The most damning account of the Democratic administration’s hypocritical approach to the latest immigration fracas comes not from Republicans or conservative news outlets, but from that venerable source of mainstream news, the Associated Press (AP).
“Joe Biden’s administration has tried for weeks to keep the public from seeing images like those released Monday of immigrant children in U.S. custody at the border sleeping on mats under foil blankets, separated in groups by plastic partitions,” according to its report on Tuesday. The president won’t call it a “crisis,” it notes, but he has resisted efforts at outside oversight.
There’s no easy fix for our years-long crises at the border, but we should all agree that government secrecy is never the right answer. Aside from toning down his predecessor’s incendiary rhetoric, however, the only perceptible difference between the new administration’s approach and the old one’s is that Biden is even more secretive than Trump.
Here’s AP again:
Officials barred nonprofit lawyers who conduct oversight from entering a Border Patrol tent where thousands of children and teenagers are detained. And federal agencies have refused or ignored dozens of requests from the media for access to detention sites. Such access was granted several times by the administration of President Donald Trump, whose restrictive immigration approach Biden vowed to reverse.
That’s appalling, and it’s at odds with the president’s feel-good statements about border issues. I’m still waiting for the appropriate level of Democratic and media outrage.
I’ve always been perplexed by partisans. Progressives were silent when the Obama administration engaged in detention policies similar to the ones that the Trump administration continued. Trump stepped up enforcement — and his administration wrongly championed family separations as a way to discourage illegal border crossings. Progressives’ protestations over the last four years, however, have largely faded after Trump got the heave-ho.
Most federal policies — on immigration and everything else — are remarkably consistent regardless of which party is in control. Government does everything incompetently, and the permanent bureaucracy goes along its merry way regardless of elections. Yet most politically active Americans seem locked into a cycle of outrage or support, which depends less on specific policy outputs and more on the party affiliation of the president.
Progressives aren’t the only hypocrites. It’s also hard to take conservatives seriously now, as they feign upset at the conditions that immigrant children are facing — even though they didn’t seem particularly bothered by the humanitarian aspects of that crisis as it was unfolding at the border during the previous four years. The government never manages to fix any of its self-created problems — a point that gets lost as we fight with our political opponents.
That AP report was remarkably fair-minded, given that so many reporters aghast at Trump policies have lately held back their usual outrage. An AP “fact check” from February was more typical of what we’ve come to expect from my fellow journalists. (By the way, these increasingly common pieces often serve as glorified opinion pieces dressed up as impartial works of fact checking.)
That fact-check piece sets out to debunk this claim: “The same people who criticized how immigrant children were treated under the Trump administration and claimed Trump put ‘kids in cages’ are now okay with the Biden administration doing the same thing.” The story concluded that the claim is “missing context.” Apparently, the context is the intent of the detentions is different — and these kids aren’t separated by chain-link fencing.
After checking out the news photographs that the new administration tried so hard to discourage, it’s hard to see a meaningful distinction even after putting the claim in context. I’m not particularly swayed by the government’s intentions. The government intends to do many noble and uplifting things, but it usually succeeds in doing deleterious and dangerous ones instead.
A more accurate conclusion is that the new boss is the same as the old boss. “Families that try to cross together are still sent back to Mexico; however, unlike under the Trump administration, they aren’t given a court date to make their case for asylum, or any sort of asylum process, for that matter,” wrote Veronique De Rugy, in a recent Reason column. “They are just sent back to wait in Mexico. Wait for what? It’s unclear.”
As a libertarian who favors an easier, more orderly, and humane process for dealing with refugees and immigrants, I’ve for years been dismayed by our nation’s difficult, disorderly, and inhumane process. Perhaps the issue is so politically charged and steeped in posturing and partisanship that it’s impossible to embrace practical or incremental reforms that might actually help.
My main beef with Trump was that he used immigration as a wedge issue, but now a president who is committed to immigration Kumbaya appears to be making the problem even worse. One of my former R Street Institute colleagues, Jonathan Haggerty, last year detailed a laundry list of conservative reforms to our detention system that would narrow its scope, expand its usefulness, and improve the oversight and accountability of these facilities.
But in-the-weeds policy-making is less interesting than yelling about which party is to blame for keeping “kids in cages.” Still, I’d argue that the nation’s leaders need to spend more time immersed in wonkish details, legislative minutia, and bipartisan deal-making — and less time passing easily reversed executive orders and keeping reporters from covering what’s happening at detention centers. Given AP’s latest revelations, I’m not too optimistic.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at email@example.com.
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