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Martin Schram, a columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.
Ever true to its traditions, Official Washington has celebrated its holidays by toasting its successes, and then cruising comfortably into yet another new year.
So this is the right time to remind our capital’s cognoscenti that some areas of Washington governance can and must do better in 2023. We can think of three: executive, legislative and judicial.
Each of the three official branches of government has always provided us with insider wisdom on just what is wrong with the other two. And in the last week of 2022, we received genuinely helpful wisdom from the highest perch of the most judiciously restrained of government’s three branches — the Supreme Court. It came in a dissenting opinion to the court’s conservative majority ruling on a case about America’s growing crisis at the southern border. And it has provided us with a classic year-end insight into just how failures within the executive and legislative branches damaged our government — yet could have been averted through cooperative, humane initiatives.
Recently, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s plan to end the Trump administration’s so-called Title 42 rule that has been permitting the rapid expulsion of migrants without allowing their asylum requests to be processed. Trump’s Title 42 was controversial because it used concerns about spreading COVID-19 as the basis for immediately expelling the migrants. The court’s conservative majority agreed with Republican officials in 19 states who argued President Joe Biden’s ending of Title 42 would trigger a massive surge of migrants that would overrun U.S. capabilities at the southern border.
But that court ruling was pointedly challenged by a most unlikely source — Justice Neil Gorsuch, a staunch conservative appointed by President Donald Trump. Gorsuch joined the court’s three liberal jurists in dissenting. And his opinion spoke blunt truth to power, criticizing failings within all three branches of government.
“The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” Gorsuch wrote. “And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”
Indeed, Gorsuch’s conservative colleagues have too often functioned as de facto policymakers, making liberal use of their conservative activism (as in their ruling on abortion). But Gorsuch’s point here was that the executive and legislative branches had failed to find workable fixes for the growing immigration crisis. There is no dispute about the key facts. Hundreds of thousands have been fleeing problems stemming from failing economies, criminal gang violence and corrupt police and governments. But we have seen no solutions.
Go to the website of the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with securing our borders. Sadly, you will see no signs of creative crisis-fixing leadership from Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. (And you never saw any from his Trump-era predecessors.) You have seen no evidence of problem-solving leadership from the United Nations or the nonfunctional Organization of American States. (Is anything more woeful than an AWOL OAS?)
When Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with leading efforts to solve the migrant crisis, I had hoped this would become her signature achievement. But we’ve seen no evidence of significant accomplishment.
Sadly, what we have seen is evidence of several Republicans playing politics with the lives of desperate migrants. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis loaded up buses and planes with migrants, shipped them north with no preparation and dumped them — just to get attention. In December’s icy arctic winter, they just dumped migrants — some with no warm clothes — outside the vice president’s residence. Why? Just to dramatize the fact that border states have been disproportionately shouldering the burden of this crisis.
Abbott and DeSantis have no shame. But we must now talk truth to our bathroom mirrors: Abbott and DeSantis did have a legitimate point that they wanted to make in the worst way. And they damn well did. Biden administration officials should have made sure this burden was being shared among all states.
So let’s solve the problem now: Let Biden start 2023 by convening a televised White House summit of Central American officials and congressional leaders of both parties. There, Biden will announce that from now on, the No. 1 way migrants will be granted U.S. asylum — and work permits — will be in highly visible lines at each U.S. embassy or at special ad hoc U.S. consulates in every Latin American nation. Migrants who are terrified by gang violence and fleeing in fear will be processed at a new asylum center to be established in Mexico, perhaps at its southern border with Guatemala.
Let the Biden White House make solving this solvable border crisis its most prominent New Year’s resolution.