Katrina was, after all, a natural disasster. No, it’s closer to being Obama’s Mariel boatlift.
And even then it’s not the same. The difference between the border crisis and the Mariel boatlift is that Carter’s policies were not responsible for the boatlift, unless you can call international weakness a policy. But Obama’s executive order implementing a version of the otherwise-unpassable DREAM Act started the current flood of people streaming across the borders. Though it seems to have been the result of a misunderstanding (his order only applied to those who had come before 2007), his lack of border policing allowed it to happen, and the misunderstanding may have been encouraged.
Neither thing was true for Carter. At the time of the Mariel boatlift, the US policy towards Cuban exiles had been an open-door one, and that was not controversial since Cuban refugees were widely seen as freedom-loving prospective citizens with initiative and drive. It was Castro who decided to up the ante when many would-be emigrants took refuge in the Peruvian embassy in Havana after one group intent on escaping had been safely sheltered there:
Initially, the Carter administration had an open-arms policy in regard to Cuban immigrants. Cubans were immediately granted refugee status and all the rights that went with it. Additionally, public opinion towards Cuban refugees was initially favorable.
This situation changed when it was discovered that the refugees included criminals and people from Cuba’s mental hospitals. Castro arranged for the inclusion of criminals and people with mental illness (who were still stigmatized at the time) among the political and economic refugees in order to rid Cuba of undesirables and to damage the image of Cuban exiles.
The US isolated out the criminal and mental illness elements and about half the rest were absorbed into Miami life (there were about 125,000 in all, less than have already arrived from Central America) and the Cuban exile community there. Others were held in detention camps in other parts of the country, which angered some residents in the communities involved. This is the biggest resemblance to the current crisis:
Crowded conditions in South Florida immigration processing centers forced U.S. federal agencies to move many of the Marielitos to other centers in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Camp Santiago, Puerto Rico, and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Federal civilian police agencies such as the General Services Administration’s Federal Protective Service provided officers to maintain order inside the gates of the relocation centers. Riots occurred at the Fort Chaffee center and some detainees escaped which became a campaign issue in the re-election defeat of Governor Bill Clinton.
It didn’t help Carter either. But at least Carter’s motives were actually humanitarian; there is no evidence whatsoever he had a plan to flood the US with potential Democratic voters (most of the early Cuban refugees were Republicans, I seem to recall reading), or to overwhelm the system. What’s more, the Mariel flood finally ended when the US and Castro negotiated an agreement that Castro would do so. There is no indication that any such thing is even contemplated between the Obama administration and the Central American countries involved, or Mexico.
So the comparison between Obama and Carter, and the current crisis with the Mariel boatlift, is really very unfair to Carter. The situation we face today has far more potential for trouble, and Obama is far more implicated in its genesis and far less involved in finding any solution. In the current crisis, Obama seems to be playing the roles of Carter and Castro combined, and neither seems to be willing to negotiate with the other.