Obama must stop playing politics over border crisis


Article Highlights

  • Until Congress returns next month, Obama should use the tools he has to secure the border and discourage illegal crossings.

    Tweet This

  • Although compassionate rhetoric about immigrants is good politics, it is not good policy.

    Tweet This

  • If the perception of lax enforcement of illegal immigration lures people to risk life and limb, that must change immediately.

    Tweet This

Try as he might, President Obama cannot escape responsibility for the debacle at the U.S. southwest border, caused, in part, by his administration’s mismanagement.

Until Congress returns next month, he should use the tools he has to secure the border and to discourage illegal crossings. One can only hope that he will not take unilateral actions that might make matters worse.

The president has been trying to walk a fine line between accommodating leaders of his domestic Latino base while at the same time dissuading Central Americans from starting the perilous journey north. Although compassionate rhetoric about immigrants is good politics, it is not good policy.

After all, the current crisis has been stoked by loose talk in Washington about a possible “amnesty” of illegal immigrants, stoked by Obama’s 2012 decision to suspend deportation of youth with long-standing ties to the United States, and news that young children arriving at the border were being released pending hearings.

During a visit to Washington last month, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez cited “ambiguities” about U.S. border enforcement that are part of the “pull factor” encouraging people to rush across the U.S. border.

Hernandez also explained the “push factor”: Narco-violence that sows insecurity and deadly street gangs preying on youth in his country and neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala. Unfortunately, these are poor nations with governments unable or unwilling to deal with these challenges.

Refugee advocates contend that more than half of those arriving in recent months have bona fide claims that require a hearing under U.S. and international law.

That is contradicted by a Border Patrol survey in May that found that nearly all of those interviewed made the trek because of recent rumors of leniency. According to sources in Central America, so-called “coyotes” — criminals who make their living smuggling people — have been advertising lax U.S. border enforcement to drum up business.

Part of the initial problem in responding to the border crisis was the administration’s overly broad application of a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law that requires a complicated hearing on an immigrant’s asylum pleas.

The current crisis is fueled primarily by smuggling, not trafficking. Border personnel should be allowed to use their experience and discretion to screen for legitimate refugee or trafficking cases.

Of course, bona fide refugees in U.S. territory must be attended to lawfully. However, the U.N. should work with local governments to offer relief to refugees in their country of origin, rather than wait for them to run the gauntlet to the U.S. border.

One thing that all can agree upon is that no one is better off risking the thousand-mile trek through Mexico, during which many migrants are abused, robbed, raped or killed.

If the perception of lax enforcement lures people to risk life and limb, that must change immediately. Republicans made these arguments while crafting a tough measure that would strengthen border enforcement, make it easier to deport new arrivals and send an unambiguous signal that the border is being secured.

Although the president initially talked tough on border enforcement, his political advisers apparently recommended that he toss the “hot potato” to congressional Republicans.

However, securing the border is the responsibility of the president, not the Congress. And, the president does not need new authority to get a handle on this crisis by sending an unambiguous message that illegal crossings will be stopped, most new arrivals will be turned around, and a sweeping unilateral “amnesty” is off the table.

Seeking a domestic political “win” by blaming congressional Republicans for inaction on the border is extraordinarily irresponsible — even dangerous.

Not only does it prolong the current crisis, it undermines the kind of bipartisan consensus that will be required to pay the costs of the current crisis and eventually to overhaul an immigration system that is failing the country.

Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
  • 28
  • 29
  • 30
  • 31
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.