Pandemic Conveniently Marks a Return to Trump Era Border Policies

by Olivia Smith

Image: USA Today

What You Can Do

  1. Consider both sides of the border situation story: the immigrants attempting to enter versus pandemic public safety issues, and decide what your stance on the topic is. 

Check this link out for border advocacy groups:

During his campaign for presidency, Biden was eager to roll back the Trump administration’s border policies. Eight months later, after an initial substantial departure from Trump’s immigration policy, the border closed again. 

In 2017, Trump ran his campaign for presidency based on an obvious disdain for immigrants, specifically from Latin America. Over the course of his presidency, Trump reduced legal immigration by 49%, without any change in U.S. immigration law. A presidential proclamation, which typically states a condition or declares a law, announced in April of 2020 blocked the entry of legal immigrants to the United States in virtually every category (family-based, employment-based, and humanitarian immigration). Another proclamation issued in June of 2020 suspended the entry of foreign nationals on H-1B and L-1 (intracompany) visas, reducing the number of highly skilled foreigners. Additionally, refugees seeking asylum were capped at an annual ceiling 84% lower than the final year of the Obama administration (from 110,000 down to 18,000) [1]. In June of last year, over 100,000 immigrants were waiting to become U.S citizens due to administrative policies. The border was at a standstill, and Biden promised voters that his presidency would be different. 

On Biden’s first day of presidency, he tweeted that he was creating a “clear roadmap to citizenship” for about 11 million people living in the United States unlawfully [2]. He issued five immigration executive orders on Inauguration Day alone and promised an immigration policy far more humane and welcoming than that of his predecessor [3]. He also promised to raise the cap for refugees resettled in the United States from abroad to 125,000 from the historic low-level set by the Trump administration [2]. Biden has said he would create permanent protection for young migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, known as “Dreamers” [2]. Started by former President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president, the program currently provides deportation protection and other benefits to approximately 645,000 people [2]. 

The result of these public policies and immigrant-friendly attitudes was the biggest surge in twenty years, with the nation on pace for as many as two million migrants at the southern border this year – an outcome Biden was hoping to avoid and one that he is not equipped to handle [3]. His administration announced that they would allow unaccompanied minors into the country, leading to more than ten thousand unaccompanied migrant children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. And although much of the surge is a direct result of the openness of the administration, there are factors outside of Biden’s control, such as a spike in conflict in Latin American countries. Although U.S. Border officials warned Biden that the massive influx of immigrants would be uncontrollable, Biden aggressively continued to roll back Trump policies [3]. While Biden kept his campaign promises, he did so to an extent that overwhelmed the system in place, creating a crisis at the border that has not been officially announced or acknowledged.

The pandemic adds a new wrinkle to the border policies. As the crisis at the border surges, so does the public health concern with the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking a return to Trump era border policies [4]. Biden announced new health safety related policies, allowing border officials to turn away hundreds of thousands of migrants [4]. The recent spike in the Delta Variant, which is highly contagious, prompted similar border policy shifts. American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization seeking to defend the rights of individuals, promised to file a lawsuit to force the administration to lift the public health order for migrant families. The ACLU announced that the government had no immediate plan to do that [4]. Biden is content to use the public order as a means to monitor the border, and it seems that the pandemic is conveniently allowing him to address the immigration crisis created earlier this year.