A wave of migrants

The crisis at the southern border reached new heights in the end of the year. More than 276,000 asylum-seekers hoping to cross the U.S.-Mexican border have been encountered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December, the highest number for a single month in history. Some days topped 10,000 per day. The December total is up about 262% from December 2020, the final month of Trump’s presidency.

Immigration will likely be one of the top issues in the upcoming election along with the economy, abortion rights, and funding of foreign wars. The democrats and republicans have vastly different opinions on the matter of immigration, one for open borders, one for a border wall. There were more than 3.2 million migrant encounters overall nationwide in 2023, of which 2.4 million were recorded at the southern border. The nationwide total is almost equal to the number of births registered in the U.S. in 2022, when 3,667,758 new babies were born.

The republicans have increasingly objected to the Biden administration open border policy, and the new speaker of the house Mike Johnson demanded that the president act immediately to stop the flow of drugs, terrorist, and illegal immigrants. Officials are struggling to manage an accelerating influx of asylum-seekers at overwhelmed border locations.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken recently met with Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and addressed the spiraling crisis. While no specific arrangement was announced as a result, both sides said they were committed to stemming the tide. Not much is expected to change though. The Mexican president seemed more focused on other issues and he was urging the Biden administration to ease up on restrictive U.S. sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela. He also said the U.S. should send financial aid to struggling Latin American countries to improve economic conditions.

It is unclear why Biden is committed to an open border policy given the enormous costs associated with all migrants. Many cities like Chicago and New York are overwhelmed by the stream of new arrivals and have difficulties housing them and paying for them. Despite this, the administration’s policy is intact, and more migrants are expected.

People are hoping for a long-term better life, and they see an opportunity to come to the U.S. and change their often hopelessly poor lives. Who can blame them? So maybe Biden is a humanitarian and therefore willing to let everyone into the U.S.? Most likely not. The long-term thinking is likely rather linked to votes. Most immigrants would likely be potential future democrats, the party for most minorities. It might be a long road before the actual vote can be cast, but eventually it will likely happen. As U.S. politics is polarized with small margins, every vote counts.

The democrats might have a solid long-term strategy, but short-term, in particular for the 2024 election, Biden is playing a dangerous game. The open border policy is costing billions, impacting communities, creating fiscal tension and overwhelms many voters, including minorities. New migrants are willing to work for less money, creating a new sub-class competing against poor and many already settled immigrants. This might create resentments and a willingness to vote for the republicans and in particular for Trump, given his support for building a southern border wall. If Biden wants to win the election, he would be wise to tighten the immigration rules and controls in 2024 and to implement a more restrictive immigration policy.

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