AUTHOR'S NOTE: The immigration impasse is America's great paradox. This is the land of immigrants, and yet Americans have never liked immigrants. Today, we don't just have a broken border and a broken system. We also have a broken discourse. It's no wonder we can't solve our immigration problem. We don't even know how to talk about it. When Americans look at the U.S.-Mexico border, or peek into the kitchens of their favorite restaurant, or come clean about who is doing the chores in their own homes, they see different realities. This series — written by the grandson of a Mexican immigrant who has covered the issue for 30 years — takes a clear, honest and unflinching look at why America's grand promise to take in the "huddled masses" and "wretched refuse" has been so difficult to keep.

SAN DIEGO — After some initial stumbles, the Biden administration may be finding its sweet spot on immigration.

To get there, President Joe Biden must do the following things:

  • Undo the harm done by former president Donald Trump who thought America should have the same restrictive admittance protocol as his country clubs
  • Tell the truth about what can be done and what can't
  • Stop oversimplifying an issue that is as complicated as they come
  • Resist talking out of both sides of his mouth

With immigration, the president is an expert at double-talk.

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At a rally in Georgia in April, Biden was interrupted by protestors demanding that he "abolish ICE." Immigration and Customs Enforcement is tasked with arresting and deporting illegal immigrants.

"I agree with you," Biden told the activists. "I'm working on it, man."

Biden sure didn't overexert himself. The administration's first proposed budget includes nearly $8 billion in funding for ICE during the coming fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. That's more than Congress authorized for the current fiscal year.

"President Biden's proposed DHS budget … fails to make a sharp enough break from the Trump administration's wasteful and harmful spending on the detention and deportation machine," Naureen Shah, lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post.

No surprise. Biden and members of his administration often tap into their inner Trump. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has pledged to finish building what Trump pitched as a "big beautiful wall" on the U.S.-Mexico border by patching some of the gaps left behind by the last administration. Biden himself declared the Trump administration's annual cap of 15,000 refugees just dandy and worth keeping before promising to boost it to 62,500 under pressure from progressives. And the administration housed refugee kids from Central America locked up in cages and glass holding pens before transferring custody of them from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Health and Human Services.

All those things probably went over well with the white working-class voters in the Rust Belt states who backed Trump in 2016 but supported Biden in 2020 because they got tired of a freak show presidency. These voters likely feel as if they have enough competition for jobs from fellow Americans. The last thing they want are foreign workers added to the mix.

It's convenient for the liberal media to blame Republicans for Congress' unwillingness to tackle the immigration issue. The truth is, Democrats deserve more than 50% of the blame for why lawmakers can't seem to solve the immigration impasse.

Over the last 30 years, I've seen immigration reform efforts in Congress get torpedoed -- albeit often quietly, discreetly and secretly -- by Democrats who fall into three camps:

  • Those in competitive districts who are scared to lose their seats due to the perception that they're soft on immigration
  • Those beholden to organized labor, whose rank and file often tend to prefer border walls and the mass deportations of anyone who gets past them
  • And those who represent overwhelmingly white states (North Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming) where people have never seen first-hand how immigrants benefit the social and economic fabric of a state

It's not hard to find states that have flourished thanks to immigration. Texas and Arizona are booming because of Mexican immigrants. California is home to more immigrants than any other state, and — if it were a country — its economy would be the fifth largest in the world.

Yet here's a twist. Even as Biden is holding the line against illegal immigration, the administration also seems to be taking steps to make it easier, cheaper and quicker for people to come here legally. The plan is to rebuild the legal immigration system to get more people in through the front door. Reforms would include increasing the number of visas for highly skilled workers, cutting or waiving application fees, simplifying forms so they can be completed online, slashing red tape and making it easier for people to obtain work visas or reunite with family members in the United States.

All good things. Legal immigration keeps America young, vibrant, optimistic and competitive. It's not the problem. It's part of the solution.

Still, there is only so much money to go around. Get ready for a tug-of-war over budget priorities. Visa dollars vs. enforcement dollars.

The outcome will tell us everything we need to know about what the Biden administration really cares about, what it stands for and whether it understands the true value of immigration.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.

© 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group