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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Biden’s asylum limits lay bare Americans’ real view of immigrants

For those of us who believe immigrants are one of the best things about America — and are convinced we need more of them, not fewer — the best we can hope for is that President Joe Biden not go anywhere near the immigration issue.

Whenever he fiddles with it, Biden makes a mess. Conservatives say things got messy in 2021 when Biden ended former President Donald Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for aspiring refugees without having a plan in place for handling a foreseeable influx of asylum seekers. Liberals can point to Biden’s racially suspect decree from 2023 limiting to 30,000 per month the migrants that the United States will accept from four countries in the Caribbean and Latin America — Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti — while the administration continued to welcome, without similar restrictions, migrants from Ukraine and other parts of Europe.

Blame it all on his roots. Biden was born and raised in Scranton, not San Antonio. He spent his life working in Washington, not Los Angeles. And in the Senate, he represented Delaware, not Arizona. The president has a tin ear on immigration. He doesn’t understand the storyline, and he can’t hear the rhythm of this debate.

Go into any diner in the Southwest, and over breakfast tacos, you’ll find everyday Americans with a better handle on the issue. They’ll talk about how immigration is driven by economics, how immigrants do jobs that Americans — particularly the young — won’t do, how deported people tend to come back, and how racism calls the shots as to who gets in and who doesn’t.

Here’s the question that appears to vex Biden: He can’t decide whether to welcome migrants or turn them away. One minute, he criticizes Trump’s immigration policy; the next, he copies it.

Biden’s new executive order intended to limit migrant crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border is his latest mess. The decree is ill-conceived, politically motivated and likely unlawful.

That’s three strikes already, and we’re just getting warmed up.

In a nutshell, Biden is using executive authority to circumvent a do-nothing Congress and tighten his grip on the border — when unauthorized border crossings exceed a seven-day average of 2,500. This would essentially scrap the asylum process and lay waste to the proud tradition of America being a safe haven to the oppressed.

Biden used to believe in that tradition. Or so it would seem. With these lifelong politicians, you can’t be sure. Still, in 2019, while running for president against Trump the first time, Biden took aim at Trump’s asylum policies as being too restrictive because — as Biden noted at the time — “anybody seeking asylum has to do it in another country.” Biden wound up imposing similar restrictions on the process of seeking asylum.

And now he’s gone even further by effectively prohibiting people from seeking asylum at all.

That’s the unlawful part, claims the ACLU. The ACLU insists that, according to U.S. and international law, people have the right to seek asylum. They don’t have the right to get it. But they have the right to roll the dice. The organization says Biden is short-circuiting that right.

“We intend to sue. A ban on asylum is illegal just as it was when Trump unsuccessfully tried it,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt has told various media outlets.

Having argued dozens of cases in federal court on behalf of immigrant rights, Gelernt is the real deal.

During the Trump years, he was busy. He led a class-action challenge to the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant families at the border, successfully fought Trump’s 2017 travel ban on individuals from six Muslim-majority countries, successfully challenged a 2018 ban on those seeking refugee status outside of ports of entry, and launched a class-action challenge to the Trump administration’s use of Title 42 public health statutes to expel migrants without a hearing, supposedly over concerns about COVID-19.

And now Gelernt and the ACLU are ready to go to court against the Biden administration for channeling some of the baser instincts of its predecessor.

However, Biden’s executive order is helpful in at least one regard. It exposes as fraudulent the folk tale about America being the land of immigrants. The truth is this country has always despised foreigners, whether they came legally or otherwise. Every group of new arrivals is thought to be menacing and inferior to those already here.

With his indecent proclamation, that’s the real American tradition Biden is upholding.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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