Is Biden 'taking a page' from Trump's border playbook?
'The blowback on the left could be significant'
President Biden is sending 1,500 active-duty troops to the southern border to support immigration officials bracing for a possible wave of migrants after the expiration of the Title 42 public health order that allowed officials to turn away migrants to fight the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration said this week that the troops, requested by the Homeland Security Department, will join 2,500 military personnel as soon as May 10 and fill "critical capability gaps," including monitoring surveillance cameras, watching border crossings, entering data, and other duties. The reinforcements will stay along the Mexico border for 90 days as border towns brace for a surge of migrants after the pandemic-era Title 42 policy ends on May 11.
As Title 42 winds down, illegal crossings already are rising. U.S. agents are stopping more than 8,000 migrants along the border some days, many of them Venezuelans crossing the Rio Grande by wading, swimming, or boarding smugglers' rafts, according to The Washington Post. "We can't stop it," Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber told the Post. Officials expect illegal crossings to exceed 10,000 per day once Title 42, imposed in March 2020, is lifted.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder noted that the Pentagon has supported Homeland Security with troops every year since 2006. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump sent 5,800 troops to the border in response to a caravan of migrants he called an "invasion." Texas has stationed thousands of National Guard troops in these areas for two years. Immigration advocates and Democrats have criticized those deployments as militarization of entry points intended to discourage people from seeking asylum. What does this latest deployment mean for the debate about border security and immigration reform?
'Taking a page from Trump's border security playbook'
"Joe Biden is fond of blaming the border crisis on Donald Trump," said the Boston Herald in an editorial, but he's "taking a page from Trump's border security playbook" now. Top Democrats had nothing but scorn for Trump when he tried to harden the border and increase security with troops. Now a Democrat is in the White House and he has suddenly seen the light after polls started showing that his "inattention to the border crisis" could cost him with voters. "It's not the best reason to beef up personnel at the border, but considering this is happening on Biden's watch, we'll take what we can get."
"The wind has changed direction" indeed, said Eli Okun in Politico, and "the blowback on the left could be significant." The troops Biden is sending won't be involved with law enforcement or turning back migrants. But that just means their mission this time is "similar to their deployment under Trump and other administrations." Democrats blasted Trump for his decision to send troops to the southern border in 2018, "calling them political and damaging." Some Democrats are defending Biden's decision, saying it merely "reflected DHS' underfunding," but not everyone on the left is buying it.
Biden is in a bind
The Biden administration has to do something to manage the expiration of this Trump administration policy and prevent chaos, said Stef W. Kight in Axios. There are tens of thousands of migrants gathered on the Mexican side of the border waiting to cross post-Title 42. With hundreds of new arrivals already here sleeping in the streets, the city of El Paso, Texas, has declared a state of emergency, and Republicans used language in last year's omnibus spending bill to block the city from using federal funds to provide migrants shelter. To ease the pressure, the Biden administration is opening processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala. "The expiration of Title 42 marks a political and logistical inflection point" for the battle between Biden and Republicans over border policy.
"Why not try something that may actually work? Like a real border," said the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in an editorial. Trump tried a troop deployment. "Obama did it. It's almost a tradition." But the crisis continues. "It seems all this expense could be avoided if we had a better wall." The real problem is the lack of bipartisan reform to fix the nation's immigration policies, said Zachary B. Wolf at CNN. Title 42 was the "duct tape" that held U.S. immigration policy together, and we're in trouble when it's "ripped off next week" largely because Congress isn't "seriously debating" a humane and effective way to handle immigration. "It's a great irony of the U.S. political debate that immigration drives such a visceral divide since the country needs immigrants — both to address labor shortages and to shore up the social safety net programs that are running out of funding."