Biden has a border problem

Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, who in 2020 flipped the seat formerly held by Martha McSally, a Republican, will face voters again in 2022. Immigration could become a powerful wedge issue against him, threatening Democratic control of the Senate. In Texas, which elects a governor in 2022, Latino voters are edging out of the Democratic Party and toward the Republicans. Residents of border areas most directly experience the disruptions of unauthorized immigration. And many Texas Latinos embrace enforcement-minded views on immigration, even if they also empathize with the reasons migrants leave home.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the overwhelmingly Latino Rio Grande Valley by massive margins. In 2020, Trump cut that Democratic margin dramatically, and won Zapata County, on the border, south of Nuevo Laredo, outright. The Border Patrol is a major employer in the area; Latinos make up about half of its agents nationally, and even more in the Rio Grande Valley. On every other issue, Biden has understood that Twitter is a deceptive indicator of public opinion. On immigration alone, he is letting activists push him into unelectability.

The Biden administration has not abandoned enforcement altogether. It removed almost 1,000 Haitian nationals in February. But on a question such as immigration, where many of the most relevant constituencies do not speak English and may lack reliable access to quality information, it is particularly urgent that the administration speak clearly and unambiguously. One study found that one-fourth of the people who reached the southern border from 2009 to 2015 suffered physical violence along the way. Inducing more people to try their luck against these odds is inhumane, yet that is the outcome toward which Biden is drifting.