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Political Editors / September 29, 2022

In Brief: Yes, Illegal Border Crossers Are Breaking the Law

Many leftists are busy arguing that asylum seekers can enter the country however they please.

After Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent a few Venezuelan illegal migrants to tony Martha’s Vineyard, where they were ceremoniously booted off the island by the “compassionate” leftist inhabitants, a debate began over whether people seeking asylum can even be considered illegal border crossers.

Political analyst Byron York got a ton of pushback for tweeting, “Problem with the Martha’s Vineyard freakout is that the debate ignores the real problem. We’re talking about how to accommodate illegal border crossers once they are in the country, and not about how to prevent people from crossing illegally into the U.S.”

The tweet set off a wave of indignant reaction. The people I described as “illegal border crossers,” many said, are most definitely not illegal. “These were asylum seekers,” said one respondent. “They are not here illegally.” “These people were here legally,” said another. “Asylum seekers are not illegals,” said a third. “They’re seeking asylum, they’re not ‘illegal border crossers,’” said a fourth. “Asylum seekers are not illegal, but we know your game,” said a fifth. And on and on.

Even observers with some experience in government claimed the illegal border crossers were, in fact, legal border crossers. “This is a point that must be emphasized: The Venezuelans whom DeSantis flew to Martha’s Vineyard were in the United States seeking asylum,” tweeted the Democratic activist and fundraiser Bill Kristol. “They followed U.S. law.”

No, they did not. This is the simple fact: It is illegal to enter the U.S. without authorization, as all the Venezuelans did when they waded across the Rio Grande into Texas. Again: It is not legal to do that — wading across the Rio Grande is not a legal way to enter the U.S. Such an offense is punishable by up to six months in prison. A second offense — that is, doing it again after being returned to Mexico following a first offense, as many migrants do — is punishable by up to two years behind bars.

York isn’t just relying on his own expertise to make that assertion. He quotes numerous former officials and experts in the area of immigration — Joe Edlow, a former acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Art Arthur, who has served as a lawyer in the old Immigration and Naturalization Service; and Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

So the illegal border crossers are in removal proceedings. Why are they in removal proceedings? Because they entered the U.S. illegally.

Given that, why do so many people believe the Venezuelans followed U.S. law when they crossed the Rio Grande? Well, perhaps some simply have no idea what they’re talking about. But others are likely confused by another part of U.S. law that allows immigrants to apply for asylum. The Immigration and Nationality Act says: “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival) … may apply for asylum.” The Venezuelans definitely did not arrive at a designated port of arrival, but because of that “whether or not” provision, defenders say, the immigrants were still following the law.

No, they weren’t. Here is the simplest way to look at it: The immigrants entered the U.S. illegally. Once here illegally, they were placed in removal proceedings. In those proceedings, some will claim asylum, which they have a legal right to do. A small number of them will be granted asylum. A far larger number will be denied asylum, at which point, if the law were actually enforced, they would be removed from the country. But never at any time was their entry into the U.S. legal.

Naturally, that’s still a subject of political dispute as open-borders Democrats want to demonize Republicans as heartless and cruel. York covers a bit of that back-and-forth before concluding:

The Biden administration knows that 1) millions of would-be immigrants are crossing illegally into the U.S. and 2) the vast majority of them have no claim to remain in the country. That would seem to call for a major effort to reduce the flow of illegal border crossers. Yet the administration is letting unprecedented numbers of immigrants stay in the U.S., which reinforces the incentive for more to come.

“It is irresponsible for the federal government to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to enter when recent experience shows that, once released, more than half will not bother actually filing the asylum application, and of those who do, half will skip out on the court hearings, and of those who do complete the process, only 10% are found eligible for asylum,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Allowing abuse of the asylum system in this way is imposing enormous costs on American communities and undermining the integrity of our asylum system, delaying protection for those who genuinely need it.”

Here is one thing that is settled: Illegal border crossers who wade across the Rio Grande or walk across the border at other points, away from ports of entry, are breaking U.S. law. That is not even a question.

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