Reviews | French lessons for the Biden administration


You probably breathed a deep sigh of relief when you learned that Emmanuel Macron had beaten Marine Le Pen by a 17-point margin in Sunday’s French presidential election. A victory for Le Pen would have been a boon for Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban and Steve Bannon and a disaster for NATO, Europe and France.

The center held on, thank God — because Macron governed from the center. He was hated by the far left and the far right and never entirely pleased those closer to the middle. But he also became the first president to be re-elected in France in 20 years.

There is a lesson to be learned from this for the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress, especially when it comes to immigration.

It has become a progressive article of faith in recent years that efforts to control immigration are presumptively racist.

A border wall is “a monument to white supremacy”, according to an article published in Bloomberg. The “stay in Mexico” policy is “racist, cruel and inhumane”, according to the Justice Action Center. An essay published by the Brookings Institution calls US immigration policy a “classic and unrecognized example of structural racism”.

Not so long ago, Bernie Sanders was an avowed supporter of curtailing the view that immigration drives down working class wages. Did this position make him a racist? The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, where I used to work, used to advocate for open borders with Mexico. Were we left progressives? People of good will should be able to take different and nuanced views on immigration – and change their minds about it – without being labeled as morally deficient.

But that’s not how it works in progressive circles anymore. The results are policy choices that are bad for the country, worse for Democrats, and an unintended gift to the far right.

The problem is now acute with the Biden administration simultaneously seeking to end the Trump administration’s “stay in Mexico” policy in a Supreme Court case while accepting a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to leave the use of Title 42, which authorized border officials to deport illegal immigrants as a public health measure, expires on May 23.

There’s not much doubt as to what will happen if the administration gets its way: an already strained southern border will burst. In fiscal year 2020, there were 646,822 “enforcement actions” at the border. In 2021, the number was just under two million. Without the authority of Title 42, under which 62% of deportations took place in 2021, the number of released migrants in the United States will increase dramatically.

You don’t have to be opposed to immigration in general to have serious doubts about the administration’s course.

Is there a practical and available legal alternative to immigration regulation through the enforcement of Title 42? Where is the logic in ending Title 42 even as the administration seeks to extend mask warrants because the pandemic is far from over? Given the housing shortage, what is the capacity to absorb the next wave of migrants? Even if an overwhelming majority of migrants are simply looking for a better life, what system is there to find those with less honorable intentions?

More specifically: what does the administration’s complete failure to effectively control the border say about its commitment to upholding the rule of law?

Asking such questions should be an invitation to propose balanced and workable immigration legislation and try to win over moderate Republicans. Instead, he tends to invite cheap accusations of racism, as well as political paralysis at the White House. As Politico reported last week, some believe the administration’s secret policy is to call for an end to Title 42 to satisfy progressives while keeping our fingers crossed that the courts prosecute it — which is what a federal judge did Monday, at least temporarily.

Leading behind Trump-appointed judges is probably not what Americans elected Joe Biden to do.

Which brings us back to the example of France. When Jean-Marie Le Pen made his first presidential bid on an anti-immigration platform in 1974, he won 0.75% of the vote in the first round, or less than 200,000 votes. When her daughter Marine ran on a similar platform this year, she took 41.5% in the second round, or more than 13 million. The Le Pens are die-hard bigots. But decades of pretending that only fanatics cared about immigration has only strengthened their political brand.

As president, Macron veered right on immigration — not to weaken France’s historic position as an open, newcomer-friendly society, but rather to save it. He cracked down on some asylum seekers, demanded immigrants learn French and find jobs, and took a hard line against Islamic separatism. But he also tried to make France a more welcoming place for legal immigration. The left sees him as a little Le Pen, the right as a thoughtless impostor. Maybe he’s both. Again, he also saved France for the free world.

Democrats could afford to brush up on their French.


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