A bipartisan bill for border reform is due to be revealed in the U.S. Senate this weekend. The only problem is that House Republicans are balking at actually securing the border if it helps President Joe Biden’s approval ratings.
“Why would I help Joe Biden improve his dismal 33 percent, when he can fix the border and secure it on his own? He can secure it on his own through executive order,” said Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Richmond) on Wednesday, smoking a cigar on the Capitol steps. “Donald Trump, the greatest president of my lifetime, he did it. We had Paul Ryan, he was the speaker. What did he do? Very little. We had both chambers, did very, very little. Donald Trump did it all on his own.”
Point of fact, former president Trump did not secure the border. Border apprehensions doubled during Trump’s term in 2019, driven largely by humanitarian crises in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Combined with Trump cratering the legal immigration process, more and more people sought illegal entry. Numbers decreased as the COVID pandemic ramped up, and then returned to high levels as the health crisis abated. In the meantime, very little has been done to fix the broken immigration system.
It’s clear that Trump himself does not want a border bill to pass. He has hung much of his 2024 campaign on painting border crossers as an invasion of millions of people. On Truth Social, he said that a bad border deal is far worse than no border deal. Many Republicans, like Nehls, seem willing to ignore the Senate bill if it will help Trump reclaim the White House.
Though, not every Republican feels the same. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston) spoke out against his colleagues. For one, Crenshaw assured the press that no one in the House had actually seen the bill that was being worked on in the Senate, though some details are known.
“The height of stupidity is having a strong opinion on something you know nothing about,” Crenshaw said on Thursday. “So, I don’t have a strong opinion on the bill because I haven’t seen it. Nobody has. “I’m extremely disappointed in the very strange maneuvering by many on the right to torpedo a potential border reform bill. That’s what we all ran on doing,” Crenshaw continued. “If we have a bill that, on net, significantly decreases illegal immigration, and we sabotage that, that is inconsistent with what we told our voters we would do.”
Crenshaw’s words are a shot across the bow at a long-running problem with conservative border politics. One, draconian efforts do not work. Governor Greg Abbott (who recently campaigned with Trump at the border) has spent $11 billion on Operation Lone Star, a Texas National Guard initiative that actually increased border crossings where it was most active and which has been repeatedly rebuked by the judiciary for being unconstitutional. Trump, Abbott, and other Republicans reap political support for sounding “tough,” but it does not translate into less illegal immigration.
Which leads to two: fixing the border is less useful than having it broken. Much of the American economy runs on the back of migrants who work for less than minimum wage. In places where mass deportations have taken place, the economy suffers.
Continuously (and incorrectly) painting Democrats as leaving the border unsecured is a good way to win elections. Abbott himself was struggling in the 2022 governor race until he pivoted from the failure of the electrical grid and the Robb Elementary Massacre to border politics.
As Crenshaw says, House Republicans are having to choose between what they say their ideals are and nurturing migrant-based grievances to return Trump to power. They cannot have both, not with a bipartisan legislation almost certain to pass in the Senate.