What the Border Crisis Reveals About Our Leaders


December 14, 2023

By Brian Lonergan

In writing about the apex of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine spoke of the “times that try men’s souls” and the kind patriotism necessary for rising to meet the crisis. By almost any metric, this is another extremely trying time for our country. Our paychecks don’t buy as much as they used to. We are divided on numerous social issues. Foreigners of unknown character are streaming across our porous borders in record numbers. Hostile nations seem to be in ascent while we are in decline. More than two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track.   

It is clear America is desperate for good leaders. But what does our current predicament tell us about the leaders we have? The immigration issue alone speaks volumes.

Wherever one stands on the often contentious immigration issue, it is hard to deny that in January 2021 our government had operational control of the southern border. The change of leadership in the White House that month brought a string of executive orders from Joe Biden, reversing most of the border policies enacted by his predecessor. We have lived with the consequences ever since: a lawless, chaotic no-man’s-land at the border; migrants entering illegally by the tens of thousands every week; and record profits for cartels trafficking drugs, weapons, and people.

How could anyone who put his hand on the Bible and swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” enact policies with such poisonous results? It suggests an administration with ulterior, possibly sinister motives far removed from what is in the best interests of the country and its citizens.

The dearth of leadership is even worse at the state and local levels. Most of our large cities have become one-party-rule fiefdoms where radical, highly destructive sanctuary policies have been mainstreamed.

For decades, feckless mayors, council members, and district attorneys got a free ride by extolling the virtues of their city’s sanctuary status, which required them to do virtually nothing. So long as the number of migrants coming to the city was manageable, these politicians could claim they welcome the disenfranchised from around the world, while looking down on anyone calling for a return to law and order as unenlightened, xenophobic troglodytes.    

Sanctuary mayors have been exposed not only for pushing deceitful, ruinous policies on their residents, but also for being utterly bereft of the leadership skills needed to stop the bleeding.

The free ride ended last summer, when a combination of Biden’s border crisis and the move by conservative governors to bus migrants to northern blue cities put sanctuary policies and their elected supporters to the test. The result has been one of the most dramatic emperor-wears-no-clothes moments in American politics: Sanctuary mayors have been exposed not only for pushing deceitful, ruinous policies on their residents, but also for being utterly bereft of the leadership skills needed to stop the bleeding.

The failure is so obvious, even reliable liberals like comedian Bill Maher are openly mocking the duplicity and faux compassion of sanctuary mayors.

Instead of taking the responsible approach of admitting sanctuary policies are a failure and reversing course, mayors have taken absurd steps to appear to be leading while maintaining their good standing among those adhering to the anti-borders orthodoxy.

After converting most of New York City’s luxury hotels into migrant shelters, Mayor Eric Adams floated the idea of paying city residents to put migrants up in their own homes and even the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion. Both ideas died from lack of support.      

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott bussed migrants to her city, former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted Abbott for allegedly treating migrants like “cargo” and giving her city no notice in advance. Lightfoot then responded by offloading migrants from Chicago to the nearby suburb of Burr Ridge, Ill., with no advance warning.

Lightfoot’s successor, Brandon Johnson, has responded to the crisis by suing the bus companies bringing migrants into the city. To address the migrants sleeping in Chicago’s police stations and O’Hare Airport, the state of Illinois responded with a plan to build a massive tent facility to house up to 2,000 migrants in the city’s Brighton Park neighborhood. After raucous protests from neighborhood residents, a suspiciously convenient environmental impact report caused the state to cancel the project.

This is not leadership, but radicalism and incompetence hidden behind a veil of political posturing. In Thomas Paine’s parlance, the days of the summer soldier and sunshine patriot are over. America is now deep in a hole of our own creation. It will require a new generation of winter soldier leaders to get us out. 

Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) in Washington, D.C, and co-host of IRLI’s “No Border, No Country” podcast.

Also published at Chronicles, December 14, 2023.

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