[Make sure to read Joseph Klein’s contributions in Jamie Glazov’s new book: Barack Obama’s True Legacy: How He Transformed America.]
The American people are suffering the dire consequences of President Biden’s disastrous open border, catch and release immigration policies. The number of migrants crossing the border into the United States unlawfully has spiked to near-record levels in recent weeks. The final tally of migrant apprehensions this fiscal year, which ended on September 30th, is likely to match, if not exceed, the whopping 2.2 million apprehensions in fiscal year 2022.
Every day, thousands of migrants are seen making their way into the United States without any interference by border agents, who have been relegated to processing the new arrivals rather than enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. After being processed, many of the asylum-seeking migrants who claim “refugee” status are released and provided the means to travel to cities and towns throughout the United States. They are allowed to remain in the United States while awaiting their asylum hearings, which could be years down the road.
Hobbling border agents from performing their real law enforcement duties heightens the risk to the American people’s security from terrorists, violent criminals, and human and drug traffickers who manage to get into the country under the guise of seeking asylum. The severe drain on local resources undermines the American people’s well-being.
The Biden administration’s response is three-fold. First, senior Biden administration officials deny that there is a border crisis and try to assure the American people that President Biden is doing everything he can to keep things under control. Second, they claim that the immigration system has been broken for a long time, which could be fixed if Congress would just pass the comprehensive immigration legislation proposed by President Biden. Third, they blame the Trump administration and Republicans in general for whatever immigration problems do exist at the border.
“The President has done everything and is going to continue what —to do what he can,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing on September 21st. “This is a broken immigration system. This is why the President, on his first day, put forth a comprehensive piece of legislation to try to deal with this immigration system.”
President Biden’s idea of a “comprehensive” reform of the immigration system is to provide the millions of illegal immigrants residing in the United States a path to citizenship – i.e., blanket amnesty.
New York Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made an absurd comparison of the current immigration crisis with the waves of immigrants passing through Ellis Island more than a century ago. “When it comes to people coming to New York City today, are nothing, I’m telling you, nothing, compared to the daily amounts of people that we saw coming in through Ellis Island in the first half of this century,” AOC said.
Putting aside AOC’s mistaken reference to this century rather than the previous centuries when the migration waves through Ellis Island took place, AOC has misused the Ellis Island saga to minimize the catastrophe we are facing today.
Approximately 12 million immigrants who entered the United States legally through Ellis Island, the U.S.’s primary official port of entry over a 62-year period between 1892 and 1954, were processed in an orderly manner. During the peak years -1900 to 1914 – the average number of immigrants passing through Ellis Island daily to be processed was approximately 1,900. The immigrants were screened for health, character, and financial solvency before being admitted into the country.
Not so today. The chaotic situation at the southern border on President Biden’s watch caused by his reckless open border immigration policies has metastasized throughout the country, including to New York City.
More than 118,800 migrants released by the Biden administration have arrived in New York City in the last 18 months, overwhelming the ability of the city to provide them with shelter, food, and medical care, as well as education for migrant children. The tab for all this care is in the billions of dollars, projected to reach as high as $12 billion over the next three years, which will fall most heavily on New York taxpayers.
AOC’s comparison of the legal immigrants’ arrival and processing at Ellis Island to the illegal immigration crisis today is outrageous enough, but her fellow Massachusetts Democrat Squad member Rep. Ayanna Pressley is even more out of touch with reality.
“No doubt about it, our border is secure,” Rep. Pressley said in a recent CNN interview. CNN host Jake Tapper could not believe his ears. “If you have people crossing the border, it’s just by definition not secure,” Tapper said. “It just seems like just such a refusal to acknowledge reality to say that the border is secure when we all know millions of people are crossing the border illegally every year.”
Even CNN is finally beginning to acknowledge the obvious.
The system for declaring refugee status for the purpose of being granted an asylum hearing in the United States is completely broken. It is full of loopholes that smugglers trafficking illegal immigrants into the country have exploited in a multi-billion-dollar business since President Biden took office.
The smugglers and left-wing pro-open border advocates instruct immigrants trying to get into the United States what to say in pressing their claims for asylum as “refugees.” In most cases their claims turn out to be bogus. But that does not matter since the horse is already out of the barn. The Biden administration generally releases phony asylum claimants, rather than detain them. They can then reside freely in the country until their asylum cases are heard. That can take years to happen. Deterrence has gone by the wayside.
The Biden administration’s refusal to use former President Donald Trump’s successful Remain in Mexico policy in lieu of catch and release has lured many illegal immigrants to try their luck by playing the asylum card. The Biden administration has done nothing to effectively expedite the filtering out of questionable asylum claimants at the border and immediately remove them from the country. But the fundamental problem with asylum claims is deeper than just trying to deter and control the flood of claimants. The fundamental problem is the statutory definition of a “refugee” for the purposes of qualifying for asylum status. Its ambiguity invites gross manipulation.
The term “refugee” as defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) includes “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
This definition tracks the definition of “refugee” set forth in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, as amended in 1967. The drafters of the Refugee Convention wanted to ensure against a repeat of the refusal by countries, including the United States, to admit persons fleeing the Nazis’ slaughters and persecution during World War II. Top of mind was someone who had been persecuted by an oppressive government or its agents or had good reason to fear such persecution if that person returned to his or her home country.
Victims of domestic or gang violence or of discrimination, and people facing economic hardship, may well have good reasons to seek a better life elsewhere. However, those reasons should not be considered legitimate grounds to be eligible for refugee status and asylum in another country. But progressive pro-immigration advocates have pushed successfully for an expansive interpretation that conforms with their liberal open border policies.
It has gotten to the point, for example, where a physically abused woman from Guatemala was able to qualify for asylum in the United States as a member of “a particular social group” of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.” This sad situation revolved around criminal acts that were committed by one spouse against another within the context of a private domestic relationship. But there was no link established directly to government action in the country where the violence occurred, nor to any deliberate neglect by the government of its duties to stop the violence that was alleged to be persecution. But such distinctions have been set aside by overly broad interpretations of the grounds for asylum that have given the benefit of the doubt to the asylum seekers. The floodgates have been opened to hordes of migrants who have left their countries of origin seeking a better life and have claimed asylum under false pretenses.
The United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman delivered a searing critique of the current asylum framework under the UN Refugee Convention in a speech that she delivered to the American Enterprise Institute late last month. Migrants are “gaming the asylum system to their advantage,” she explained, adding that unless the “definition of who qualifies for protection” as a refugee eligible for asylum is tightened, “huge incentives for illegal migration” will continue. That warning applies to the definition of “refugee” in the Immigration and Nationality Act as well.
The House of Representatives passed the Secure the Border Act of 2023 last May, which takes steps to fix this problem by imposing sensible new limits on asylum eligibility. For example, it raises the threshold of proof before an asylum officer can find that the asylum-seeker has a “credible fear” of persecution and expands the kinds of crimes that could disqualify a migrant from being granted asylum. The bill also provides a more precise definition of “persecution” and lists several exclusions from the definition, including “generalized harm or violence that arises out of civil, criminal, or military strife in a country.”
Unfortunately for the American people, the Republican House majority’s attempt to close the glaring loopholes in the current immigration law’s asylum provisions has run into a brick wall in the Democrat-controlled Senate and at the Biden White House. And the illegal immigration catastrophe rages on.