Much of the nation's political and commentary class had a near-nervous breakdown when 48 Venezuelans who had crossed illegally into the United States arrived at the Martha's Vineyard Airport, not far from the summer homes of some of the country's wealthiest and best-connected people. When they realized what had happened, many Democrats and allied voices in the media expressed white-hot anger at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who arranged the migrants' trip. Meanwhile, Vineyard residents volunteered to feed and care for the migrants for 24 hours, after which the National Guard whisked them off the exclusive island.
Now move 2,200 miles west and south, to Del Rio, Texas. During the 24-hour period from Saturday to Sunday, according to reporting by Fox News correspondent Bill Melugin, Border Patrol officers encountered 1,707 illegal crossers in the Del Rio Sector, which covers 245 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Officers encountered even more illegal crossers in the El Paso Sector to the west: 1,967 illegal crossings. And in the Yuma Sector still farther west, there were 757 illegal crossings. That is 4,431 illegal crossings in just three of the nine sectors of the U.S.-Mexico border.
So what happened when they crossed illegally into the United States? Were they turned back? Allowed to stay? According to Melugin's tweet, which is entirely consistent with statistics on the border, only 335 illegal crossers were expelled from the El Paso Sector on what is called a Title 42 expulsion, referring to the rule used to reduce the spread of COVID. In Del Rio, there were 514 expulsions. And in Yuma, there were 39 expulsions.
In total, there were 4,431 illegal crossings in the three sectors in a single 24-hour period, and 888 Title 42 expulsions. That means 3,543 illegal crossers were allowed to stay in the United States. In just three sectors, in just one day.
Whatever number you choose, 4,431 total illegal crossings or 3,543 allowed to stay, the number is a lot bigger than the 48 migrants who landed in Martha's Vineyard. And yet, the outrage! Critics lined up to call DeSantis' transfer of illegal crossers to a luxury redoubt in Massachusetts cruel and inhuman and un-American and anti-American and "literally human trafficking" and more. A Boston-based group called Lawyers for Civil Rights demanded that the United States Justice Department and the Massachusetts attorney general investigate and possibly prosecute DeSantis for an alleged "conspiracy to deprive our clients of their liberty and civil rights and interfere with federal immigration proceedings."
About the same time, we learned that the city of El Paso, led by a Democratic mayor, has been regularly busing illegal border crossers to New York City. Melugin reported that El Paso has sent at least 51 buses with a total of 2,365 migrants to New York since Aug. 23. More buses are on the way. New York City Democratic Mayor Eric Adams, who has complained that migrants are overwhelming his city's social services capabilities, and who has bitterly denounced Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's buses to New York, has actually made an agreement with El Paso to accept as many as 200 migrants a day.
OK, so Adams is partisan. So the lawyers on Martha's Vineyard are hysterical. So much of the press coverage is biased. The problem is that this debate is not about the real problem. Everyone is talking about how to accommodate illegal border crossers once they are in the country, and not about how to prevent people from crossing illegally into the United States.
On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that officials have encountered 2,150,639 migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border so far this fiscal year. There is still one month to go, so the figure will rise. And it does not include the number, somewhere near half a million, of so-called "gotaways," that is, crossers known to border officials but not apprehended.
Isn't that the real problem? Isn't the real problem the enormous numbers of people crossing into the United States? And how to reduce that number? And how to deal with those who do manage to sneak across to make sure that only the relatively small number who have legitimate asylum claims are allowed to stay? Isn't that the real problem?
Instead of dealing with the real problem, everything the Biden administration has done since Day One has been to increase the incentive for would-be migrants to illegally cross into the United States. Arguing over how best to accommodate illegal crossers, rather than arguing over how best to return the vast majority of them back across the border, increases the incentive for those considering unlawful entry into the United States. They know their arrival might set off a debate over whether they should be allowed to stay in El Paso, or be sent to Martha's Vineyard, but either way, they stay in the United States -- their ultimate goal. The current argument over the DeSantis flight does nothing to address what is happening on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. For a deeper dive into many of the topics Byron covers, listen to his podcast, The Byron York Show, available on the Ricochet Audio Network at ricochet.com/series/byron-york-show and everywhere else podcasts are found.