Since President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris won’t come to the border, the border is coming to them. On Thursday, two buses of illegal immigrants unloaded in front of Harris’s vice presidential residence. Others have arrived in downtown New York, Chicago, and D.C., to the fury of local mayors and governors. A small planeload caused an uproar on Martha’s Vineyard when it landed on that self-proclaimed sanctuary island. More busloads are sure to come, probably in cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, and perhaps a beach community in Delaware.
The immigrants are being transported from Republican-led border states to northern Democratic enclaves, which have long proclaimed themselves “sanctuaries” for the migrants they are now so appalled to find arriving. Democrats charge that it’s a stunt, and they are partly right. But it is a very shrewd stunt with a far-reaching impact. Although the buses carry a vanishingly small number of the illegals arriving daily in Texas and Arizona, they are making several big points.
First, the buses shine a national spotlight on the costs and social disruptions facing border states. The governors have three intertwined goals here. They want to show that Biden’s policies have opened the border, that the free entrance of illegals imposes huge costs on their communities, and that Biden and his party need to change policies — or pay a political price for their failure. The publicity is designed to force that change.
Second, the buses highlight the hypocrisy of so-called sanctuary cities and states. When illegal immigrants actually arrive, the boldly advertised welcome mat is snatched away. It was never more than costless virtue-signaling.
Third, border-state governors are showing their beleaguered constituents that they are making the surge of illegal immigrants a high priority and are determined to help. Of course, the buses, like the proclamation of “sanctuaries,” are little more than virtue signals. Real answers must come from different national policies.
Finally, as the midterms approach, the buses have shifted the policy debate to an issue that strongly favors Republicans. Biden deliberately discarded Donald Trump’s efforts to build a wall, keep asylum seekers in Mexico while they pursued their claims, and induce Mexico to send thousands of troops to guard the border and prevent illegal crossings, including those of human smugglers and drug cartels. Those were largely successful. In place of them, Biden has done…well, nothing. Republicans want to make sure voters know that and connect the surge of immigrants and the cartels’ distribution of fentanyl to Democratic failures.
What about the charge, now commonplace on the left, that immigrants are coerced onto the buses and treated inhumanely? There’s simply no evidence for that charge. In fact, everyone boarding a bus signs a waiver indicating they are doing so voluntarily. They are not being “kidnapped,” as Gavin Newsom maliciously charged, without any evidence. They are not victims of human trafficking, as Hillary Clinton alleged. There is certainly no analogy to Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals being forced into boxcars and shipped to Nazi death camps, as documentary film maker Ken Burns fulminated. Nor is there any reasonable comparison to slavery, as White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre implied when she said those who voluntarily traveled north on buses were being treated “like chattel.” These attacks are worse than ridiculous, worse than noxious. They are demeaning to real victims of genocide, kidnapping, human trafficking, and slavery.
This burst of progressive moral outrage has one more gaping flaw. The buses are not the first time illegal immigrants have been transported around the country. The Biden administration has transported planeloads of illegal migrants, but it has done so secretly, at night, without notifying local officials or the media. The flights have attracted almost no coverage, thanks to their secrecy and a somnolent, partisan press. Why the difference? The answer is obvious. Yet there is no moral difference between the flights and bus trips. The differences are publicity and political damage to a favored party.
The buses may be a political stunt, but they are also far more consequential than that. Governors Abbott (Texas), DeSantis (Florida), and Ducey (Arizona) have driven a vital issue to the forefront of national politics. It’s an issue that favors their party, their states, and themselves.