by Philip Wegmann
More than half of the country’s governors would like a moment of the president’s time – and soon: Twenty-six Republican governors are urging Joe Biden to do more to address the deteriorating situation along the southern U.S. border.
“As chief executives of our states,” they write in a letter postmarked for Monday and first obtained by RealClearPolitics, “we request a meeting with you at The White House to bring an end to the national security crisis created by eight months of unenforced borders.”
The GOP chief executives are requesting an audience “within 15 days” given that the “the crisis that began at our southern border now extends beyond to every state and requires immediate action before the situation worsens.”
The letter is both a rebuke and an unwelcome distraction at a time when the White House is busy leaning on Congress to pass a $1 trillion physical infrastructure bill, a $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package, all while approving a budget that funds the government and increases the debt limit, which is required to keep federal agencies from shutting down.
Long before Biden received this unwelcome request from the governors, he acknowledged the problem. At his first press conference as president in March, he explained the uptick in illegal migrants by saying that a surge in late winter and early spring “happens every year.” Later that same month he deputized Vice President Kamala Harris with addressing “the root causes” of the influx.
Yet, the huge surge has continued and accelerated through the summer. The U.S. Border Patrol took more than 208,000 migrants into custody in the month of August, nearly as many as the previous month when more than 212,000 were interdicted along the southern border, a 21-year high.
Meanwhile, the president’s job approval rating has slipped underwater. According to the RealClearPolitics poll average, more Americans (49.7%) disapprove than approve (45.8%) of the job Biden is doing. His handling of the immigration issue is particularly unpopular.
“The negative impacts of an unenforced border policy on the American people can no longer be ignored,” wrote the governors in their letter. “Border apprehensions are up almost 500% compared to last year, totaling more than 1.3 million — more people than the populations of nine U.S. states.”
The administration has been busy planning a deportation blitz of the Haitian migrants who have surged into Del Rio, Texas. As the Washington Post first reported, the federal government was prepared to send planeloads back to their homeland this week as part of the effort to stem the tide into a crude camp beneath an underpass where 15,000 have already clustered. Meanwhile, a federal judge on Thursday blocked the administration from using Title 42 authority, a public health order employed by former President Trump to expel migrant families during the pandemic. The administration has appealed the ruling.
Republicans continue to argue that Biden is not doing enough, that the public declarations from the White House that “the border is not open” are meaningless without more enforcement. Some, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, even sent their own state law enforcement personnel to the border earlier in the summer, a move the White House admitted it was powerless to stop.
“While governors are doing what we can, our Constitution requires that the President must faithfully execute the immigration laws passed by Congress. Not only has the federal government created a crisis, it has left our states to deal with challenges that only the federal government has a duty to solve,” the letter asserted.
“We have heard directly from our constituents about the damage this crisis has caused in our states, and it is our duty as elected officials to act swiftly to protect our communities, as it is yours,” they added.
Republicans have presented a united front on border security, and the issue will likely play a key factor in the midterm elections next year. Of the 27 GOP governors, all but one signed onto the letter. The lone state executive who didn’t do so was Vermont’s Phil Scott.
It seems unlikely Biden will sit down with the governors to discuss border security any time soon. Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson, who signed the letter and who chairs the bipartisan National Governors Association, previously told RCP that several state executives were already frustrated that Biden and Harris have not joined their weekly COVID calls, a break from their predecessors’ habit.
Immigration and coronavirus, at least as political issues, have intersected. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed last week that migrants crossing the southern border illegally would be exempt from federal vaccine mandates. And the need for health security, as it relates to illegal border-crossers, was one of the reasons the governors requested a meeting.
“The months-long surge in illegal crossings has instigated an international humanitarian crisis, spurred a spike in international criminal activity, and opened the floodgates to human traffickers and drug smugglers endangering public health and safety in our states,” they wrote to Biden. “A crisis that began at our southern border now extends beyond to every state and requires immediate action before the situation worsens.”
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Philip Wegmann contributes to RealClearPolitics.