Sep 20, 2021

The Haitian migrants on the border.

The Haitian migrants on the border.

It's a growing crisis.

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.” First time reading? Sign up here.

Today's read: 12 minutes.

We're covering the situation in Del Rio, Texas. Plus, a question about mask efficacy.

Haitian migrants are pictured on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico on September 19, 2021. (Photo by PAUL RATJE / AFP) (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)


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Quick hits.

  1. The Senate Parliamentarian said undocumented immigration cannot be solved for in Democrats' reconciliation bill, dealing a blow to a Democratic plan to create a pathway to citizenship for eight million immigrants. (The ruling)
  2. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), who lost a Senate race to Ted Cruz in 2018, is reportedly planning to run for Governor of Texas. (The plan)
  3. A rally in Washington D.C. to support the January 6 rioters produced more police than protesters and no violence. (The rally)
  4. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), who voted to impeach Donald Trump, announced his retirement on Thursday after a Trump-backed primary challenger emerged for the 2022 midterms. (The retirement)
  5. U.S. officials confirmed that a drone strike in Kabul last month had not, in fact, killed an ISIS-K threat, but instead killed as many as 10 civilians, including seven children. (The admission)
  6. BONUS: France recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after President Biden surprised France by signing a nuclear submarine deal with Australia. (The recall)

Today's topic.

Haitian migrants. More than 12,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, are currently congregated underneath and beside International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after they waded across the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the U.S. The town of Del Rio has a population of roughly 35,000 people, and the influx of migrants quickly exceeded the border patrol's capacity to process them. Del Rio's mayor estimated on Saturday that there were 14,534 immigrants at the camp under the bridge, and U.S. authorities said they have moved about 3,300 migrants to other locations for processing and possible removal since Friday. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it was closing the Del Rio port of entry in response to the situation at the bridge.

More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sunday after being placed on three separate flights and expelled from the U.S.

U.S. officials say another six flights are expected to leave Tuesday, and that they plan to expel many of the migrants camped out at the bridge, which connects Del Rio to Ciudad Acuña in Mexico. Haitians migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America is not a new phenomenon. Many left Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake to look for work in South America, and after jobs tied to the 2016 Olympics disappeared they began to leave Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and head north.

In the last several months, though, Haiti was hit by another devastating earthquake and its President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, which some Haitians interviewed by the Associated Press referenced as their reason for not wanting to return. Violent street gangs are also wreaking havoc in Haiti, with reports of kidnappings, killings, rapes, and torched homes that have caused thousands to flee, according to The Washington Post.

The situation in Del Rio comes at a time when illegal crossings along the U.S. southern border are at a decades-high level, despite the heat of the summer, with more than 208,000 migrants detained in August, according to data released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In July, 212,672 migrants were taken into custody, a 21-year high.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the right and left, then my take.

What the left is saying.

The left is criticizing Biden for his inhumane policies on the border.

In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch said the desperate rush to expel the Haitian migrants is "inhumane."

"To too many in the mainstream media, the images of hot, hungry and desperate Haitians were just the last crisis of President Joe Biden’s long, hot summer — nothing more, nothing less," Bunch wrote. "Indeed, the initial rush to blame our first-year 46th president for anything that goes awry on Planet Earth can be more than a tad silly, but now you can, and should, blame Biden for a rapid-fire response that aims to get these Haitians onto airplanes and out of Del Rio — and, more importantly, off your TV screen — to rush them back to the unsafety of the unstable, violence-wracked and earthquake-ravaged Caribbean island of their birth. Incredibly, Biden is following in the footsteps of America’s Ted Cruzes and Greg Abbotts in failing to see these 14,000 Haitian souls for the only thing that should really matter in this fraught moment. Their humanity.

"The race to airlift these mostly Haitian migrants back into harm’s way would look inhumane and un-American under any circumstance, but Biden’s actions seem especially bizarre in the present moment," he said. "The rapid deportation of the throng at Del Rio — using a dubious loophole to prevent them from applying for political asylum — would happen at the same time that U.S. authorities are rushing to vet tens of thousands of hastily airlifted Afghan refugees for a shot at the American Dream. In our land of illogic, perhaps some of the same planes that helped folks crammed onto a Kabul tarmac escape the Taliban will now ferry the people crammed under that Texas bridge back to the bullet-ridden streets of Port-au-Prince."

In Vox, Nicole Narea said the Texas GOP sees this as a political opportunity, but it's actually a humanitarian disaster exacerbated by Biden.

"The situation in Del Rio — where more than 12,000 migrants are camping in increasingly squalid conditions without adequate access to water, food, and sanitation — is growing dire from a humanitarian perspective. Most of these migrants are from Haiti and plan to seek asylum in the US, as is their right under federal and international law," Narea wrote. "But [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott has sought to twist that humanitarian crisis into a security crisis designed to appeal to Republican voters in his state, who have long identified immigration and border security as top priorities in public opinion polling. He told the Texas Tribune that he was trying to 'stop these [migrant] caravans from overrunning our state' and described US Customs and Border Protection agents as 'overwhelmed by the chaos.' That’s in line with his recent rhetoric trying to demonize migrants arriving on the southern border as lawbreakers and carriers of disease.

"Despite promises to institute a more humane immigration policy, the Biden administration has clung to pandemic-related border restrictions, known as the Title 42 policy, implemented by the Trump administration last year," Narea said. "Since March 2020,that policy has been used to rapidly expel more than a million migrants, without hearings before an immigration judge... Biden is also restarting Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, under which tens of thousands of migrants were forced to wait in Mexico for their court hearings in the US, and he has resumed rapidly deporting families at the US-Mexico border. All the while, his message to migrants has been 'don’t come,' even though many of them are fleeing unlivable conditions, not unlike those Afghan refugees are running from — problems ranging from gang violence to climate-related devastation."

In The Arizona Republic, Elvia Díaz said the crisis is once again proof we can't turn a blind eye to disasters in other countries.

"Make no mistake," Díaz said. "When people are hungry, homeless, are tortured by gangsters, raped – seeing their family members killed – they’ll come, whether we want [them] to or not... What needs to happen now is for authorities, churches, nonprofits and ordinary folks to extend a hand to those poor souls camping under the Del Rio bridge. They aren’t necessarily trying to cross illegally. They’re crying for help... These poor souls aren’t going back to Haiti or wherever they came from. Either we help them in an orderly way – feeding, vetting and vaccinating them against COVID-19 – or they’ll try to get to American soil, no matter what."

What the right is saying.

The right says Biden’s border policies and rhetoric are causing the crisis.

In The National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty called it "Biden's growing border catastrophe."

"The scene is so embarrassing and distressing that the FAA has restricted the flights of drone cameras to prevent Fox News from showing the pictures of what the developing migrant encampment looks like," Dougherty said. "These Haitian migrants are part of a larger movement of tens of thousands of Haitians who are trying to migrate to the United States from a number of South American countries, where they fled after the 2010 earthquake. They’ve apparently received the message loud and clear that if you present yourself at the border, or get caught, you might be distributed to the interior of the United States and won’t even have a court date... This has been compounded by the Biden administration’s response to the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, which includes extending temporary protected status to Haitians, allowing them to live in the United States without legal status.

"Legal gray zones and/or looking the other way end in disorder and even needless death. This form of invited but unofficial immigration expands the opportunity for human smugglers to prey on the desperation of the poor, exploiting them for extortionate fees, for sex, or to help them smuggle drugs," Dougherty said. "There is a real humanitarian impulse that informs progressives in their desire to just let migrants in, and to allow them to make their own way. But in the real world, American citizenship is a repository of promises, rights, and duties that makes living in America not just possible but safer and tolerable. Progressives who ignore this fact in the hope that it would relieve them from the moral burden of enforcing the law at our borders are exposing thousands of people to danger, exploitation, and squalor. It’s not benign neglect, just neglect."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said if Biden wanted to undermine his chances for immigration reform, he "couldn't do a better job than his first eight months in office."

"The scenes from the area couldn’t have been scripted better by immigration restrictionists: Thousands of migrants crossing the Rio Grande en masse in the expectation that they’ll be able to claim asylum in the U.S," the board said. "The thousands of Haitians fleeing desperate poverty somehow made it to Mexico, then traveled to the border, probably with the help of the cartels that control the human traffic. U.S. border agents have closed the legal Del Rio Port of Entry, so normal cross-border traffic essential for commerce is shut down. Some 15,000 Haitians and others are trapped in awful conditions around the Del Rio International Bridge, without basic necessities. The migrants may be carrying Covid-19, and border agents are overwhelmed.

"The problem is the incentives of American policy," the board wrote. "U.S. law, at least as interpreted by the courts, allows migrants to claim asylum even if they are coming solely for economic reasons. They can then be released into the U.S. to work until their asylum claims are heard by overwhelmed immigration judges... This is politically unsustainable, as it creates hardship for migrants and border communities. It will also make the public less likely to trust politicians on sensible immigration reform that would allow more legal migration in exchange for tighter border security."

In The Washington Examiner, Conn Carroll said the Haitian migrants don't qualify for asylum, but Biden is letting them in anyway.

"It is very brave of these migrants to walk thousands of miles north for a better life," Carroll said. "But if you live safely in a country where you have a job, can provide for your family, and save money, then you have no grounds for asylum in the United States. Our country has laws that identify specific grounds for asylum. They require migrants to face deportation or persecution in a home country based on one of five specific criteria: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If these migrants have been safely living and working in South American countries for a decade, none of them will meet this standard."

My take.

First, it should just be said that this is a tragedy. The images on the border are heartbreaking, and there's no doubt they are images of desperation.

There's an odd thing you might notice here: the left says Biden's policies are becoming an extension of Trump's: cruel, inhumane, deportation-heavy and ignorant of international law that allows asylum opportunities on our borders. Meanwhile, the right is claiming Biden's policies (and rhetoric) are far too inviting to migrants, thus the surge we're seeing on the border and the overwhelmed U.S. officials.

It's not that these two things can't co-exist: Biden could be projecting a more humane policy to appease progressives while actually executing a similar immigration policy to Trump’s, which is a political lose-lose (as we saw above, you end up getting hammered from both sides).

But I think the reality is actually quite different. To me, this just proves that whether you're building walls, using public health policy to expel migrants en masse, setting welcoming or divisive tones, it doesn't really matter. There will always be waves of migrants at the border. Certainly, what Biden is facing now is worse than anything Trump faced, and I don't doubt his more immigrant-friendly rhetoric is part of it. But the policies, so far, really aren't all that different. What has changed is the circumstances elsewhere after a devastating pandemic that destroyed even the strongest economies and wreaked havoc in many of the countries where these migrants are coming from.

The stories from Haitians on the border vary widely, but many fit a similar theme: fleeing danger, seeking economic opportunity or both. Some tell reporters they spent years picking through trash in Chile to feed their families. Others say they had $15,000 saved up — more than many Americans — and instead of using that money to try to build a business in a dangerous, unstable country, they used it to get to the land of opportunity.

I've done a lot of reporting from the border and on immigration more broadly, and my view has been pretty consistent since before the Trump administration: Instead of more border patrol, encampments, drones, and stricter policies or whatever else, what we really need is more immigration judges. We need a system capable of processing and handling the migrants who are coming here — either by granting them asylum under the law, a separate temporary immigration status, or deporting them if they don't have a legitimate claim. In short: We need to expand legal immigration and build a more robust infrastructure for processing migrants who cross the border illegally.

That this reality has not yet dawned on Congress — or at least has not sunk in to the point of producing legislation — is baffling. If we can't process tens of thousands of asylum seekers, we are left with only two choices, each of which is inhumane and illegal in its own right: refuse and deport them, or release them into the U.S. with a far-off court date and little recourse to track them down if they don't show up for it (which used to be rare, but is happening more frequently these days).

However you want to cut it, Biden's policies are clearly failing. But it's not as if his predecessors did any better. Trump, too, saw border apprehensions hit a 12-year-high under his watch, and that was with notoriously draconian measures in place to try to dissuade migrants from coming. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then maybe we should consider some ideas other than the ones that have repeatedly failed to solve our immigration woes.

Your questions, answered.  

Q: I would love to see a definitive answer to the efficacy of mask-wearing. I cannot understand how a paper mask with holes the size of the Grand Canyon can stop a sub-microscopic virus from being expelled through the mask and out into the world, such as it may be. Can anyone definitively show the value of masks?

— Terry, Palmdale, California

Tangle: I think this topic has been sufficiently covered in Tangle, but I'll just throw this out there as my general take: Masks work when they're the right kind of mask, worn properly. There is no doubt in my mind that most face coverings reduce some viral transmission, but it's also clear that in a room full of people wearing N95 masks, for instance, Covid-19 will be far less transmissible than it is in a room full of people not wearing masks. Many of the popular and common cloth masks are less effective than N95, and the surgical masks worn by doctors and nurses seem to fall somewhere in between.

One of the challenges of studying masks and Covid-19 is that there are very few real-world ways to track the impacts of masking without some serious ethical issues. But the study that has probably made the most waves was released two weeks ago, and involved tracking 340,000 adults across 600 villages in rural Bangladesh, by far the largest randomized study on masking and Covid-19 transmission to date. Via Washington Post: In one group where adults were encouraged to wear masks, mask-wearing increased by 28.8 percent. That same group saw a 9.3 percent reduction in symptomatic Covid-19 seroprevalence, meaning presence of the virus confirmed by bloodwork, as well as an 11.9 percent reduction in Covid-19 symptoms.

These people were mostly wearing surgical masks, and it's important to note this doesn't mean masks are "9 percent effective." If masking were more prevalent or universal, it’s reasonable to infer the amount of Covid-19 would have been even more significantly reduced.There have been lots of studies and anecdotal evidence on this but that one is probably the best we have now. You can read about it here.

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A story that matters.

With Democrats attempting to pass historic levels of spending in Congress, Republicans are trying to rekindle the Tea Party's anti-spending energy. But they're finding it's an increasingly tough sell. A new report from The Wall Street Journal details how conservative politicians are struggling to rally voters with an anti-spending message, and are instead finding that school board meetings, state coronavirus rules and mask mandates are dominating these conversations. Part of the issue is that 70 percent of Americans — including 4 in 10 Republicans — supported President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, even after the two popular pandemic-focused spending plans passed under Trump. Julie Bykowicz has the story (Wall Street Journal).


  • 396,579. The number of apprehensions on the Southern border in 2018.
  • 851,508. The number of apprehensions on the Southern border in 2019.
  • 132,856. The number of migrant encounters at the southwestern border in May of 2019, the highest at any point under the Trump administration.
  • 199,777. The number of migrant encounters at the southwestern border in July of 2021.
  • 220,063. The number of migrant encounters at the southwestern border in March of 2000, the highest prior to this year.
  • 150,000. The estimated number of Haitians living in the United States who were given temporary protected status in May.

Have a nice day.

Some researchers believe there is a simple and unique solution to reducing some of our energy consumption: white paint. Yes, you read that right. Purdue University researchers say they have developed the whitest paint on earth, one so white it literally reflects sunlight. The paint reflects 98.1 percent of solar radiation while also emitting infrared heat, and it’s so effective it could reduce the need for and use of air conditioning. "Because the paint absorbs less heat from the sun than it emits, a surface coated with this paint is cooled below the surrounding temperature without consuming power," the university said, adding that typical commercial white paint gets warmer, not cooler. You can get the fascinating details from USA Today.

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