Mar 11, 2021 - World

Biden’s border-crossing magnets

Illustration of a spotlight revealing a coin, directed onto the US
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden's moves to restore the economy and public health are making the U.S. even more of a magnet for migrants, worsening the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The big picture: The president is racing to get every American vaccinated. He's about to inject $1.9 trillion into the economy with his COVID-19 relief law. And he and his team are vowing a more humane approach to immigration.

  • While the president serves Americans with each step, collectively his actions can turn the U.S. into even more of a beacon for migrants, especially those in Central America desperate to flee countries ravaged by the pandemic, hurricanes and crime.
  • Republicans already say the administration's more accommodating rhetoric about immigration laws is fueling the record flow of unaccompanied minors.
  • "When you say that you’re not going to enforce our immigration laws," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said Tuesday, "it has consequences."

By the numbers: Under the bill newly passed by Congress, the U.S. economy will create some 7.5 million jobs this year, according to Moody’s Analytics.

  • While it also will boost global growth, the United States is the only country likely to have greater economic activity in the fourth quarter of this year than pre-pandemic levels, according to an OECD report released Tuesday.
  • Mexico’s economy is expected to be 6% lower in the fourth quarter than pre-pandemic forecasts, according to the OECD.
  • The stark imbalances in economic growth in the Western Hemisphere could contribute to economic migration.

Between the lines: Democrats themselves see political peril in an uncontrolled situation on the border, as does the White House.

  • CNN reported some 3,200 unaccompanied minors were in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody on Monday, and more than 100,000 migrants tried to enter the U.S. last month.
  • Those numbers suggest an even greater surge for April and May, typically the peak months for border crossings.
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will travel to Texas on Monday with roughly a dozen Republican members to assess the situation, Axios scooped Tuesday.

What they're saying: During a White House briefing Wednesday, border czar Roberta Jacobson emphasized in both Spanish and English that "the border is closed."

  • But she acknowledged the challenge in trying to dissuade potential migrants, many of whom are encouraged to make the journey by smuggling gangs, while also signaling a more humane approach to border crossings than the previous administration.
  • “I think, when you look at the issue of mixed messages, it is difficult at times to convey both hope in the future and the danger that is now. And that is what we’re trying to do,” Jacobson said.
  • She also argued for spending an additional $4 billion in foreign assistance to help repair civil society in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

But, but, but: Republicans are eager to pin the situation at the border on Biden's rejection of Trump's hard-line approach.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quoted White House press secretary Jen Psaki when he said Wednesday: "'Now is not the time to come?' Well, when is the right time to break federal law? ... What on earth are they talking about?"
  • Trump himself signaled the potency of the issue last month, opening his CPAC speech by saying Biden has "triggered a massive flood of illegal immigration into our country."

The bottom line: Biden officials worried about a crisis at the border before he even won the election. Now that it's happening, they don't have any quick-fix solutions in sight and the things they're doing to fix other problems could make that one even worse.

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