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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: As immigration surges, Biden administration retreats

Here’s something you already know: America has a crisis on its southern border.

We can attribute much of it to the giant “help wanted” sign facing Mexico. Decades of hiring undocumented immigrants — even in some cases, recruiting them — to do jobs that Americans wouldn’t do has blown up in our faces. Suddenly, we have too many applicants at our job fair.

Or we can chalk it up to the inscription on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Who knew that the invite of the so-called “Mother of Exiles” would be taken literally by the “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse” desperate for new lives and second chances.

Meanwhile, there are politicians in both parties who aren’t about to let a debacle go to waste. They’re eager to convert it into a sword and use it to skewer the opposition. They’re not interested in finding solutions, only in assigning blame. Luckily for both sides, there is blame to go around.

The screaming headline of the week was the news that, during the 2021 fiscal year that ended in September, U.S. authorities detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, and arrests by the Border Patrol soared to the highest levels ever recorded. The surge in illegal crossings began under former President Donald Trump, but the figures really skyrocketed once President Joe Biden took office. The peak months were July and August, when more than 200,000 migrants were taken into custody.

All this is according to unpublished U.S. Customs and Border Protection data that was recently obtained by The Washington Post.

Those progressives on the leftmost end of the Democratic Party who are already angry and frustrated that Biden has co-opted so many Trump policies on immigration had better brace themselves. In the next six months, they are likely to get even angrier and more frustrated.

With the 2022 midterm elections rapidly approaching, and Democrats panicked about maintaining their minuscule three-seat majority in the House of Representatives and their nonexistent majority in the Senate, Biden is getting ready to go “full Trump” on the border.

After being reprimanded by a federal judge, the Biden administration says that it will restore as early as next month the “remain in Mexico” policy. It was back in February that Biden suspended that policy, which forced Central Americans seeking asylum to stay in Mexico until their immigration hearings. The Department of Homeland Security formally ended the policy in late May.

Of course, Biden was already acting a little “Trumpy” on immigration. For instance, he kept in place Title 42, a controversial policy that Trump conveniently enacted in March of 2020 to speed up deportations — supposedly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Soon, the president will be in full retreat from some of the very reforms he put in place shortly after taking office — reforms intended to restore compassion and common sense to U.S. immigration policy. But don’t fall for the narrative that Biden is rolling back these policies under duress. Once a moderate, always a moderate. You don’t sit second-chair for eight years as vice president to the “deporter-in-chief” — former President Barack Obama — without learning a thing or two about getting tough on immigrants and refugees for the sake of political expediency.

On that note, it was striking to see Obama recently call the U.S. immigration system “dysfunctional” given that he and his restrictionist administration did such a bang-up job of breaking it.

In a crisis, Americans want leaders who are strong, resolute, brave and decisive. All that is true.

But when facing a challenge, it would serve us well to also be clear-eyed about the kind of leader we don’t want. We don’t want people who wilt under pressure, or do a cost-benefit analysis on every potential solution, or abandon their principles — if they ever had any to begin with. We don’t want people who change their minds due to how the political wind is blowing, or roll back their own reforms when the price gets too high. Finally, we don’t want people who think they can please everyone, which tends to be a sure-fire recipe for pleasing no one.

There is indeed a crisis on the southern border. And Americans need to make sure it’s not made worse by the other, even more serious, crisis we’re struggling with — the crisis of leadership.

Contact Ruben Navarrette at crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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