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Elvia Díaz: Biden's get-tough border policy lacks the resources to make a difference

The political world is bracing for President Joe Biden to take a turn to the right on immigration soon.

Biden is reportedly poised to sign an executive order that would prevent people crossing the border illegally from seeking asylum.

The move comes on the heels of a failed bipartisan deal in Congress that would have funded local border aid networks and allowed the president to shut down the border if the number of migrants reached a threshold.

But Elvia Díaz says the move will not be a magic wand for controlling the flood of migrants that continue to crowd ports of entry.

Díaz is editorial page editor of the Arizona Republic, and she joined The Show to talk more about it.

Full interview

LAUREN GILGER: So you wrote a column about this expected move from Biden in which you argue basically that kind of whatever the president does on his own, it will not be enough to address the real problem, the underlying problems here. So begin there and tell us why not.

ELVIA DÍAZ: Well, because he already has a problem with so many people from all over the world asking asylum. And they are releasing a lot of them into the United States, which from the immigrant rights activists, that’s great. That’s exactly what they want the administration to do, to give them an opportunity to be here in this country.

From the practical point of view, there are just too many of them. And so he’s dealing with the same resources as it is now. So I really don’t get how he is going to change the trajectory with existing resources, because clearly you can say that if it was that easy, he would have done it already.

Now, with the executive order, of course, he’s asking for some specific authority that he doesn’t have right now. And he may actually do that, and that would help them. But again, the resources are not there. He was asking for a lot more.

GILGER: So you’re talking about resources. It would take an enormous amount of investment and also political maneuvering, you talk about, on both sides of the border to make a real difference here.

DÍAZ: We don’t know what exactly the executive order is going to say, but if we believe some of the sources that were cited in media columns, he will go kind of Donald Trump. Remember, the former president used a health emergency called Title 42. President Biden doesn’t have that kind of health emergency right now. So he will seek a different kind of authority to expel asylum seekers of people showing up at the border.

What is still unclear is exactly how that will happen, because what we were reading is that everyone who is caught crossing the border illegally will be immediately turned away. When someone turns themselves into immigration authorities, by definition they are not illegally crossing. They are doing the right thing, what is allowed in the law. If you surrender yourself to authorities, you are asking for asylum, you are not crossing illegally.

So presumably we’re talking about everyone else that is not. But then you have another problem as to where the president is going to send them back to. So they are coming from Mexico. We know for a fact that most of the asylum seekers are not Mexicans. They’re from all over the world. So is he going to send them back to Mexico, or is he going to send them back to the original countries?

Again, that’s another expense and another political maneuvering that he has to do with the Mexican government to see if the Mexican government is going to take all of those folks on Mexican soil.

GILGER: Essentially, are you saying there’s only so much you can do on his own, or are you saying that this is bad policy, that he shouldn’t do anything like this?

DÍAZ: One, he cannot do it on his own without the Mexican government, without incurring the tremendous expense. They will have to be flown. And if he’s going to send them back to Mexico, then of course he needs the help of the Mexican government.

So I do think that he is probably going to do something. I mean, it’s an election year, and that’s the bottom line. He needs to show that he is doing something and doing an executive order will be the way to do it and then keep blaming the Republicans for not signing that border deal where he was asking for a lot more resources.

GLIGER: Right. But the power of the purse, right? The funding for all of this, the sustained resources that Border Patrol, etc., would need — that’s all with Congress?

DÍAZ: Yes, absolutely. I mean, he was asking for at least 1,300 more Border Patrol agents to join that 20-something thousand that are already funded in the current budget. He was asking for additional detention centers, additional asylum officers and 1,500 or so lawyers and support staff. He’s not getting any of that with executive orders. So he will have to do that within the budget.

And again, he may have the money. He may find the money here and there, presumably. But then where is he going to find the people to hire and to put in place this expedited removal?

So a lot going on here that president may or may not be able to do. But a lot of people are eager to see what his next move is going to be.

GILGER: Right. Right. And it feels like it has to happen, like something has to change. This is sort of this political moment in which we’re in an election year. The president made some big promises when it came to immigration during his last election. Many people on the left feel those were broken. And at the same time, Republicans on the other side see this as a big opportunity to take votes from Democrats, are sort of setting up this ultimate battle over border policy here.

I wonder, do you feel like he has to do this because of the political moment? And will that shape what it is that he decides to do?

DÍAZ: Absolutely. And it’s not a feel that he has broken his promises. It is a fact, Lauren. I mean, he did promise time and again that he was going to pursue immigration reform, that people were going to be treated humanely, that the United States was going to be the the the country that has always been allowing people again to ask asylum — not necessarily to get it, but not to ask for it.

But he is in a no-win situation, so he does have a real problem. Too many people are showing up at the border, not too many authorities able to handle them. And so Republicans have been pummeling him on border chaos, border invasion and what they call it.

On the other hand, he is breaking his promise. And so he’s angering a lot of immigrant rights activists, a lot of Latinos. And he clearly appears that he is trying to appease the sort of moderate conservative voters here.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.