quite seriously. Herself, less so.


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