The migrant crisis began when the Biden administration returned to a system of powerful incentives that proved irresistible.
By Todd Bensman as published March 4, 2023 in The National Review
Title 42 is a provision of U.S. immigration law that allows federal health authorities to deny asylum to refugees who might increase the spread of infectious diseases. The Biden administration exempted “unaccompanied minors” from being sent home under Title 42 on its very first day, when Mexico decided, under a new law, not to take them back. On February 2, 2021, BuzzFeed News reporter Hamed Aleaziz filed what was probably the earliest known report of this policy reversal. In response to a direct inquiry from Aleaziz, a White House spokesperson confirmed the policy for the first time, stating that the new administration policy “is not to expel unaccompanied children who arrive at our borders.”
“The president’s approach is to deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly and humanely,” the spokesperson said, using what amounted to encrypted code words. “The Border Patrol will continue to transfer unaccompanied children to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement so they may be properly cared for in appropriate shelters, consistent with their best interest.”
In so doing, the administration had returned to a system of powerful incentives that proved irresistible. Not only would “unaccompanied” minors of any age under 18 now become exempt from Covid-19 expulsion, but they would be released as quickly as possible to custodians in the American interior at government expense.
How did the first trickle become a swell and then a historic flood?
Families that can’t cross together ‘Self-Separate’
A central root cause of the child-migrant crisis was born of a strange policy confluence that migrant families quickly discovered as exploitable. For a long time under Biden’s new admittance policies, families with children under seven years old got a free ride in immediately. So did minors up to age 18 — if they showed up without parents.
Those policies meant that families who came with kids between the ages of seven and 18 couldn’t all get in together. But if they split up on the Mexico side, the older kids would cross alone and ring the “unaccompanied minor” bell. The parent or parents with the younger kids could then cross and ring the “family” bell.
One important piece of evidence for the scheme these policies provoked comes by way of a May 2022 CBS News investigative story. Previously unpublished government statistics showed that 12,212 supposedly “unaccompanied” minors were not really unaccompanied at all: Because they were older, their whole family had been expelled back to Mexico during 2021.
Back on the Mexico side, though, they “self-separated.” The 12,212 teenagers came back over alone and declared themselves to Border Patrol as “unaccompanied minors,” CBS reported. And those were just the ones DHS was able to learn about; the practice is undoubtedly far more widespread.
A President and his men openly offer a nirvana of benefits
Another quick, perhaps flip, reason for the border crisis is selfies. Remember that just about the entire universe of aspiring border crossers had been waiting with white-knuckled suspense and bated breath since the November 2020 election for a sign that post-Trump America might let them in. Any confirming peep that the Biden border was finally open for business would trigger an invasion. If knowledge is power and a picture is worth a thousand words, nothing could compete with video selfies loosed from cellphones.
In all my travels among the immigrants, I don’t think I ever met a northbound foreign national older than 15 without a modern cellphone fully connected to the internet and social media. Migrant chat rooms classified by nationality and language were ubiquitous. Many an immigrant showed them to me. I have been invited into several different ones, including a Senegalese WhatsApp room where I could imbibe the constant live intelligence about border crossings and what the Mexican and American governments were up to today. When Biden opened the border to families, pregnant women, and unaccompanied minors, selfies of them boarding buses and airplanes in Texas reverberated around the world like the alluring songs of sirens in Greek mythology.
Remember, the Biden administration exempted “unaccompanied minors” from Title 42 on its very first day, when Mexico decided under its new law not to take them back. BuzzFeed News reporter Hamed Aleaziz probably filed the earliest known report of it on February 2. Aleaziz reported that the Biden administration had, the week before, stopped using Title 42 to expel unaccompanied minor migrants back to Mexico. In response to a direct inquiry from Aleaziz, a White House spokesperson confirmed the policy for the first time. The spokesperson told Aleaziz the new administration’s policy “is not to expel unaccompanied children who arrive at our borders.
The president’s approach is to deal with immigration comprehensively, fairly and humanely,” the spokesperson said, using the encrypted code words. “The Border Patrol will continue to transfer unaccompanied children to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement so they may be properly cared for in appropriate shelters, consistent with their best interest.”
CBS News followed the BuzzFeed story a day later, helping to spread the word worldwide that Biden was letting all unaccompanied minors stay. From there, the Biden administration energized and confirmed the news at every turn, the connection between its words and migrant decisions to make the journey always eluding leadership. When it came to unaccompanied minors, the Biden government went many steps beyond passive naïveté: They drove the historic wave of underage illegal border crossings that cost many migrants their lives and American taxpayers billions of dollars.
Senior officials, including President Biden himself, used words and deeds to tell migrants to come, revealing a stupefying ignorance of how they reach decisions. For example, as the unaccompanied-child migrant crisis was breaking monthly records, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CBS News that parents should not send their kids to cross the border because the trip was dangerous, but then said America would accept them if they did: “Some loving parent might send their child to traverse Mexico alone to reach the southern border — our southern border — I hope they do not make that perilous journey, but if they do, we will not expel them,” Mayorkas told the national news organization.
Loving parents around the world were not just listening, they were also watching video of happy children’s reunions with relatives inside the United States. Parents throughout the world responded by sending their children alone over the border. It kept going like that. After one early-March reporting excursion to the southern border, I pulled over for lunch in Uvalde, Texas, to watch a presidential news conference on the diner TV. I dropped my chicken-fried-steak-filled fork to slap my forehead upon hearing Biden defiantly declare that, unlike that cruel Trump, he would leave no child behind to starve to death in Mexico.
I texted a Border Patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley: “Get ready mi amigo, the kids are about to flood your zone like nothing you’ve ever seen. Just saw the president invite in every kid in the world. OMG.”
This article is adapted from the author’s new book Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in American History (Bombardier Books).