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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Joe Biden is killing the incentive for people to legally migrate to the United States – and in process sinking the morale of agents charged with protecting the nation’s borders – by failing to address the illegal immigration crisis, a former top Trump administration official says.

“There’s no reason to talk about legal visa programs: No reason to talk about H-2A programs or H-2B programs and how you vet individuals, how you get them to apply if you can simply walk across the border in the middle of the desert and be allowed to stay in the United States,” said former acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

Wolf was in El Paso on Wednesday to talk about the work of the America First Policy Institute, for which he is the new executive director. The conservative institute and its 22 policy centers are engaged in research and putting out articles on national security, the economy and immigration, among others.

Wolf told Border Report he was taken aback by President Biden turning back years of progress in dealing with illegal immigration seemingly overnight upon taking office. The lack of a comprehensive substitute plan led to the historic levels of unauthorized migration the country has been witnessing for a year and a half. Border agents in fiscal year 2021 recorded almost 2 million encounters with unauthorized migrants nationwide, while the number for the first nine months of FY 2022 stands at 2.2 million, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

“Any policy, any process, any program can be improved upon. I’m not going to say we got it right at the first try, but I don’t understand what the Biden administration did when they threw it all out on day one […] without analysis,” he said. “They threw it out and the result is a failed catch-and-release policy.”

Trump took flak from civil rights groups and advocates for dealing with an immigration surge characterized by large caravans traveling from Central America to the U.S. border through hardline tactics. These included alleged harsh conditions at overcrowded detention and processing centers and the creation of a program (Remain in Mexico) that sent asylum-seekers to await the outcome of their U.S. claims in Mexico. The administration secured Mexico’s cooperation by threatening that country with tariffs on its exports to the U.S.

“Under Trump, we decided to do things different – and I give President Trump credit – because the system was broken. So, he said, ‘I’m going to roll up my sleeves and I’m going to make some difficult decisions and we’re going to change things for the better,” Wolf said. “And none of these groups (the advocates) liked that because they have business models that help migrants into loopholes. Even though they have no (credible) fear, they’ll tell them to say certain things so they can stay in the U.S.”

Biden’s policies not only have encouraged migrants to bolt for the United States whether or not they have a legitimate claim, but also hurt morale at the U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agencies charged with enforcing immigration laws, Wolf said.

Former DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (Fernie Ortiz/Border Report)

“What I can say is we found a lot of folks coming into the country (being) economic migrants. Does that mean they qualify for asylum? Absolutely not. Simply wanting to come here for a better job, a better life, God bless them all, that does not qualify for asylum,” he said. “Border Patrol … they are frustrated. I talk to folks that have been there 15, 20, 25 years and morale is the lowest they’ve ever seen. These officers want to enforce the law […] They’ve been trained on how to do their job, what statutes they’re supposed to execute and then told, ‘don’t do any of that.’ That hits at morale.”

Parties, public opinion polarized on immigration

Immigration remains a polarizing issue in America, according to the latest public opinion polls. Conservatives like Wolf and progressives like Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights mince no words on what they believe their opponents’ motivations are.

In a Wednesday webinar on Texas’ Operation Lone Star, Garcia said Republicans like Gov. Greg Abbott are distorting the facts on immigration and using the word “invasion” to push a “racist, xenophobic and white supremacy” agenda.

“Operation Lone Star is the result of an intentionally distorted narrative used for political gain,” he said. “The word ‘invasion’ … is the incursion of an army to conquer and plunder; the act of entering a place to take control of it. Whenever Texans and people in the interior of the United States hear that, they (think) of a threat to their nation.”

When it comes to immigration, the “invader” is always portrayed as an individual or a family unit of color, he said.

Wolf said it is the frustration with an ineffective American immigration system and the desire to make things better that motivated the Trump administration to take action.

“I have talked to and I understand the concerns of some of these groups and activists and at the end of the day, these groups don’t want anything to change along this border,” Wolf said in response to the criticism. “They don’t want anything to change (because) it allows individuals to come across this border knowing they will never qualify for asylum, knowing they can abstain from their immigration court proceedings. That’s the system these activists want to stay in place. They have an active interest in keeping the status quo.”