If Biden Is Serious About Border Security, He Must Start With Venezuela

This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Douglas Schoen
Real Clear Wire

The tragic killing of 22-year-old Laken Riley in Georgia two weeks ago by Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan migrant in the country illegally and with a criminal record, is the latest example of a much larger problem: Criminal gangs are brazenly taking advantage of America’s broken immigration policies to invade our country.

Quite simply, the stream of criminals pouring over the nation’s Southern border is now a tsunami with potentially disastrous implications, not only for America’s national security but also for President Biden’s reelection chances. Unless the president takes bold action to seriously strengthen the border, voters are likely to punish him in November.

That being said, any attempt to address the border issue is doomed if the president does not confront the problem at its source.

Venezuela, the largest source of illegal immigrants, is rapidly becoming a failed state, and its strongman leader, Nicolás Maduro – who has deepened economic and military ties between his oil-rich nation and other hostile regimes such as Russia, China, and Iran – is reportedly emptying the country’s jails, pushing criminals and gang members north, right over our porous border.

According to a former Venezuelan official, Maduro “is releasing convicted criminals on the condition that they would emigrate from the country to the United States.” Unsurprisingly, these criminals are establishing local cells of the same criminal gangs, particularly Tren de Aragua, which is notorious for drug trafficking, human smuggling, and kidnappings for ransom.

Law enforcement is sounding the alarm, with a senior FBI agent recently warning that Tren de Aragua is “rapidly expanding its criminal empire,” particularly in New York and Miami, where the FBI says gang members are behind a series of robberies and at least one murder.

Given the 340,000 Venezuelans encountered at the Southern border last year alone, the FBI is seriously concerned that these gangs will have little problem finding new recruits to further their expansion.

A South American dictator opening his jails and dumping criminals in American cities sounds more like a movie than real life, but the data is clear. Coinciding with a surge in Venezuelan migration to the U.S. is a drop in violent crime in Venezuela to levels not seen in nearly a quarter-century.

Notably, violent deaths in Venezuela declined from 35.3 for every 100,000 people in 2022 to 26.8 per 100,000 in 2023 – the lowest since 2001, according to a Bloomberg report. Meanwhile, the same report quotes the director of the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, who points out that “gangs have emigrated due to the lack of opportunities to commit crimes.”

For his part, last year President Biden struck a deal with Maduro, offering sanctions relief in exchange for increased political liberalization – specifically, holding free and fair elections – and consenting to deportation flights of migrants from the U.S. to Venezuela. The deal was supposed to be a victory for Biden, who could claim to be taking a tougher approach.

Early last month, however, those flights abruptly stopped after deporting just 1,300 migrants. Some speculated that the move owed to Biden’s reimposition of sanctions after Maduro reneged on his promise to hold free and fair elections.

While the attempt to stop the uncontrolled flow of migrants may have been admirable, the president should have known better. Never close to anything resembling an ally, Venezuela under Maduro has solidly aligned itself with the new “axis of evil” alongside Russia, China, and Iran.

The relationship between these countries should deeply worry the White House, particularly in light of intelligence reports indicating that Iran is looking to build a naval base in Venezuela, China’s increasing investment in the country, a massive influx of Russian weapons into Caracas, and Maduro’s strong support for Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022 – critical for helping both countries skirt U.S.-led sanctions.

Additionally, Venezuela’s role in hosting Russian troops and advanced air defense systems, not to mention the deep connections between Maduro and Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, which has a heavy presence in the South American country, cannot be overstated, particularly in light of Hezbollah’s daily attacks on Israel since its war with Hamas began on Oct. 7.

Viewed in this light, it is clear that Venezuela represents more than just an immigration problem, but an extreme foreign policy and national security challenge. The Venezuelan threat extends far beyond the typical debate over immigration – and solving it lies squarely within the president’s remit.

It also constitutes a rapidly expanding political vulnerability for Biden, one that he has so far failed to address.

Indeed, last month, Americans ranked immigration as the most important issue facing the country, the first time since 2019 that it has topped the list. Nearly 3 in 10 (28%) Americans chose immigration, 8 points ahead of the second-place issue, the “government,” and more than double the portion identifying the economy (12%) and inflation (11%), per Gallup polling.

Worse still for Biden is that while the president’s general approval rating is a substandard 40%, his approval on immigration is a dismal 31%, according to the RealClearPolitics Average.

Voters do not trust Biden to address the issue. A majority (52%) of swing state voters say that they trust Donald Trump – rather than Biden – to handle immigration, while just 30% trust the president, per Morning Consult polling.

To be sure, while Biden does not bear full responsibility for the recent collapse of a border security deal in Congress, he is not powerless to deal with the issue, even if through executive order.

Even passing a border security bill would do little to stem the problem, anyway. Many solidly blue states and cities define themselves as “sanctuary cities,” barring them from cooperating with immigration officials – even when illegal migrants commit felonies, as Mr. Ibarra did in New York prior to killing Ms. Riley.

To be clear, unless President Biden takes concrete steps to strengthen the border and deal with Venezuela, his reelection would – justifiably – be in serious jeopardy.

Ultimately, Biden must close our Southern border and make it unmistakably clear to Maduro that dumping criminals on American shores will not go unpunished. Nor will Maduro’s deepening ties with hostile nations, which include hosting an Iranian naval base in the Americas.

Next, Biden should put America’s full economic, political, and diplomatic weight behind free and fair elections in Venezuela. The carrot and stick: the promise of much-needed sanction relief, or the threat of increasingly tough sanctions.

If Biden doesn’t do so, he will have to explain to the nation why he could not bring a South American dictator to heel and therefore endangered the safety of all Americans. That’s hardly a winning campaign strategy.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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