DHS chief to foreigners: We're not telling you not to come to the border, we're just asking you to wait for now

Not an auspicious sign at the start of a new “soft borders” Democratic administration for the head of homeland security to be telling border-crossers publicly, “Come on in.”

Even if it’s caveated with “Just not yet.”

It should be noted that he’s addressing this to — I think — asylum-seekers specifically, not to illegal immigrants. Foreigners seeking asylum have a right under federal law to apply for lawful entry into the U.S. due to a reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries. Lacking that humanitarian consideration, a foreigner has no such right and can only gain entry the old-fashioned way, by sneaking across illegally. Although, needless to say, whether asylum laws are interpreted liberally or narrowly depends in part on the nature of the current administration, and Biden’s amnesty-friendly team is apt to interpret them more liberally to encourage asylum-seeking.

Also needless to say, the fact that the head of DHS is now on camera encouraging foreigners to come (eventually) might plausibly be interpreted by would-be illegals, not just asylum applicants, as an invitation to make a run for the border. Watch Alejandro Mayorkas’s two comments at this afternoon’s press briefing, in which he emphasizes that he’s willing to process all of the asylum-seekers currently waiting in Mexico. He simply lacks the capacity at the moment, as Team Trump largely dismantled the bureaucracy for admitting people in an orderly way.

This sort of immigration-friendly signaling, capped by the aggressive mass amnesty proposed by Biden in his first weeks in office, has already had the predictable effect at the border. As of yesterday, more than 700 unaccompanied minors were in Border Patrol custody, part of an ongoing rush by migrant kids to cross into the U.S. A few days before that, 1,200 were in custody. On the one hand, that isn’t a lot compared to the crisis numbers that the U.S. saw in 2019, when at one point 8,700 kids were being housed in HHS facilities. On the other hand, hoo boy:

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous “kids-in-cages” disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration…

HHS, which oversees the child shelter network, is talking with the Pentagon about finding additional overflow sites, which often resemble big tents. Military bases were used during the 2014 and 2019 crises as additional temporary facilities.

Right now most adult asylum-seekers are being turned away and sent back into Mexico in as little as two hours, thanks to pandemic health regulations. (Some 300 per day are being admitted, with a backlog of 25,000.) That’s what Mayorkas means when he asks people to wait, as there’s simply not enough bureaucracy to process more. But they’re working on rebuilding that, and of course, pandemic restrictions should ease over the next few months as vaccinations increase and cases fall. What will U.S. immigration policy look like this summer? And what’s that going to do to Biden’s political support?

Take two minutes to scan this graph of public approval of various Biden policies published last month. Most of his proposals are strongly or solidly popular. But get down towards the bottom, where the public is more evenly divided, and you find immigration overrepresented:

The *only* policy out of 28 listed in which Team Joe polled negatively was making it easier for foreigners to enter the U.S. for humanitarian reasons, the very policy Mayorkas was talking up at today’s briefing. Maybe public opposition will soften a bit as COVID recedes, since some of the anxiety about foreigners entering doubtless has to do with them bringing disease in with them, but a huge crush of unaccompanied kids this spring as foreseen by CBP could send opinion in the opposite direction. And immigration is an issue which the GOP is quite comfortable attacking on, especially in the age of Trump. Sleepy Joe had better be careful.