Feb 14, 2022

Biden's border problem.

Biden's border problem.

The situation on the border is angering allies and opponents.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, 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 dive into the situation on the southern border. Plus, I respond to a reader critique about the Tangle format.

Just south of San Diego, California at the Pacific Ocean. From the US side, facing south. Photo: Tony Webster
Just south of San Diego, California at the Pacific Ocean. From the US side, facing south. Photo: Tony Webster


On Thursday, I noted that the members of the trucker protest in Canada were "blocking the Ambassador Bridge between Ottawa and Detroit." The Ambassador Bridge is between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario — not Ottawa. This is kind of like the Canadian version of saying Niagara Falls is in North Dakota, so I hope you'll take me on my word that it's easy to mix up Ontario and Ottawa when you're writing and reading about Ottawa for three days straight. I blame Magdalena, our resident Canadian on staff, for not catching the error before publication.

This is the 53rd Tangle correction in its 134-week history, and the first correction since January 26th. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.


Over the weekend, Tangle reached 5,000 paying subscribers. I just wanted to stop and say thank you to everyone who is subscribed. I know we nudge you in most newsletters, and I know it’s likely to be a bit annoying, but it really is true that you are the only way we continue to grow, thrive and stay 100% ad-free and independent. Fittingly, it looks as if our article on media bias put us over the edge, and it's amazing to reflect on what it took to get here.

Quick hits.

  1. In a call on Saturday, President Biden warned Russia's Vladimir Putin that invading Ukraine would cause widespread human suffering and the West would decisively impose "swift and severe costs" if it happened. (The call)
  2. The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario (see, I'm learning) reopened after police cleared the remaining protesters. (The reopening)
  3. The U.S. has suspended avocado imports from Mexico after a plant's safety inspector received a threatening phone call. (The pause)
  4. Abortions in Texas have fallen nearly 60% in the first month since its restrictive abortion ban went into place. (The numbers)
  5. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) posted an update after his recent stroke, assuring constituents he'd be back to the Senate in a "few short weeks," in time to vote on Biden's potential Supreme Court nominee. (The update)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The southern border. In 2021, U.S. Border Patrol agents made 1.9 million arrests, a record high, according to new data. The data were revealed in just released court filings related to a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Texas. Those attorneys general sued after the Biden administration attempted to reverse the "Remain in Mexico" policy instituted under Trump, which requires migrants to wait south of the border as their asylum claims are adjudicated. A federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to restart the policy while the case makes its way through the court system.

Around 20% of the migrants arrested, approximately 402,000, were released into the U.S. while awaiting hearings, which is down from the 56% released during a surge in illegal crossings under the Trump administration just before the pandemic began. More than one million were sent back to Mexico or their home countries under Title 42. The Biden administration has used Title 42, a public health law, in order to limit the number of migrants released into the U.S. Former President Trump had used the same law to reject migrants before they could even claim asylum.

Interestingly, recent reports have shown the kinds of people crossing the border are changing. Axios reported that migrants from South America, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and India had driven an uptick in crossings in December. In late January, the Biden administration was under fire after a public records request forced the release of videos showing dozens of single, adult males being flown from Texas to various U.S. cities to be released into sponsors’ custody after being held in Texas.

Republicans have long criticized so-called "catch and release" for allowing migrants to get lost in the U.S. interior, while Democrats and immigrant advocates have been upset with the Biden administration for not cutting back on what they see as the punitive practices used under Trump.

Below, we'll take a look at some commentary from the right and left on the state of the southern border, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right criticizes Biden for the huge surge and for releasing migrants into the U.S.
  • They say Democrats have lost control of the southern border and need a more restrictive set of policies.
  • Some call out the Biden administration for coordinating with cartels because they have no other option.

Jason Riley said Biden's border problems aren't going away.

"Mr. Biden’s overall job-approval rating is in the low 40s. That’s worrying enough for Democrats, but Americans think even less of how the president is handling immigration, with only 36% of respondents voicing satisfaction in a recent CBS News poll," Riley wrote. "Obviously, people other than Fox News viewers are paying attention to the crisis. And what they’ve seen over the past year, in addition to White House indifference, is record levels of illicit border crossings, overflowing detention centers and, more recently, video footage of illegal immigrants being ferried (in the dead of night) from the southern border to New York, Florida and other parts of the country.

"The administration doesn’t deny that this is happening. When pressed last week, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki matter-of-factly explained that when undocumented individuals can’t be immediately removed from the country, they 'are placed into immigration proceedings, and one of those avenues could be placement in an alternative-to-detention program in the interior of the United States.' That, folks, is the administration’s current policy for handling immigration illegal. Predictably, the results have been a disaster. Apprehensions are a proxy for unlawful entries. When border apprehensions are up, it means we’re experiencing higher levels of illegal immigration. In the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, there were a record-breaking 1.7 million arrests at the border. For all of 2021, there were just shy of two million, far above the previous record of 1.6 million set in 2000."

The National Review editorial board said Biden knows his border policies are "nothing to be proud of."

"Body-cam video unearthed by a Freedom of Information Act request captured a cop at an airport near White Plains, N.Y., asking federal contractors last year about the stealthy off-hours arrival of illegal immigrants," the board wrote. "A contractor explains that 'DHS wants everything on the down-low.' Another contractor says that no one wants it to get out that 'the government is betraying the American people.' Meanwhile, Fox News reporter Bill Melugin got footage of single adult males being processed through a nondescript location in Brownsville, Texas, to be flown to cities around the country. An ICE source told him that these kinds of releases have been taking place quietly since last spring. The administration’s instincts at the border have been all wrong, but at least it has the sense to try to hide the full scope of its abysmal failure to enforce our laws and maintain good order.

"The New York flight involved unaccompanied minors, so the administration has portrayed it as a routine transfer in keeping with the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act," the board wrote. "The single-adult releasees are another matter. In a nod to reality, Biden preserved the Trump policy of using Title 42, a public-health authority, to immediately expel many migrants during the pandemic. But Mexico will only accept migrants from certain countries. The releasees are probably from places like Nicaragua and Venezuela and can’t simply be returned over the border. In theory, they could be enrolled in Remain in Mexico, the Trump-created program to require asylum-seekers to apply from Mexico, but Biden tried to end the program and, forced by a judge to re-start it, has been unenthusiastic about making use of it."

Angie Wong said Biden is now coordinating with the cartel to manage the border.

"I spent three days on the front lines of the Biden administration’s illegal-immigration crisis, and found a Border Patrol that has changed from an enforcement agency to a concierge service," Wong wrote. "A pipeline of migrants, fueled by cartel coyotes and abetted by American liberal nongovernmental organizations, enter the nation in droves, and many will likely never return to the countries they left.

"Even if the government wanted to secure the border, there aren’t enough officers to police the hundreds arriving each day," Wong wrote. "So the Border Patrol has made deals with the devils. Mark Morgan, former commissioner of the US Custom and Border Protection agency, said US officers now coordinate with the cartels and coyotes on where and when drop-offs will happen. In the past, large groups of illegal immigrants would cross without notice, and it would take agents two days to process at the centers. Morgan told me they wanted to avoid scenes like the ones of children being dropped over walls in remote areas. It may be safer, but it also makes the cartel’s job easier, and more lucrative. The cartels have taken control of our border, and we’re negotiating with the hostage-takers."

What the left is saying.

  • The left says Biden's border policies are too much like Trump's, which is exactly the problem.
  • They are calling for more humane action and an overhaul.
  • Some say Biden needs an immigration reset and to start engaging Congress on reform.

Catherine Rampell criticized Biden for keeping some of Trump's worst policies in place.

"Republican politicians nationwide have already begun running against Biden’s alleged 'open borders' policies to bolster their campaigns and careers. It all raises a question: What, exactly, are these nativists unhappy with? In many respects, Biden is doing exactly what the Stephen Millers of the world want him to do — keeping Donald Trump’s worst border policies in place," she wrote. "One year into his presidency, Biden has made relatively little progress rebuilding the U.S. immigration system, particularly when one considers his soaring pro-immigrant campaign rhetoric. In fairness, Biden had his work cut out for him: Miller and other Trump officials effectively sabotaged the immigration system on their way out the door. They erected arbitrary new hurdles for immigrants, drove out qualified public servants and generally mismanaged government resources.

"When Miller et al. condemn Biden’s 'immigration record,' they zero in on his decisions at the Southern border. Which is, frankly, odd," she wrote. "You’d never know it from the right-wing hysteria about Biden’s supposedly 'open borders,' or Biden’s own campaign promise to 'end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies.' But Biden has continued Trump’s most restrictionist, inhumane and possibly illegal border policies. In some cases Biden has even expanded them."

Raul Reyes says Biden needs an immigration reset.

"In a statement to CNN, a White House spokesperson noted that, 'The president has made clear that restoring order, fairness, and humanity to our immigration system are priorities for this administration.' Really? Then the administration should drop the use of Title 42 along the border," Reyes said. "This is a Trump policy that was put in place on public health grounds, ostensibly to protect the U.S. from the spread of COVID-19. It allows the U.S. to turn back migrants at the southern border, preventing them from applying for asylum. But many experts say it does not protect public health, while immigration advocates rightly point out that it amounts to a violation of migrants’ legal right to apply for asylum.

"Ironically, the continued use of Title 42 is a gift to the anti-immigration crowd," he added. "Because the provision turns back migrants swiftly, they are free to turn around and try to cross the border again. This drives up the overall number of apprehensions. The use of Title 42 makes the number of illegal border crossings appear higher than they really are, which provides the GOP with confirmation of its talking point that the border is out of control. Consider that in Fiscal Year 2021, 27 percent of people apprehended by Border Patrol were apprehended more than one time."

In The Arizona Republic, Elvia Díaz said "hardly anyone is splashing the second part of the numbers equation."

"The same CBP data show that most people – 1.2 million of the 1.7 million 'encountered' at the border during 2021 – were quickly expelled, mostly under the Title 42 health provision that former President Trump invoked to avoid the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. That’s a terribly inconvenient truth that neither Republicans nor the Biden administration are publicizing. Republicans’ motives are easy to spot. They’re seizing on the “border invasion” to capitalize on voters’ anti-immigrant sentiment to win congressional and state seats during this year’s midterm elections.

"But what about Biden? On the one hand, Biden is trying to fool pro-immigrant activists with the illusion that he’s implementing humane immigration policies by rescinding a bunch of Trump’s executive orders like boosting refugee admissions, not enforcing the public charge rule that barred people from getting a visa or becoming a permanent resident if they were likely to receive public benefits, and protecting young immigrants known as 'Dreamers,'" she wrote. "On the other hand, Biden not only failed to pass the comprehensive immigration reform he promised for the millions already living illegally here but he keeps expelling most border crossers under Title 42."

My take.

The state of the immigration debate is a great reminder of how tough it is to be a "moderate" president on anything — but especially on an issue like immigration.

In one corner you have Republicans hammering Biden for the staggering number of border apprehensions, which is both reflective of migrants’ increased desire to get here and of the Title 42 policy, which leads to so many people re-attempting a border crossing after they have been expelled. 1.9 million arrests is a huge number, and for immigration restrictionists it is even more frightening when paired with images of makeshift migrant camps under the Del Rio International Bridge or single male adults being flown across the country after apprehension.

In the other corner, you have Biden's own immigration appointees resigning because his policies are so inhumane they can't stomach them. Or the six immigration officials who announced they were leaving but gave no reason why. And then, of course, you have immigration lawyers and activists lined up around the block ready to hammer Biden for not immediately ending Trump-era policies like "Remain in Mexico" (Of course, Biden tried, but a federal judge stopped him).

The difficult thing about fixing our immigration system is that because we obsess so much over what drives migrants to the border, we rarely ever address the simple problem of being able to handle them properly when they come. Nor do Vice President Kamala Harris's explorations of the "root causes" solve for the fact that we literally don't have the infrastructure to hold the migrants who are crossing the border right now, as I write this sentence. We know why the vast majority of migrants come: Economic opportunity or fear. They want jobs and money and stability or they are running, sometimes for their lives, from a home they could no longer stomach (or, oftentimes, both).

My long held position has been that the single most important thing for us to do is expand the number of immigration judges and our capacity to house and process migrants who show up here claiming asylum or crossing the border illegally. It’s critical that we have an organized and humane system that can care for the people crossing the border but also keep track of them.

Both sides are scared of this prospect, because the appointment of the judges could lead to more migrants getting legal admittance (which Republicans don't want) or more migrants being expelled swiftly (which Democrats don't want) based on what policies are in place and which judges are on the bench. But this is the reality of political life in America, and what we have now is clearly not working — how much longer will we keep trying the same failed policies before we realize the insanity of our actions?

Trump's major "success" in his supporters' eyes should be how he slowed the flow of legal immigration. He put up a paper wall, not a border wall, and if you're an immigration restrictionist that is a win (I'd personally like to see more legal immigration, not less, but that's a separate argument from what's happening on the border now). Still, it's important to remember that before the pandemic basically ground the world to a halt, Trump faced his own wave of migrants that overwhelmed border patrol agents and forced the administration to release thousands of undocumented migrants into the U.S., something he promised not to do. His plan to create disincentives for migrants with harsh rhetoric and a proposed wall didn't actually do that much to stop illegal immigration.

That's why a new approach is so desperately needed. Of course, it'd be nice if Congress did its job and actually engaged in immigration reform legislation, but it's hard to imagine anything breaking there. There is obviously plenty to criticize about the horrors of “Remain in Mexico” or the ineffectiveness of Title 42 at actually stopping Covid-19, but until we can simply process and actually account for the migrants coming across the border it doesn't matter what policies we have in place — they are destined to fail.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I take issue with the claim "why I believe the format of Tangle addresses many of these problems" regarding media bias, when Tangle plays into those biases by trying to define what is "left" and "right." Those terms are arbitrary and subjective to each individual and the topic at hand. Instead of acting like Tangle is the arbiter of what is "left" or "right," just cite the source and potentially their publication and let the readers decide for themselves. People and issues are more complex than squarely defining any position as part of a relative spectrum. The mainstream media currently uses its bias to pigeon hole people into various corners, and Tangle is no different when doing the same.

— Hamilton, Atlanta, Georgia

Tangle: I've addressed this in the past but it’s been coming up a lot in my inbox these days so I will address it again now: Yes, I actually (kind of) agree with you. The question of how to label arguments in Tangle is a huge source of debate for us. It is something I think about a lot. I do not think it is "arbitrary" at all — there are clear divides along the left-right, liberal-conservative, and Democrat-Republican axes in America today on big issues. But I do agree it is subjective and I do think it reinforces binaries that I'm often trying to break out of (especially given that I don't like it when anyone else tries to pigeon-hole me into a left-right spectrum).

To address this, I have proposed some potential solutions to readers. One is simply presenting two sides of arguments, like "On the one hand..." and "On the other hand..." instead of "What the left/right" are saying. But when I've polled readers about this potential change, they have rejected it. Many readers like knowing, broadly, what the positions of Republicans/Democrats or conservatives/liberals or the right/the left are, and so I haven't made the change. Instead, I've just tried not to commit to the binary for every issue, and have tried to call out when people are "crossing lines" or there are areas of agreement on the right and left.

When I started Tangle, I promised that readers would help shape the future of the newsletter. Initially, those sections used to be "What Democrats/Republicans are saying," which I ultimately changed to broader terms because so many people don't subscribe to those labels. Changing it again is a big enough move to make that I sincerely doubt I will commit to it unless a majority of Tangle readers want it to happen, which I haven't heard yet. But I will continue to poll folks in the future and, if the day comes when Tangle readers want to see the change, I will gladly make it.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

In January of 2021, just 2.8% of all car buyers paid above the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). In January of 2022, 82% of car buyers did. The soaring price of cars and consumers' willingness to keep buying is one of the major drivers of inflation, and is creating tension between automakers and the independent dealers who sell their cars. "Ford and General Motors recently upbraided dealers for ignoring the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, a practice that was practically unheard of a year ago and GM calls 'unethical.' They’ve threatened to withhold deliveries of their most popular offerings, including Ford’s buzz-generating F-150 Lightning pickup, and other forthcoming electric vehicle models," The Washington Post reports.


  • 46.2 million. The estimated number of legal and illegal immigrants in the United States in 2021.
  • 14.2%. The percentage of the U.S. population that was foreign born in November, the highest in 111 years.
  • 6,600. The estimated number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021.
  • 4,000. The estimated number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.
  • 240,000. The number of immigrants who became U.S. citizens in fiscal year 2021.
  • 178,840. The number of unauthorized migrants who were stopped at the southern border in December of 2021.

Have a nice day.

Welcome to one of the most unproductive work days in America. Super Bowl Monday is always one of the least productive days in the U.S., but this year's Super Bowl Monday is doubly unproductive thanks to Valentine's Day. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. estimates that the U.S. will lose $3.5 billion in productivity through people skipping work today and potentially $6.5 billion if you include the people who spend most of the day talking about the Super Bowl and their crush. For some reason this statistic brings me joy. So I'd like to wish a very, very happy Valentine's Day to my beautiful wife Phoebe and a shoutout to all you slackers today. The story.

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