The Biden administration has systematically abandoned the border security policies and immigration reforms that enabled the Trump administration to turn back the tide of illegal immigration. With the floodgates to illegal immigration wide open once again, drug cartels and human traffickers are cashing in and both American and immigrant lives are at greater risk.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In 2019, when faced with an acute, albeit less severe, border crisis than the one we face today, the Trump administration implored Congress to close loopholes in the immigration system. Then, as now, Congress refused to act.
Rather than let the situation at the border continue to deteriorate, Trump took executive action. He continued to build the border wall, as the Border Patrol requested. He started a never-before-used (but authorized by Congress in 1996) "Remain in Mexico" program requiring asylum-seekers from Central America to stay in Mexico during their immigration proceedings. And he reached cooperative agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras requiring those countries to take back any migrants who had sought asylum with the U.S. without first seeking protection in a "safe third country" they had passed through on their way to the U.S.
These changes quickly halted the caravans coming to the U.S. because migrants knew they would no longer be able to enter and disappear into the U.S. simply by claiming fear. By late 2019, our southern border was under control.
A new public health threat emerged in 2020. Moving early in the COVID pandemic to help contain that danger, the Trump administration authorized border officials to turn back migrants for public health safety ("Title 42").
The Biden administration, however, has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It immediately stopped border wall construction, halted the "Remain in Mexico" program, tore up the asylum cooperative agreements, ended most deportations, requested congressional amnesty for the untold millions of illegal aliens in the U.S., decreased use of Title 42 health protections, and repeatedly messaged that no unaccompanied alien child would be turned away.
Predictably, historic numbers of immigrants —- from all over the world, not just south of the border —- flocked to enter the U.S. illegally. Human smugglers are pocketing $14 million a day, profiting royally from their "services" that often leave women raped en route and children abandoned at journey’s end.
Border agents have intercepted known terrorists, gang members and sexual predators, but no doubt others have slipped through. Illegal aliens have been transported throughout the U.S. even after testing positive for COVID.
Knowing that the Border Patrol is being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of illegal entries, drug traffickers have picked up the pace, too. The amount of deadly fentanyl seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the first four months of this year exceeds what was seized in all of 2020. How many Americans have to die from these drugs before this administration will implement policies to secure the border?
Charged with addressing the border, Vice President Kamala Harris finally went there last week, stopping by an El Paso Border Patrol facility, miles from the actual border, on her way home to California. She has spent a bit more time in Guatemala and Mexico, where she unconvincingly told their citizens not to come to the U.S. and promised their governments $4 billion over four years to fix the problem. If history is a guide, that money will be absorbed by corrupt systems in those countries, leaving any root causes untouched.
Washington needs to return to an immigration and border security policy that prioritizes American interests. Our leaders should act now to promote legal immigration, prevent illegal immigration, and secure the border from drugs, human trafficking, and the cartels on both sides of the border.
We know how to do it: continue building the border wall; reinstate the Remain in Mexico program and the safe third country requirements and agreements; consistently use Title 42 authority until COVID is no longer a global pandemic threat; stop welcoming and admitting unaccompanied alien children into the U.S.; end "catch-and-release"; enforce existing immigration laws, including deportations; and expand employment verification to ensure employers hire only work-authorized employees.
The president and vice president have sworn an oath to protect their fellow Americans. Yet their administration’s immigration policies are undermining homeland security.
The prior administration showed how to turn this rapidly deteriorating situation around. This administration can and must do the same.
Carla Sands is the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark. Lora Ries is the Heritage Foundation’s Director of Technology Policy and former Acting Deputy Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security.