Rich Lowry

Joe Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 2, he issued the executive order that began the unraveling at the border in earnest.

The border crisis isn’t something that happened to President Biden. It’s not a product of circumstances or understandable policy mistakes made under duress. No, he sought it and created it, on principle and as a matter of urgency.

It wasn’t a second-year priority or even a second-quarter-of-the-first-year priority. The new president set out in his initial days and weeks in office to destroy what Trump had built, most consequentially in the Feb. 2 executive order.

By then, mind you, there had already been significant action to loosen up on the border, including on his first day in office.

The Feb. 2 order emphasized an effort to “enhance lawful pathways for migration to this country” and revoked a slew of Trump rules, executive orders, proclamations and memoranda. The sense of it was that there is nothing that we could or should do on our own to control illegal immigration; rather, we had to fix deep-seated social, economic and political problems in Central America instead.

It called for working to get more refugees into the United States, using parole to let more migrants join family members here, enhancing access to visa programs and reviewing whether the U.S. was doing enough for migrants fleeing domestic or gang violence, among other things.

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And it put on the chopping block numerous Trump policies that had helped establish order at the border, from Trump’s expansion of expedited removal, to his termination of a parole program for Central American minors, to his memorandum urging the relevant departments to work toward ending “catch and release.”

Most importantly, it targeted two of the pillars of Trump’s success at the border: the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or so-called Remain in Mexico, and the safe-third-country agreements with the Northern Triangle countries that allowed us to divert asylum-seekers to Central American countries other than their own, where they could make asylum claims.

After a few fits and starts thanks to legal challenges, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, indeed, ended Remain in Mexico. Although he’s now attempting to portray himself to sympathetic journalists as an innocent bystander to Biden’s border policy, he killed the policy knowing exactly what he was doing.

“After carefully considering the arguments, evidence and perspectives presented by those who support re-implementation of MPP, those who support terminating the program and those who have argued for continuing MPP in a modified form, I have determined that MPP should be terminated,” he said in a memo.

He acknowledged, by the way, that the policy “likely contributed to reduced migratory flows.”

For his part, Antony Blinken moved expeditiously. On Feb. 6, he announced the end of the asylum agreements.

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And just like that, the carefully crafted suite of Trump polices that had given us control of the border were demolished.

It didn’t require esoteric knowledge of border policy to realize how this would play out. During the transition, Trump officials warned of a catastrophe if Biden followed through on his promises, and in April 2021 The Washington Post ran a piece headlined “At the border, a widely predicted crisis that caught Biden off guard.”

Now, the Feb. 2 memo feels almost like an artifact from another era, as the open-borders orthodoxy begins to show cracks. The White House is sending Biden to visit the border, considering measures to try to curtail illegal immigration and calling on sanctuary cities to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while New York City Mayor Eric Adams criticizes aspects of his city’s sanctuary regime.

The executive order, though, is a stark reminder that the current chaos was the product of deliberate policy. It’s all there in black and white, a prelude to a disaster that has roiled the country and could well play an outsize role in Joe Biden losing the presidency.

Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist.


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