Record high arrests at the border lead to political showdown
Border arrests reached 2 million for the first time as Republican governors send immigrants to Washington, D.C., and Martha’s Vineyard
On Sunday, Sept. 11, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Austin, Texas, where she told an interviewer “the border is secure.” Four days later, on Sept. 15, over 100 Latin American immigrants were standing on her doorstep, with several dozen more to arrive in subsequent days.
The event was orchestrated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who said in a statement published the same day that the relocation of immigrants was meant to send a very specific message.
“The Biden-Harris Administration continues ignoring and denying the historic crisis at our southern border, which has endangered and overwhelmed Texas communities for almost two years,” he said.
Border encounters — which include all apprehensions and expulsions by the U.S. Border Patrol — have hit 2 million this year, the highest number ever recorded, breaking the previous high of 1.7 million in 1986 and continuing a trend that began in early 2021, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.
These numbers represent 80% of total border crossings, according to the CBP’s estimate of Border Patrol effectiveness. They do not include what the Border Patrol refers to as “gotaways,” immigrants who crossed into the U.S. and evaded border authorities. Though this apprehension rate is better than the 35% achieved in the early 2000s, it still suggests that at least 300,000 immigrants entered the country without detection in 2021 and again in 2022. This estimate was confirmed by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who testified to Congress that roughly 390,000 immigrants evaded border patrol and entered the country in 2021.
Mark Lamb, who has been the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, since 2017 — on the front lines of the border-crossing surge — says, “If we can’t send them back, the next best thing is to send them to these sanctuary cities.” Lamb reasons it is unfair for one community to bear more of the costs than another and that the rest of the country needs to feel the same urgent need to find a solution.
“To me, this is the greatest threat facing America,” he said.
The surge of immigrants at the border has brought with it a humanitarian crisis, according to Lamb. This crisis affects immigrants and many U.S. citizens, Lamb said, citing cases of human trafficking and exploitation at the hand of cartels and the dramatic increase of fentanyl seized at the border.
“Living in a border state we see the invasion that is happening. We see the effect that it’s having on every aspect of society from education to health care, to public safety, to our judicial system,” Kelli Ward, chairwoman of the Arizona GOP, said.
But the effect is not limited to Arizona, she clarified. “This is a 50 state border crisis.”
According to Ward, this is why Republican candidates in the most competitive districts in Arizona and around the U.S. are declaring that our country is under attack.
In response to the unprecedented flow of immigrants at the border, several Republican governors have decided to draw attention to the situation by transporting immigrants to Democratic-run destinations, in a move some are calling political.
“I think the goal is, as the expression is, to own the libs,” said Daniel Cox, a senior fellow in polling and public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute. “It’s obviously a political stunt.”
Abbott’s transportation of immigrants to the vice president’s Washington, D.C., home was preceded only hours earlier by a similar display in Martha’s Vineyard, a residential island off the coast of Massachusetts, where two planes containing a total of 48 immigrants touched down to the bewilderment of island residents.
The flight was carried out at the behest of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as part of the state’s immigrant relocation program, the governor’s communications director confirmed to Fox News Digital.
This is just one of the latest examples of Republican officials using unorthodox means to draw attention to the unprecedented surge of immigrants at the southern border. Govs. Abbott and Doug Ducey of Arizona have bused nearly 12,000 immigrants to blue cities around the country since April, including 9,400 to Washington, D.C.; 2,200 to New York City; and 300 to Chicago, according to Abbott’s office.
The busing programs, popular among a majority of Texans, were first announced in reaction to the Biden administration’s efforts to overturn Title 42, a Trump-era executive order that allows the federal government to quickly deport undocumented immigrants, and have sparked a national conversation about whether such political tactics are an effective means of catalyzing federal government action or whether they are, instead, a political ploy by Republican officials with a very real human cost.
The actions of Abbott, Ducey and DeSantis, and the rhetoric of Republican candidates around the country this election cycle, suggest that the issues of immigration and border security have entered the culture war arena, Cox said.
“Every state has become a border state,” said Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, in a video on his website.
“This is an invasion,” said Blake Masters, Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona, in a campaign ad.
“We are being invaded at our border,” said Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor in Arizona, in an interview.
The use of words like “invasion,” according to Cox, is aimed at pleasing the Republican base and creating a sense of fear around the question of immigration.
“That kind of language moves the conversation away from policy and into the culture war space,” Cox said. “The idea of invasion is that there are people coming here who are unwanted and present a threat.”
Lamb disagrees. “I don’t think it’s rhetoric. If you look up the definition for invasion, what is happening at the border qualifies,” he said.
These themes have been echoed by Republican Senate candidates J.D. Vance, Adam Laxalt and Ron Johnson — all running in tight races whose outcome could determine whether Republicans take a majority in the Senate next year.
According to America’s Voice, an immigration reform organization, over 140 Republican ads have employed “invasion” rhetoric this election cycle.
A recent Ipsos poll found that Americans are divided over whether the U.S. is experiencing an invasion at the southern border; 76% of Republicans agreed with the diagnosis, followed by 46% of independents and 40% of Democrats.
In fact, worry over illegal immigration is the most polarized it’s been in 20 years, according to a Gallup study performed in April. The study found that Republican concerns about illegal immigration are near an all-time high, while independents’ concerns over the issue have increased over the last two years and Democratic concerns have plummeted to an all-time low.
But it might be that the disagreement found by these polls is really a consequence of how questions are framed, rather than substantive differences in public opinion, according to Cox.
Recently, a YouGov poll, also from August, found that 60% of U.S. adult citizens agree that the “current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is a crisis.”
“Ultimately when push comes to shove, American people want to see solutions on immigration,” said Laurence Benenson, vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Forum.
However, the solution is not a return to Trump-era border policies, as suggested by leading Republicans, Benenson contends. “That approach has been tried before and it didn’t yield the results that proponents claim. In 2019, you had Migrant Protection Protocols (the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program) in place, you had a wall being built. You had a bunch of very restrictive immigration policies, and in the latter part of 2018 and into 2019, we had not just caravans, but we actually had very large border encounter numbers,” he said.
A solution, for Benenson, would include Congress stepping in to make some common sense reforms to border security. These reforms could consist of increasing Border Patrol personnel, improving surveillance technology, constructing more sophisticated ports of entry and facilitating better inter-agency cooperation so that a greater number of immigrants can be processed more quickly.
On this point of increased investment in personnel and surveillance technology, Lamb agrees. But whether the president and policymakers in Washington can find similar areas of agreement over immigration and the border remains to be seen.