Jan 11, 2023

Biden's new border plan.

Plus, a question about who runs the economy better: Democrats or Republicans?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

We're covering the crisis on the border, Biden's new plan to address it, and his latest visit to El Paso, Texas. Plus, a question about whether Democrats or Republicans handle the economy better, and a reminder about Friday editions.

On Friday...

We're going to be publishing one of the most popular editions of the year: What we got right and wrong in 2022. I've been reviewing our writing and will try to give us some honest grades on our coverage. If you remember a Tangle edition that was right, wrong, or worth reviewing, feel free to reply to this email and make your case.

Quick hits.

  1. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) announced she will run for Senate in 2024, even though 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is yet to announce her retirement. (The announcement)
  2. This morning, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) suffered an outage of its real-time flight information, prompting a halt to all domestic flights for roughly two hours. The halt was lifted and the agency is investigating. (The outage)
  3. The Pentagon announced that roughly 100 Ukrainian troops will come to the U.S. to train to use our Patriot air defense system ahead of its delivery. (The training)
  4. Allen Weisselberg, the longtime Trump Organization chief financial officer, was sentenced to five months in prison for charges related to tax fraud while at the company. (The sentence)
  5. At least 17 people have been killed in California as record rainfall continues to cause flash floods and damage across the state. (The storm)

Today's topic.

Biden's border plan. On Sunday, President Biden visited the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, for the first time during his presidency. He observed border officials as they searched vehicles for drugs, money and other contraband, then walked along a metal border fence separating El Paso from Ciudad Juarez. Finally, he stopped at the El Paso County Migrant Services Center.

During the highly controlled visit Biden did not encounter any migrants, despite El Paso being the biggest corridor for illegal crossings. However, his motorcade did drive along an area of the border where migrants were visible on the Mexican side. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) criticized the trip as a "photo-op," while El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego welcomed Biden but said a recent lull in arrivals prevented him from seeing the real challenges they are facing.

Biden's visit to El Paso came just days after he announced a tougher stance on immigration at the border, saying the U.S. would begin turning away Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans who cross the border from Mexico illegally. Under the new rules, migrants who come to the U.S. without first asking for asylum in the countries they travel through will be denied asylum and deported, according to Associated Press. It is nearly identical to a plan the administration has used to drastically reduce the number of Venezuelan migrants traveling to the U.S.

“Do not, do not just show up at the border,” Biden said. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there."

Now, the U.S. says it will accept 30,000 people per month from these four nations combined over the next two years. The government says it will offer the ability to work legally, as long as they come legally, pass background checks, and have eligible sponsors in the U.S.

The new plan immediately drew criticism from both asylum and immigration advocates, as well as many conservative commentators.

“President Biden correctly recognized today that seeking asylum is a legal right and spoke sympathetically about people fleeing persecution,” said Jonathan Blazer, the American Civil Liberties Union’s director of border strategies. “But the plan he announced further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era instead of restoring fair access to asylum protections.”

Despite keeping Title 42 — the Trump-era health law that allows the U.S. to quickly expel migrants — in place, there have still been record numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border during Biden's term. There were over 2.38 million encounters in the fiscal year that ended September 30, the first time that number topped two million.

The new policy could legally allow as many as 360,000 migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti to enter the U.S. each year. Still, that number is well short of the number attempting to cross the border by foot, by boat, or by swimming. In November alone, the Associated Press reported, 82,286 migrants from those four countries were stopped at the border.

You can find our previous coverage of the border and immigration here.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the right and left to Biden's border visit and the new policies.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is critical of the plan, arguing that it is illegal and will encourage more migrants to come north.
  • Some say the plan is going to create an entirely new immigration system that will invite hundreds of thousands of migrants here each year.
  • Others argue that Biden is circumventing the legislative process, and shortchanging those trying to immigrate legally.

In The New York Post, George Fishman says the plan "disregards the rule of law and Congress."

"The historical record is crystal clear. In 1952, Congress gave the executive the statutory power to temporarily 'parole' aliens into the United States 'in emergency cases, such as the case of an alien who requires immediate medical attention' or 'a witness or for purposes of prosecution.' Starting in 1956, presidents of both parties (with the notable exception of former President Donald Trump) have used the parole power to do an end run around the immigration laws to import many thousands of otherwise inadmissible aliens, often because they considered them 'refugees,'" he said. "Until Thursday, his administration was doing so under the guise of relative secrecy for Mexicans and Central Americans.

"But Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House both issued Orwellian press releases announcing new 'border enforcement measures to improve border security' and 'create additional safe and orderly processes' for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans 'fleeing humanitarian crises.' Essentially, Biden plans to parole up to 30,000 a month to reside and work legally in America — or 360,000 a year," he wrote. "We well know that the aliens are never going to return home. Of course, these numbers are subject to change. And, of course, they will be 'rigorous[ly]' vetted — just like Biden’s Afghan parolees were rigorously vetted until it turns out they weren’t."

In The Federalist, Margot Cleveland said Biden is taking illegal immigration "to a whole new level."

"President Biden has finally found a solution to address the surge in illegal crossings at the southern border: tell the tens of thousands of aliens unlawfully entering the United States from Mexico that they can come to America 'legally' if they instead fly to a port-of-entry in the interior of the country," she wrote. "The scam, though, is layers thick, both legally and politically. And to reach the core truth... one must first unpeel the specifics of the newest plan buried in the Department of Homeland Security’s official notice of the changes. Each notice summarizes the Biden administration’s supposed 'solution' to the flooding of the southern border, which in short consists of allowing, on a monthly basis, a total of 30,000 aliens to enter the United States 'legally' if they are Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan nationals.

"To qualify, aliens must have a 'U.S.-based supporter,' which could be 'non-governmental entities or community-based organizations,' and must 'provide for their own commercial travel to an air [port-of-entry] and final U.S. destination.' National security and public safety vetting are also required, as well as any additional public health requirements, such as vaccinations," Cleveland said. "But how is it that illegal-alien border crossers can become lawful noncitizens by just jumping through a few hoops and flying to the interior of the country, rather than sneaking over the southern border? They can’t. And in crafting its latest immigration plan, the Biden administration is again acting lawlessly."

In The Washington Examiner, Simon Hankinson called it "an abuse of power."

"The Immigration and Nationality Act gives the secretary of Homeland Security 'discretion' to parole aliens into the United States temporarily 'on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.' It explicitly adds that the secretary may not use this power for an alien who is a refugee unless there are 'compelling reasons in the public interest' to do so," Hankinson wrote. "This is because we already have a U.S. Refugee Admission Program. Parole was meant to be used sparingly. In most previous administrations, only a few hundred foreigners were approved each year after their applications were carefully reviewed.

"Previous presidents have abused parole, but Biden is doing it on an industrial scale. He claims to be acting because Congress won’t, which is to say they won’t pass his immigration 'reform' bill granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and thus encouraging millions more to enter illegally or overstay their visas. But when he came into office, Biden undid every program the Trump administration had successfully used to reduce illegal entries," Hankinson added. "Biden is using parole programs to create a parallel immigration system. In practice, it allows millions of people to cut ahead of family and employment applicants waiting in the legal immigration line for a visa."

What the left is saying.

  • The left is mixed about the plan, with some arguing Biden had to do something and others saying it is still cruel and ineffective for too many.
  • Some say Congress has left Biden little choice after its refusal to address immigration for over three decades.
  • Others say Biden’s plan is just Trump’s policy dressed up in liberal rhetoric.

The Washington Post editorial board said Congress left Biden little choice.

"It’s an imperfect fix and much less than needed — only Congress can fix a badly broken system that was last fundamentally overhauled in 1986. President Biden’s initiative, unveiled Thursday, builds on a narrow legal pathway for Venezuelans to enter the United States, in place since the fall, dramatically expanding it to include migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, who have been driving the current border surge and now account for roughly a third of all illegal crossings," the board said. "As many as 360,000 migrants annually from all four countries will be granted entry and two-year work permits if they apply remotely via an app, generally from their home countries.

"The Biden administration also announced that, effective immediately, citizens of those countries who enter the United States without permission, or even cross into Panama or Mexico on their way north, will be banned from this 'parole' program," they wrote. "Many will be expelled to Mexico, which has agreed to take 30,000 of them monthly, and be subject to a five-year ban on reentry to the United States. That’s less than 40 percent of the Cuban, Nicaraguan, Haitian and Venezuelan migrants border agents encountered in November, but the administration is hoping its new policy will be an effective deterrent. It has been in the case of Venezuelans already covered under the policy; the number of illegal border-crossers coming from that country has plunged by some 70 percent since the government launched the pilot program for them in October."

In The Intercept, Natasha Lennard said Biden's plan "drapes Trump policies in liberal rhetoric."

"The United States border regime is cruel whether or not its maintenance is enforced by a president spewing racist slurs or a president appealing to the need for 'safe and orderly processing' while he announces a plan to turn away thousands of migrants en masse — as President Joe Biden did on Thursday," she wrote. "The same 'transit ban' policy is already in place for migrants from Venezuela, an extension of the Title 42 measure deployed by the Trump administration in the first year of the pandemic as a way to turn away migrants under the guise of public health. In some nine months under Trump, nearly half a million people were removed under the law; keeping the law around for two years, the Biden administration has already used it to deport over 2 million.

"The wealthiest country in the world could respond to this mass movement by working with direct service providers on the ground and providing sufficient resources to swiftly resettle those fleeing political turmoil — turmoil for which the U.S. carries significant historic responsibility," she said. "Instead, the burden of this order is being placed on those fleeing for their own survival, with the alleged right to claim asylum at port of entry reserved only for those with the ability to apply and secure a U.S. sponsor before they reach the border."

In The Miami Herald, Fabiola Santiago said Biden has finally stopped looking the other way.

"With a quarreling, do-nothing Congress as a backdrop — and an unrelenting number of asylum seekers arriving every day — the Biden administration finally has taken serious steps to address immigration to South Florida and the Mexico border. Months of record-breaking arrivals later, even Democrats are conceding, privately and publicly, that the levels of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan immigration is impossible to sustain, both politically and in terms of resources," she wrote. "Yet, without a Congress willing to overhaul the broken immigration system and Americans increasingly upset over illegal crossings, what other choices did Biden really have?

"Republicans constantly use xenophobia to score political points. They’re united in the desire to see Biden fail at everything... Unfortunately, the most tragically affected by the change in policy will be people caught en route, risking their lives at sea or on dangerous multicountry treks to flee collapsing homelands like Haiti and failing regimes like Cuba’s and Nicaragua’s," she said. "Will domestic immigration policy make any difference when the root causes of mass migration remain in place at home? ... There’s less of an incentive to come here illegally with the opening of legal avenues. But poor people from remote towns and provinces may not have the access, nor the ability to articulate need — and surely they will be first in line for expulsion under Biden’s repatriation rules."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • It's better than nothing, but there are some huge downsides to the plan.
  • I still believe the best course of action is increasing the number of judges and lawyers at the border.
  • I'll be surprised if this rule actually survives legal challenges.

Over the last few years, I've been making the argument that Biden or Congress need to do something, anything, to address what is happening at the border. In many of my past Tangle newsletters I've shared my opinion that overhauling immigration should start with more judges and more expansive asylum services to handle the surge of migrants at the border. I still don’t see a better path forward for an orderly, humane system that promotes legal immigration.

However, I think it's only fair to start by giving Biden kudos for taking some action. Is it too late? Yes. Are there huge problems with the plan? Yes. Is it the plan I would have used? No. But with absolute silence on the two actually solid immigration plans being negotiated in the Senate that we covered in December, I'm glad he is at least doing something. Real plans. Real visits. Real dialogue.

Here's the good news: This plan isn't brand new and it isn't concocted out of thin air. It's basically identical to the plan the Biden administration used for Venezuelan migrants, and that plan has been pretty effective. Venezuelan migrant encounters dropped 35% in the first month following the plan’s enactment, and it has reduced illegal immigration from Venezuela by 70% overall, according to the latest Customs and Border Patrol data.

The timing is also pretty good economically. The U.S. is desperate for workers. I believe the evidence that immigrants are good for the economy is overwhelming, as are the findings that they don't reduce wages for native born workers. So, if migrants are coming from these four countries in a legal fashion, being vetted, and being given work permits, that could really benefit our economy by addressing the labor shortage, which is worsening inflation. All of this is positive.

The bad news is basically everything else. From a legal perspective, the rule looks unlikely to survive a court challenge and, as The Washington Post gingerly put it, "sidesteps long established law and treaty obligations granting migrants the right to make asylum claims when they arrive on U.S. soil." The commentators we cited above from the right made strong cases of their own that Biden is basically inventing a parallel immigration system to the one we have now, and I think they are mostly right. The Supreme Court’s review of Title 42 this summer is another complicating factor, as overturning it would remove the legal justification for quickly expelling many of the migrants who break the new rules.

Of course, Biden is simultaneously fighting that rule in court while also using it to great effect on the border, a contradiction that illustrates his hypocritical and often confounding stance on immigration.

Then there's the humanitarian side of all this. I assume the reason this plan was effective with Venezuelans is that very few have the means to follow the rules in place, which would require flights, money, sponsors, etc. Immigration like this is such a difficult and fraught topic because the fundamental problem isn’t our immigration policies — it’s that millions of people are fleeing violence, political persecution, horrid economies, and poor living conditions. People don't climb onto rafts to float from Cuba to Florida, or hike thousands of miles through arid deserts and dangerous nations, just to come here and join MS-13 or raise hell.

By law, we are supposed to open our doors to those fleeing persecution, not simply those who are living in abject poverty. But here’s the rub: Abject poverty is often tied so closely to gang violence or political unrest or humanitarian crises that the line for what is and isn't persecution or grounds for asylum is often very blurry and difficult to find. Someone living in conditions that compel them to risk their life and freedom to take a 3,000-mile journey north to a world they know nothing about is quite obviously fleeing something severe — but whether that something legally qualifies them for our definition of asylum is another question. And it's why I have always said we need more judges and lawyers to fairly adjudicate these claims.

And, as I like to reinforce, the vast majority of these migrants want work, want a better life, and want to advance their family's well-being. These new rules are going to hurt the poorest people the most — those who don't know about them and continue to cross illegally, then get barred for five years from taking the now "legitimate" route. The migrants who will download apps, apply online, or can pay for a sponsor or airfare to travel to a proper port of entry — all of them will be the most well-off of a population that is not very well-off. And the cruelty of this reality is a legitimate criticism from the immigrant rights groups hammering Biden right now.

So, am I happy Biden is doing something — anything — to try to address the border crisis? Yes. And there are some clear cut positives about this plan. But I have a hard time seeing it last legally, and it's well short of anything that will improve our immigration system, promote humane treatment of migrants, or resolve our domestic disputes over immigration.

Your questions, answered.

Q: In the Nov 15th newsletter (What the latest inflation numbers mean), in the "What the left is saying" section, you quoted Timothy Noah of The New Republic as writing, "As I’ve written before, the economy consistently runs better under Democratic presidents, and that includes lower inflation." I've heard this claim before but never done a deep dive into researching it... do you feel this is an accurate claim? And, if so (or if not), how do you define our economy running well?

— Luke from Seattle, Washington

Tangle: Cop-out time: I'm not going to be able to answer this question here. I think a good economist could probably write a whole book on the topic, and I'm sure many exist. The fundamental issue with answering this is twofold: 1) Presidents or members of Congress who enact laws are often out of office when the impact of those laws truly takes hold. So, Republicans passing tax cuts may lead to Democrats in the White House and the economy overseeing a period of economic growth. 2) Neither the president nor Congress has direct control over the economy.

Timothy Noah's writing is a top source for the argument that Democrats have been better. In this piece he makes a compelling case that, based on objective economic data alone, Democratic presidents have overseen much stronger economies. For instance: 13 of the 17 recessions of the last 100 years happened under Republican presidents. The four presidents with the biggest growth in GDP since Franklin Roosevelt were all Democrats. Clinton, Obama and Biden (in his first year) all reduced the deficit, and historically Republican presidents have run up larger deficits than Democrats.

But again: Sometimes Democrats are serving with a Republican Congress. Sometimes laws passed by past presidents have bigger impacts in the future. Sometimes external factors (think: Covid) have huge impacts on the economy that are totally unrelated to governmental policy. It's just very hard to parse this data based only on "who is president."

To your final point: I've long argued that employment is one of the few metrics we use to define a good economy that I find helpful. GDP, the S&P 500, and other popular metrics often leave me wanting more. If it were up to me, we'd evaluate the economy based on things like how many Americans make rent each month, how much savings Americans have, how many jobs people are working to make ends meet, wage growth (adjusted for inflation), and homelessness.

And while we may have access to all that historical data, it’s much harder to prove how any government policy directly impacts any one of those complicated metrics.

Under the radar.

Senior Biden officials are looking to end the emergency designation for Covid as soon as this spring, sources recently told Politico. The decision is not final, but it would trigger a "complex restructuring of major elements of the federal response" to the pandemic. It would also shift the responsibility of vaccination and treatment largely to private industry. Officials are expected to quietly extend the emergency declaration Wednesday, before it expires, for another 90 days. The decision comes at a time when Covid cases and deaths with or from Covid are again rising across the U.S. Politico has the story.


  • 204,155. The number of unique individuals encountered on the Southwest Land Border in November, according to CBP data.
  • 4%. The percentage increase that number represents from the month prior.
  • 68,044. The number of those individuals who were from Cuba or Nicaragua.
  • 58,559. The number of those individuals who were from Mexico or northern Central America.
  • 6,232. The number of those individuals who were from Venezuela.
  • 20,806. The number of migrants from Venezuela encountered at the border in October.
  • 33,494. The number of migrants from Venezuela encountered at the border in September.

Have a nice day.

Pathways Care Farm is 13 acres of land tucked away in the back of a housing estate. The farm gives vulnerable people with mental health issues or learning disabilities an opportunity to learn farming with hands-on activities like cultivation, planting and animal husbandry. In 2020, director Geoff Stevens insulated what used to be the coldest barn on the farm to turn it into a cafe. And now, that building, equipped with a log burner, a piano and a kitchen, is turning into something else: A community space for local people to stay warm during England's cost of living crisis. BBC Radio has the beautiful story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.