Political Editors / March 19, 2021

In Brief: How Trump Got the Border Right

Rich Lowry explains the meat of Trump’s policy efforts and why they worked.

President Joe Biden immediately set out to erase and undo the myriad accomplishments of President Donald Trump. One of the more consequential of those reversals has come on the immigration front. National Review editor Rich Lowry explains how Trump’s approach was so effective:

Counter to the image of the administration taking a blunderbuss approach to everything related to immigration, the push at the border was a thoughtful, creative, and well-coordinated effort across government agencies and between sovereign countries.

Lowry credits Trump’s leadership and out-of-the-box thinking, as well as “department and agency heads such as Kevin McAleenan and Chad Wolf at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Mark Morgan at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Ken Cuccinelli at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Mike Pompeo at State.” And he argues that “The Law Wasn’t the Problem.”

The key insight of the administration’s immigration hawks … was that the statutory authority already existed to establish order at the border. It was just that the laws providing crucial enforcement tools had never been used, or become encrusted over time with regulatory practices and judicial decisions that made the system balky and ultimately unworkable. …

The administration’s hawks undertook a constant interrogation of the standard operating procedure: Why are we doing it this way? Is there a law? If not, why can’t we change? And if there are practical obstacles, what are ways to solve them?

What they usually found is that at the bottom of some suboptimal practice was a regulation, or agency guidance, or court edict, or unwritten rule, but very rarely a law.

Perhaps the key policy, Lowry argues, was treating asylum claims with the skepticism merited by the law.

The administration updated the documents and training materials the asylum officers used in order to make the credible-fear standard more rational and more in keeping with a reasonable interpretation of the law.

It trained border agents, who didn’t share the overly accommodating institutional culture of the asylum officers, to conduct credible-fear interviews. …

For years, the positive-determination rate for credible-fear claims was over 70 percent, or as high as 90 percent, depending on how you count. This was a figure completely out of whack with the low rate of ultimate acceptance for asylum claims (many times, a migrant who passed the credible-fear test wouldn’t even actually apply for asylum). After the Trump changes, the rate fell below 30 percent.

This made a big difference. If a migrant got a negative determination, he would likely be removed within a matter of days, freeing up detention space for someone else to be held rather than released. And the more migrants were getting sent back home quickly, the less likely other potential migrants were to try to make the journey.

There’s a lot more that worked, including working with Mexico and Central American nations to stem the flow from the source and push asylum seekers to find other accommodations. But Biden is working to undo all of it, and it’s largely a cynical play for votes.

Read the rest here.

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