Mayorkas Runs U.S. Foreign Policy in the Western Hemisphere
The ‘Mayorkas Doctrine’ has completely remade migration patterns in the Americas and changed the internal politics of migrants’ countries of origin—and not for the better.
(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. career diplomats insisted on criticizing the Trump administration for “instrumentalizing” immigration and visa policy, whether in negotiations with Mexico or in the famous executive orders that implemented “travel bans.” The diplomats not only disapproved of the former president’s border-security strategy, but they also charged Trump with inappropriately interjecting immigration matters into U.S. foreign affairs. Today, these same critics should be flabbergasted by what the Biden administration is doing.
Biden’s patchwork of policies and executive orders has enabled the entry of about five million unlawful migrants in less than two years, and millions more economic migrants are on the move or packing, anticipating that the White House will also let them cross the border or enter through one of the administration’s special new emergency immigration programs. Biden’s diaspora is jolting U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, where countries like Mexico and smaller ones in Central America and the Caribbean must endure the related security, community, and economic dislocations that come with the clandestine movement of millions.
The White House has implemented policies that make a mockery of any fair reading of U.S. asylum law. The administration’s policy is governed by a fundamental vision that our country has a de facto obligation to accept all willing economic migrants, regardless if they have a legal option to immigrate under existing U.S. visa law, and regardless of where they are from, although a geographic preference will be given to those located in the Western Hemisphere.
Without fully comprehending the terrific forces it is unleashing, the Biden administration has set in motion the scramble of literally millions of economic migrants around the planet: first, by refusing to keep in place President Trump’s measures that effectively blocked unlawful entry at U.S. borders (particularly at the Mexican frontier); and second, by loudly proclaiming the need to offer all migrants “safe, orderly, and humane pathways” to enter the United States. In their ideological fever to accommodate the millions who yearn to live in the U.S. if given the chance, Biden officials simply ignored the fact that our country already has a generous and functioning lawful immigration system in place. The system is not “broken”; it is simply not enforced and does not give Biden the flexibility to admit the millions he wants to accommodate.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has pivoted from claiming the border is secure to asserting that the administration was desperately confronted by an unprecedented “migration crisis” across the Western Hemisphere. Events have finally forced him to concede that migration chaos reigns, but Mayorkas continues to fundamentally obfuscate any honest analysis of push-and-pull or cause-and-effect, refusing to acknowledge that the administration’s policies of trying to accommodate millions of economic migrants spawned the creation of millions more.
When given multiple opportunities to explain his case to the American people in recent Congressional testimony, Mayorkas has proved remarkably inarticulate in justifying any of the administration’s open-border decisions. He appears not only unwilling to honestly explain his strategy, but pathetically unconcerned and uninformed about his basic portfolio. Confrontations in Congressional hearings are raucous, to be sure, but certainly policies of such global import should be worthy of vigorous open debate with skeptical and even hostile lawmakers.
Another unintended consequence of Biden’s immigration policies has been to make the Department of Homeland Security, nominally tasked with U.S. border and internal security, into Washington’s leading foreign affairs agency, at least in the Western Hemisphere. Nothing offered by State Department diplomacy, USAID foreign assistance, or U.S. Southern Command military cooperation can come close to matching DHS open-border policies in having the influence on millions of people across the Americas. Other U.S. foreign policy objectives in this region—e.g., support for democratic reform—simply cannot keep up with what DHS is offering.
President Biden, who has little interest in or knowledge of the region, is content to have no policy for it beyond appointing former Senator Chris Dodd as “Special Presidential Advisor for the Americas.” Once a young passionate advocate of President Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” the elderly Dodd today offers no significant hemispheric engagement beyond the Mayorkas Doctrine of “safe, lawful and humane pathways” and the resulting extraction migration that is remaking the region.
The crowning achievement, at least so far, is Mayorkas’s decision to wave his magic immigration wand and offer 30,000 monthly admissions into the United States for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. Open-border advocates say little about how this exodus indirectly props up hostile and despotic governments. Few young and ambitious people remain to sacrifice themselves in building these countries when the gringos are offering jobs and financial subsidies with practically no cultural or linguistic assimilation required.
Three of these countries—Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela—are run by broken-down Marxist tyrants who constantly seek to drive away their political opponents and no doubt see the Mayorkas policy as pennies from heaven. They thrive in exiling the “enemies of the revolution,” while also plotting schemes to siphon off millions in cash remittances that expatriates send home. Disappointingly but predictably, the State Department made no demands on strongmen Diaz-Canal in Cuba, Ortega in Nicaragua, or Maduro in Venezuela before announcing the Mayorkas plan. In return for accepting what is likely to turn out to be millions of migrants from these countries, the Biden administration demanded no reciprocal concessions on human rights, free elections, or economic liberalization.
There were precedents for such demands with Havana. At least President Clinton, facing a very similar migration situation that Biden confronts today, in the 1994–95 rafter crisis, insisted that Fidel Castro offer concessions before the U.S. agreed to a deal for 20,000 Cuban admissions yearly. Unlike Clinton who would master details, our insouciant President Biden has handed over all the migration chaos to Mayorkas, who has only one real priority: to build “safe, lawful and humane pathways.”
Washington gave window-dressing to this doormat diplomacy through the so-called “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection” in June 2022, whereby countries in the hemisphere pledged their support to Biden’s open-border policies. While other countries in the region do accept significant numbers of migrants (e.g., Canada, Chile, Colombia, Argentina), the L.A. Declaration is all about bringing economic migrants to the U.S. doorstep on a scale unmatched in modern times. Just considering Latin American, there are 200 million people in poverty (80 million in extreme poverty).
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In anticipation of the end of Title 42, Mayorkas recently announced the offer of “new family reunification parole processes” for another tranche of countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia. DHS will not require qualified nationals from these countries to await their turn for a family reunification visa under the quota system established in U.S. law. By fiat, Mayorkas will simply ignore the legal regulations that put caps on these admissions. Other would-be immigrants awaiting their turns in other countries around the world must wonder when Mayorkas will grant them immediate entry.
The Biden administration’s new policies will also instantly double the number of refugees from the Western Hemisphere, “welcoming thousands of additional refugees per month,” per Mayorkas. A new DHS initiative will begin establishing “Regional Processing Centers” (RPCs) to help wayward migrants in third countries—another Mayorkas priority—in key locations throughout the Western Hemisphere. The first RPCs will be established in Colombia and Guatemala with other countries to follow. One can easily see Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and perhaps Peru joining the list, but why stop there? There are some 200,000 Haitians in Chile, for example, waiting to find a way to immigrate to the United States.
In interjecting immigration into American foreign policy, Trump was a piker in comparison to Biden. Putting aside the Ukraine conflict, the Biden administration’s foreign policy will certainly be remembered for this above all. If the president gets a second term, this administration will completely remake how foreigners come to America. One senior State Department diplomat recently told me that the United States still needs to “attract” immigrants. That statement is so detached from what is actually happening in the world that it is little wonder that DHS, and not the State Department, has stumbled into the job of running U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.