Cillizza: How did we get here so quickly? Biden has only been president for 51 days! Is this the result of one specific policy change? Or a series of them?
Shoichet: People who follow immigration closely will tell you the latest situation at the border has been building for a while. We were seeing numbers climbing in late 2020, too.
Cillizza: Is it fair to describe what is happening on the southern border right now as a crisis? Why or why not?
Shoichet: I am very careful about using that word because when we call things a “crisis” the conversation goes into a pretty hyperbolic place very quickly, where the facts sort of fade into the background and political debate takes over. I’ve been covering immigration for years and we’ve seen periodic frenzy around the border over and over again. At a certain point, you have to ask, is this a crisis, or is this a regular migration pattern that ebbs and flows because of a number of factors?
Having said that, there are very serious issues going on at the border that we should all be paying attention to. Among them:
Cillizza: What is the Biden administration doing — in terms of concrete actions — to deal with what is happening?
Jacobson also said the administration is trying to open up more avenues for people to immigrate legally, such as the Central American Minors program, which provides a pathway for children in the region to reunite with parents in the United States.
Cillizza: Republicans have seized on the border situation and Biden’s immigration plan as “left-wing amnesty.” How fair is that? Or not?
Shoichet: I don’t want to get into putting a value judgment on political rhetoric on either side of the aisle. But one thing I can say is the Biden administration would feel that’s an unfair characterization for a number of reasons.
There was a brief honeymoon period at the very beginning of the Biden administration. But advocates on the left have started to become increasingly critical of this administration and I think would argue that there’s nothing radical about various things that are being proposed — and also that there’s a big gap still between words and actions. They’re waiting for this administration to start really walking the walk.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The single best metric to watch as it relates to when we will know the border situation is improving is ________.” Now, explain.
Shoichet: I’ll take a stab at answering this question, but one thing I would like to point out first is that we get really caught up in numbers and data about the border because it’s information that’s more readily available and of course it gives us some sort of big-picture indicator of the situation.
But these are people’s lives we’re talking about — many of whom have fled danger, or who are desperately seeking economic opportunities, or who are doing what they can to survive. And I fear sometimes the focus on numbers is so abstract that it’s dehumanizing and also gets us away from talking about what is really going on and what that means for a person’s life or for a community.
The reason why this is so important is because right now, there’s sort of a perfect storm of circumstances that could really put people’s safety at risk. In part because of the pandemic, and in part because of the sheer number of people arriving, there isn’t enough bed space in the shelters for unaccompanied minors run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
And I think no matter where someone stands on immigration as an issue, everyone should be able to agree that it’s extremely important for children not to be put at risk by any government policy.