As a defender of the nation's borders, President Barack Obama is a hell of a pool player. The president enjoyed a game at a bar in Denver with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper the other day, without the noir atmosphere of his furtive visits to pool halls with his grandfather as a kid, when he felt “the enticement of darkness and the click of the cue ball, and the jukebox flashing its red and green lights.”
Obama's game the other day was bright and cheery, as one would expect of a president who didn't have any depressing visits to frightened ranchers, overwhelmed border agents or desperate migrants on his itinerary.
The first rule in a crisis for any executive is put on his windbreaker and boots and get out on the ground. President George W. Bush didn't do it soon enough after Hurricane Katrina and, politically, could never make up for it, no matter how many times he visited New Orleans subsequently. Obama's bizarre resistance to visiting the border on his fundraising swing out West fueled talk of the influx as Obama's “Katrina moment.”
The Katrina analogy is both over the top and too generous. It is over the top because the border influx isn't a deadly catastrophe swallowing an American city. It is too generous because Bush didn't do anything to bring on Hurricane Katrina, whereas Obama's policies are responsible for the influx of immigrants from the border. It is, in the argot of his administration, a “man-caused disaster.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the number of immigrants younger than 18 who were deported or turned away from ports of entry declined from 8,143 in 2008 to 1,669 last year. There were 95 minors deported from the entire interior of the country last year. At the same time, the number of unaccompanied alien children arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras exploded from less than 4,000 several years ago to 40,000 since last October.
The White House brushes off criticism that Obama is avoiding the border as mere “optics,” in contrast to its highly substantive focus. But it is still not taking the crisis seriously.
In a letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett downgraded the erstwhile “humani- tarian crisis” on the border (the president's words) to an “urgent humanitarian situation.” When pressed on the shift in verbiage, ever-judicious White House press secretary Josh Earnest explained that it is both a crisis and a situation. Yes, it's that bad.
The nearly $4 billion the president is requesting for the border is not fundamentally about enforcement that will reverse and end the tide, but about managing the influx.
A devastating critique of the request by the Center for Immigration Studies notes that about half of the money goes to the Department of Health and Human Services “for acquisition, construction, improvement, repair, operation, and maintenance of real property and facilities.” The enforcement portion of the request, according to CIS, “is not truly geared toward removal,” but instead to “recouping costs for temporary detention and subsequent transporting of aliens.”
Republicans in Congress should crumple up the president's border request in a ball and start over, with an emphasis on holding migrants near the border and working through their cases quickly to address the short-term crisis, and provisions for interior enforcement to address illegal immigration more broadly.
Of course, even if such a bill were to pass and to be signed into law, that'd be no guarantee that the president of the United States would enforce it. That speaks to an entirely different man-caused disaster.
Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.