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Unwinnable Issues, Part I: Immigration

Harry S. Truman probably didn't coin the observation that if you can't stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen, but he certainly did popularize it. He knew that being president is not only a thankless job, but one where there's always angles of attack for your enemies, no matter how good a job you're doing. As an adjunct to the previous item, we thought we'd talk about some major public-policy issues where the people in office simply cannot win, no matter what they do.

Today, we take a look at the southern border. There are two immutable facts there, as things currently stand. First, there are going to be more people crossing the border than the U.S. government is able to handle. Second, there will be some unpleasantness, and usually a lot of unpleasantness, when it comes to enforcement. With these caveats, the Biden administration has managed to get illegal border crossings down to their lowest level in 2 years, while handling things in a considerably more humane fashion than the Trump administration did. Keep in mind that that is a low bar, and note that the Biden policy is still objectionable in many ways, not the least of which is making it very hard to request asylum. Still, things are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately for the White House, its current approach just got smacked down by Judge Jon Tigar. Tigar's injunction is temporary, for now, but is likely to become permanent once the Judge hears the case. He struck down Trump's asylum policy, and has already said he sees little daylight between the Trump policy and the Biden policy.

Beyond that, the number of undocumented immigrants could be slowed by 90%, and still ambitious political opponents would use the issue to do some grandstanding. The particular case study for this week involves Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), whose willingness to be cruel and to take the law into his own hands has no limits when it comes to scoring some political points. He ordered a bunch of barbed wire put up along the banks of the Rio Grande, while also instigating the construction of a chain of large buoys in the middle of the river that create a version of a fence. You can see a picture here, if you wish.

There are a few... issues with Abbott's approach. First, he doesn't have the authority to put up those sorts of barriers. Second, the barbed wire and the buoys aren't actually stopping anyone, but the former has scratched up a number of women and children, while the latter has nearly caused a handful of people to drown. Also, because of the unapproved obstacles, the U.S. Border Patrol is having trouble patrolling the river with their boats. The federal government told Abbott to take the stuff down, and he refused, with the result that the Governor and the DoJ will now fight it out in court.

What it boils down to is that "undocumented immigration" is a nebulous idea, and one where a huge number of Americans are: (1) convinced the problem is out of control, and (2) convinced that they, their families, their livelihoods, etc. are being done irreparable harm. That the idea (egged on by mostly right-wing politicians) is far more significant than reality is indicated by the fact that anti-immigrant sentiment tends to be most profound in states that have relatively few immigrants. No matter how well Biden (or any Democrat) does on this issue, it's very hard to kill an idea. And so, there's no way to take that cudgel away from Abbott, Ron DeSantis, and other opponents of the administration.

We have a few other areas to cover on future days. For now, however, if you have thoughts as to other issues/problems where Democrats just can't win, we'd like to hear them. Similarly, if you have thoughts as to issues/problems where Republicans just can't win, we'd like to hear those, too. (Z)

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