The dire situation on the southern border of the United States


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In a brief burst of bipartisanship last weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $60 billion in aid to long-stalled Ukraine that would be a vital boost to kyiv. But bipartisan spirit did not last long enough to pass another measure, strengthening U.S. border security, which Republicans had long linked to aid to Ukraine. The posturing by hardline members of the Republican Party derailed the chances of a bill that largely mirrored a tough measure that House Republicans supported last year. The situation on the southern border, however, is desperate.

As a Financial Times series highlighted, political and economic unrest in Latin America is leading to unprecedented mass migration. The number of people apprehended at the southwest U.S. border reached a record of nearly 2.5 million last year. Border agents and facilities are overwhelmed; many American states are struggling to cope with these capital inflows. Immigration has become a central issue in the November presidential election. If Congress is unable to act, held hostage by radical Republicans on this issue, President Joe Biden may have to do so.

It’s a shame that congressional leaders spent months negotiating a bipartisan border bill that represented the most sweeping attempt at immigration reform in more than a decade. It included a trigger mechanism to close the border when numbers peak and provided $20 billion in funding to increase capacity and employ thousands of additional border protection and asylum officers. Most Republicans in the Senate, along with a handful of Democrats, rejected the package in February after Donald Trump signaled he did not want to give Biden a pre-election “gift.”

At least some of the border problems are due to Biden himself. Under pressure from the progressive wing of his party, he repealed some of the most drastic anti-immigration measures of the Trump presidency. Faced with rising migrant numbers, the White House’s response has been labored and inconsistent, in part out of fear of taking steps that could antagonize the Democratic left. But the president inherited a seriously broken system, facing record problems with separated families and overcrowded asylum centers.

The rising number of migrants also reflects not only growing misery in parts of Latin America, but also the lure of the U.S. economic boom under Biden. Indeed, legal migration has contributed to this dynamic growth. If America wants to control inflation while experiencing robust growth and close the skills gap, the workforce must continue to grow. But migrants must enter in a controlled manner through the front door rather than the back.

Biden on Wednesday lamented the lack of border security in the weekend package, noting that this year he had “proposed, negotiated and agreed to the strongest border security bill this country has ever seen “. . . seen.” He insisted he was “committed to this” and would return. If Congress fails to act, the president must do everything he can — but not the draconian lockdown promised by Trump if he wins again This month, Biden hinted that he was considering possible executive action to significantly limit the number of asylum seekers who can cross the border.

He has the authority to do so without congressional approval, under the same legal section that Trump has used for some of his measures. The executive orders, however, cannot affect billions of dollars intended to strengthen the border and hire more personnel than the Congressional bill would have done.

The president should therefore take every opportunity to remind voters who are responsible for the failure to adopt a more comprehensive solution: the many Republicans who seem more determined to ensure Trump’s re-election than to govern in the broader American interest.


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