Southern border could be the defining issue of 2023 for Biden

Mexico Migrants
Migrants wait near the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Pandemic-era immigration restrictions in the U.S. known as Title 42 are set to expire on Dec. 21. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez) Christian Chavez/AP

Southern border could be the defining issue of 2023 for Biden

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Surging illegal immigration has plagued President Joe Biden since he ended the “Remain in Mexico” policy upon taking office, but should Title 42 come to an end, the issue could become one of the most high-profile challenges he faces in 2023.

Migration numbers hit records during both of Biden’s first two years in office, leading critics to decry the situation at the border as one of chaos and danger. The end of the pandemic-era Title 42 policy could see those numbers double, bringing the crisis to as-yet-unseen levels.

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“Absent a worldwide depression, immigration is going to be the president’s biggest challenge in 2023,” said Andrew Arthur, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies. “It’s self-inflicted. He did it to himself.”

The Supreme Court granted Biden a temporary reprieve by allowing Title 42 to remain in effect while legal challenges play out, granting federal officials the authority to continue expulsions under the pandemic-era policy. But experts say the policy will end at some point, adding further pressure on the Biden administration to act.

The Biden team has yet to develop a plan to handle an anticipated surge of illegal immigrants if the policy ends, but it has signaled that it will rely on Title 8, which expels immigrants who don’t show a legal basis to remain in the country.

Between 2,378,944 Border Patrol encounters and an estimated 600,000 illegal crossers who slipped through without any contact, nearly 3 million people crossed the border in fiscal 2022. That’s up from 2.1 million in 2021, which itself was a record high. The figure was just 300,000 as recently as 2017 and 2020.

There are estimates that as many as 50,000 immigrants could rush to the border if Title 42 is lifted, with the total number of illegal crossings reaching 5 million next year.

So far, Biden has chosen to downplay or simply ignore the situation. The president visited Phoenix earlier this month and did not stop by the border despite being just 100 miles away.

“There are more important things going on,” Biden told reporters on the White House South Lawn when asked about it. “They’re going to invest billions of dollars in the new enterprise in the state.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has also sought to downplay the problem and insist that the border is under control whether Title 42 remains in place or not.

“We are advancing our preparations to manage the border in a secure, orderly, and humane way when Title 42 eventually lifts and will continue expanding legal pathways for immigration,” she said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “Title 42 is a public health measure, not an immigration enforcement measure, and it should not be extended indefinitely. To truly fix our broken immigration system, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform measures like the ones president Biden proposed on his first day in office.”

Immigration has remained mostly out of the spotlight to date, and a recent Harvard-Harris poll found that 87% of respondents underestimated the true number of immigrants who had illegally crossed the border. Once informed of the true figure, 67% of respondents agreed they wanted “new, stricter policies to reduce the flow of people coming across the border.”

Polling also shows that Biden is far underwater when it comes to handling immigration, with just 36.8% approving, per the RealClearPolitics average.

But the topic could prove too big to ignore in the coming year, forcing the White House to address it and face uncomfortable questions about how the situation deteriorated, argues Arthur.

“If Title 42 goes away, the popular media won’t be able to hide it any longer,” he says. “It’s going to be a big problem.”

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Ron Kovach, the press secretary at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, cites his own group’s polling, which found that 62% of voters favor strong action being taken to secure the border and remove illegal immigrants from the country. Fully 83% of voters said immigration was an important factor in their voting decisions.

“The most effective and humane form of enforcement is to deter people from putting their lives and their life savings in the hands of criminal cartels, which is exactly what the Migrant Protection Protocol was doing,” he said. “We also need to give Border Patrol and ICE the resources they need to actually do their jobs and stop this crisis.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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