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Looking beyond the immigration stalemate

Side view of the front of the US capitol building.

The British weekly The Economist is one of the world’s most influential news magazines. Despite its manifest oddities, it is also one of the best.

The Economist has a regular column about America. Named after a certain skirmish that took place some 250 years ago, it is called “Lexington.”

Headshot of Richard Smoley

The column in the October 12 issue discusses the current immigration stalemate in this country, and it makes some valuable and surprising points.

President Biden has amassed some impressive accomplishments during his tenure, but immigration has not been one of them. It is no doubt the single greatest embarrassment to his administration.

The president surprised some earlier this month by announcing that he would construct 20 miles of a new wall, designed to deter immigrants, along the Rio Grande in southeastern Texas.

Pressed, Biden said that he had no choice: Congress had allocated $1.375 billion for this purpose in 2019, and he would be breaking the law if he did not comply. Nevertheless, when asked if he believes a border wall “works,” he flatly said no.

President Trump made a lot of noise about constructing a border wall. Although he built 458 miles, only 87 miles were new; the others replaced existing barriers.

By contrast, President Obama had built 130 additional miles of wall during his tenure.

The new wall will run through the district of Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). Although Cuellar does not believe that a wall would be effective in this particular area (believing that more border agents and surveillance equipment would be better), like the rest of the nation he is frustrated with the present haphazard approach.

In a phone conversation with the president early in October, he said, “Mr. President, we as Democrats can be strong on border security and still be respectful of immigrants’ rights. We’ve got to find a balance.”

The most surprising part of the column came at the end. Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute think tank believes that the current budget negotiations in Congress might lead to a compromise. He even said, “There is definitely more of a pathway forward now than there was a month ago.”

Inasmuch as the present Congress has been likened to a flock of seagulls squabbling over a potato chip, this is a startling claim. But Selee cites “more willingness from the administration to explore some tougher options.”

Lexington contends: “America needs more agents, asylum officials and beds at the border, more flexibility to send migrants to other safe countries, and harsher consequences for those crossing illegally without legitimate claims. Mr. Biden could do some of this on his own, but much of it requires Congress to act.”

It is easy to describe a good immigration policy: it should be swift, effective, consistent, and humane. Recent administrations have not scored very high on any of these counts. The nation is waiting with growing impatience.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.