Mainstream media are trying to make President Joe Biden look good, according to conservative critics who want to make him look bad. Nothing new about that in our polarized times in which it is easier to find news that agrees with your views than to challenge them.
But as a longtime critic of former President Donald Trump’s “kids in cages,” I’m disappointed, to say the least, that Team Biden turned so quickly, boldly and audaciously to playing the autocrat’s card of denying media access to the bad news building on the border.
Sure, the administration did let a pool reporter and camera into a neat and orderly facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, a day before Biden held his first formal solo news conference. Unlike way-overcrowded facilities elsewhere along the border, this one housed 766 boys aged 13 to 17 years old and, according to news reports, had never reached its capacity of 952.
But, citing concerns over privacy and the pandemic, the administration continued to block access to the larger horror show along the border, facilities that unlike the one in Carrizo have surpassed their capacities.
That blackout of media coverage opened up an opportunity to Texas’ two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to put on their reporters’ hats and lead a delegation to a holding facility in Donna, Texas, where migrants were packed over capacity in a way that visually makes a can of sardines look spacious.
Appearing recently on — where else? — conservative Fox News, conservative Cruz showed video of a woman he identified as a Biden administration staffer as she tried to block him from recording conditions he labeled a border crisis of Biden’s own creation.
Yes, that’s an unfair, blatantly partisan position. But Biden’s been in politics long enough to know that his team’s media restrictions have given the Republicans an opportunity to shape the message conveyed by the video, and Cruz took it.
In his news conference, Biden made it quite clear that, while he cares about the border, he also has bigger fish to fry, such as the pandemic and the economy.
“And the other problems we’re talking about, from immigration to guns and the other things you mentioned are long-term problems,” he said to the reporter who asked about his political challenges. “They’ve been around a long time. And what we’re going to be able to do, God willing, is now begin, one at a time, to focus on those as well, and — whether it’s immigration or guns or a number of other problems that face the country.”
In short, let’s take on one crisis at a time. “Nothing has changed,” Biden said, noting that this “happens every single, solitary year” and playing down the current surge as no more daunting than those that occurred in 2014 under Barack Obama or 2019 under Donald Trump.
But unlike immigration from Mexico that happens “every single, solitary year,” the current surge is driven largely by violence, instability and corruption in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador at rates that exceed the administration’s ability to house them. Even Biden’s Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said recently that we need to brace ourselves for more arrivals at the border “than we have in the last 20 years.”
Yet, as much as it excites some voters more than others, very little progress has been made in resolving differences between the two parties on immigration since the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986.
That act granted amnesty to most undocumented immigrants who arrived here prior to 1982. But many more have arrived since then, and the politics around immigration have turned it into a third-rail issue (“touch it and you die”) for politicians in both parties, which opened fertile ground for Trump to make it his signature issue in 2016.
So, after signing his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, Biden might find consensus on, say, infrastructure repair or voting rights to be more appealing than immigration reform.
But the immigration issue isn’t going away. Biden avoids the word “crisis,” but he should remember an old saying inaccurately attributed to the Chinese alphabet: “Crisis” contains both “danger” and “opportunity.” Immigration poses political dangers but also opportunities to be more transparent, restore public trust and ultimately build national unity.