Biden’s executive order, announced June 4, bars migrants from seeking asylum when the seven-day average of illegal migrants hits 2,500 daily
Migrants attempt to cross the border at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Photo by David Peinado/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Why Biden Closed the Border

Faced with an uphill reelection battle, the President has adopted the tough-on-migrants approach of the Trump administration.

Joe Biden has finally done what he pledged he would never do: close the border to migrants.

Biden’s executive order, announced yesterday, bars migrants from seeking asylum when the seven-day average of illegal migrants hits 2,500 daily. Since recent totals have exceeded that figure, the executive order automatically went into effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning. Border agents are now empowered to bring migrants back to Mexico or return them to their home countries.

Polls have repeatedly shown that immigration is at or near the top of voters’ concerns—and they think Donald Trump would do a better job of handling it. (The number of arrests of illegal migrants from across Latin America and elsewhere peaked at 250,000 in December.) Now that he’s faced with an uphill reelection battle, Biden is embracing the same tough-on-migrants approach that defined the Trump administration, inflaming tensions with the left wing of his own party. 

Biden, meanwhile, portrayed the executive order as the only way to circumvent “Republican obstruction” on Capitol Hill. 

There’s a lot of truth to that. Senate Republicans killed a bipartisan border bill in February, two days after Trump—not wanting to lose his signature issue—trashed it. But it’s also true, as Republicans have long insisted, that Biden could have issued his executive order on day one of his administration, in January 2021.

The New York Times (sounding like Mother Jones) reported that “the move shows how drastically the politics of immigration have shifted to the right in the United States,” but that’s not quite right: rather, it underscores how far to the left Democrats have moved since 2019, when nearly all the presidential primary candidates, including Biden, signaled support for decriminalizing illegal border crossings. 

My two cents: I doubt this does much, if anything, to alter public perceptions of Democratic versus Republican handling of the border. It’s a smart political move, but public sentiments have mostly hardened by now, and as I reported for The Free Press in April, the substantive policy differences between administrations of both parties are sometimes hard to make out.

Furthermore, there are a few big questions about implementing Biden’s executive order: Congress has not appropriated extra money for returning migrants; the ACLU has pledged to fight it, calling it “the same approach” as Trump’s; and it’s unclear how Mexican president-elect Claudia Sheinbaum will react

The underlying truth is neither party wants to do anything to fix this problem in any systemic way—the Republicans, because this is an issue they simply cannot wean themselves off of, or the Democrats, because they’re ideologically opposed to any policy that whiffs of anti-immigration. And so, our forever war over the border continues.

Peter Savodnik (@petersavodnik) is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Read his report from the southern border: “We Want Biden to Win.

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