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America is abandoning rationality to justify illegal immigration

The Hill logo The Hill 3/16/2023 Joseph Chamie, opinion contributor
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It’s clearly illegal. It’s also not a human right. And America’s attempts to address it can surely be characterized as irrationality. 

The “it” is illegal immigration.

In principle, when addressing immigration many repeatedly proclaim that America is a nation of laws, highlight the Constitution and cite various legal precedents, decisions and principles. With tough talk and ceremonial speeches, they even claim that those entering the country illegally will be deported.

In practice, however, it’s quite a different story. A candid assessment of illegal immigration in America reveals confusing policies, ineffective programs, overloaded migration courts, years of legal proceedings, millions of men, women and children unlawfully resident with millions more attempting entry, and a laxity in the enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. 

The estimated number of people unlawfully residing in the U.S. in 2022 is around 11 million. In comparison, the number of removals conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to more than 150 countries worldwide in the 2022 fiscal year was about 72,000, or approximately one-half of one percent of the total number of persons residing unlawfully in the U.S. 

In addition, monthly encounters between U.S. border patrol agents and those attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico remain at record high levels, which have not been seen in more than 20 years. In November, for example, the number of encounters was more than 206,000, with about 70 percent of them being single adults.

Furthermore, the terminology that has been utilized in legislation, the media and across the country to describe individuals residing unlawfully in the country is being changed to minimize or obscure legality and make it appear as if it’s simply a matter of lacking certain required administrative documents. The Biden administration, for example, has ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to replace “illegal alien” with “undocumented noncitizen.” 

Under the policies of the previous administration, emergency powers given to U.S. border agents during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed them to turn migrants back without an opportunity to seek asylum. Under the current administration’s policies,  in contrast, immigration agencies, officials, courts, facilities, etc., are being overwhelmed by the enormous numbers of men, women and children seeking asylum in America. 

Over the past decade, the backlog of asylum seekers waiting for asylum hearings grew more than sevenfold. At the start of 2023, the number of asylum seekers waiting for asylum hearings in the U.S. reached nearly 1.6 million individuals. America now has the largest total number of pending asylum applications on record, with adjudication of an asylum claim taking five years on average. 

In the fiscal year 2022, close to 24,000 people were granted protection as a result of an asylum claim, more than double the figure for 2021. It is also the largest number of individuals granted asylum in any year in the Immigration Court’s history. In the past several years, the large majority of asylum claims, approximately 70 percent, were denied. 

Despite the record numbers and clear trends at the southern border, the administration has consistently been issuing preposterous assessments that the border is secure. Independent observers report that neither is the border secure nor is illegal migration under control, with one concluding that America is weathering the worst mass border migration event in the country’s history. 

Surveys report that 15 percent of the world’s population, more than 1 billion people, would migrate to another country if they could. Among the 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean,  the proportion that would like to migrate is even higher at 27 percent, or approximately 42 million people, with the primary destination being the United States.

It’s understandable that people want to escape poverty, political instability and environmental problems and migrate to the United States in search of a better life. However, the number of people wishing to migrate to America amounts to many millions and the country is not in a position to accept such large numbers, especially when done outside the existing legal system. 

The border states have received the largest numbers of asylum seekers and others who have entered the country illegally. However, other states far from the southern border are also seeing rising numbers of asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants. 

In a recent letter to the administration, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), called on federal officials at the southern border to stop accepting asylum seekers bound for Portland and other communities. 

Cities in Maine, Collins stressed, no longer have the resources or accommodations necessary to provide services to those asylum seekers. Most troubling, she noted, is the surge of asylum seekers in Maine means that housing facilities are beyond capacity and Mainers in need of shelter have nowhere to go.

The views of the American public concerning illegal immigration are relatively clear. According to a national poll in 2022, a majority of Americans, some 60 percent, worry about illegal immigration, with two-thirds of them worrying a great deal about it. 

Furthermore, considerable variation exists in the views regarding illegal immigration by political party affiliation. Republicans are substantially more worried about illegal immigration than Democrats, 86 and 38 percent, respectively.

The administration’s policies on illegal immigration will likely become a major political issue in the 2024 presidential election and consequently adversely impact President Biden’s chances for a second term. With Biden’s ratings consistently in the low 40 percent range, the president has relatively little political capital to spare. 

Politically damaging reports regarding illegal immigration, which are continuing, will likely worsen Biden’s reelection chances. Moreover, some Republicans, including the former president, are already hammering the president and his administration on the matter. As the 2024 election becomes closer, those voices will likely become louder.

Despite its laws, principles and heritage, America is continuing with its illegal immigration irrationality. The profound consequences are increasingly being felt not only in the nation’s capital but also across the entire country.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and the author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials”.

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