“I would in fact make sure that… we immediately surge to the border all these people seeking asylum,” Joe Biden said on Sept. 12, 2019.
Now, as president, Joe Biden has fulfilled this promise, erasing any pretense of an actual southern border separating the United States from the rest of the world.
This policy has put America at risk. In the wake of the Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of over 1,400 Israeli civilians, including innocent children and at least 33 American citizens, the risk Biden’s irresponsible border policy presents to the domestic safety of American families is clear.
It is now likely that terrorist cells are already operating in this country. At least 169 people on the terrorist watchlist were captured by Border Patrol in 2023, and San Diego’s Border Control recently warned that “foreign fighters… may attempt to obfuscate travel to or from the U.S…. through Mexico.”
It is well past time to change the current border policy, and that can be achieved by the simple act of signing an executive order.
Biden’s current “catch and release” policy has become a magnet. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, over 7,047,387 illegal aliens have crossed our southern border since FY 2020. That’s virtually the entire population of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it’s simply not sustainable.
Instead of catching and immediately releasing illegal migrants into the interior of the country, the U.S. needs to “catch and detain” them until their asylum claims are adjudicated (or they voluntarily return to their home country).
The former administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy required migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico until their claims were adjudicated. That policy served as a successful deterrent. U.S. Border Patrol encountered 458,088 foreign nationals who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in FY 2020, and that number swelled to 2,475,669 in FY 2023. An additional 1.7 million “getaways” have avoided apprehension altogether, and no one knows who or where they are.
Leaving migrants in Mexico until their court date, however, is no longer a viable option. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has publicly stated that it will reject any efforts by the U.S. to reinstate the policy for asylum-seekers. But even if that were not the case, the Mexican side of the U.S. border is no place for migrants.
Ill-prepared and dangerous border towns are increasingly controlled by Mexican drug cartels, who smuggle not just unprecedented amounts of drugs, including fentanyl, into the United States, but also engage in human trafficking, especially women and children. In addition to trafficking humans and drugs, cartels are committing a wide range of other crimes against migrants, including kidnapping, sexual assault and other acts of violence.
The only viable option is to segregate portions of America’s vast military facilities in the southeast and southwest for the purpose of securing and temporarily accommodating illegal entrants until the U.S. can adjudicate their asylum claims. Ironically, asylum adjudication will likely be more efficient if the target population is readily at hand.
Large bases like Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) in North Carolina (160,640 acres), Fort Polk in Louisiana (198,000 acres), Fort Campbell in Kentucky (105,000 acres), and Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) in Texas, the largest U.S. base in the world (217,600 acres), are all options, among others.
The military is already lending operational support to Border Patrol, helping the agency process these claims. The policy shift we propose would be a continuation of that practice. It would allow DHS to more effectively and efficiently detain and monitor illegal entrants into the United States, while also allowing the agency to conduct extensive background checks and provide shelter, medical care and educational opportunities to migrants as their claims are adjudicated.
Moreover, unlike the shameful incarceration of 127,000 Japanese American citizens in seven Western states during World War II, this population would possess the keys to their own release. If they decide not to pursue their asylum petitions, they would immediately be returned to their countries of origin. Detention until adjudication would be their choice.
For the Biden administration to allow nearly 9 million illegal entrants into the United States in less than four years, if one counts both those who were encountered as well as those who were not, is simply unacceptable.
It is therefore imperative that President Biden recognize the catastrophic danger his current policies have created and immediately shift to a domestic “catch and detain” policy before it is simply too late.
Joe D. Whitley is a former U.S. attorney for the Northern (Atlanta) and Middle (Macon) Districts of Georgia, former associate attorney general in the Justice Department, appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and appointed as the first general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by President George W. Bush.