The US Border: What Is Biden Doing Differently?

By Solene Gadsby | Sep 19, 2021

By Solene Gadsby (14, Resident of Camden)

The humanitarian crisis at the US border with Mexico has been plaguing US Presidents for decades. In 2014, a crisis arose when tens of thousands of lone children arrived from Central America, seeking asylum. The issue of immigration only heightened when Donald Trump came into office, bringing with him the harshest border-control regime the US had seen in over half a century. The issue now falls to Biden, who is left to rectify the mess Trump made. Although many were hopeful hearing his campaign and seeing his dedication to the matter, only a few months into his presidency many are deeming the surge in unresolved asylum claims a ‘crisis’, and they are blaming Biden’s more open, accommodating border-enforcement policies. In March, at his first press conference, he addressed this, saying that ‘attempting to rebuild the system’ that had been all but demolished in Trump’s administration would ‘take time,’ time that he does not have.

Biden faces many threats in terms of public opinion because the way in which he has attempted to introduce more humane policies and reverse some of the damage inflicted by Trump has confused his supporters, the media, and the wider American population. Title 42, arguably the most contentious article passed under Trump’s administration, remains so that forty percent of asylum-seeking families and an overwhelming majority of single adults are still being turned away at the border and are being refused asylum claims. As can be expected, Republicans are also jumping at this chance to criticize Biden’s approach to the issue, and they are viewing his humane approach to border control as a political weakness. This sentiment is unfortunately shared by many policymakers including high-ranking politicians and influential media presences, all of whom have control over public attitudes and beliefs.

Migration surges, particularly around the US border, have occurred over the past decades due to a variety of economic, political, social, and even environmental reasons, but how has the current situation gotten to this point?

Currently, around eighteen thousand migrant children are in US custody; this is an upsetting amount and distressing to those who must find space to house them. As the Department of Health and their Human Services shelters are reaching maximum capacity, emergency shelters are having to be created in the southern states and border cities. However, this is only a temporary solution,and it will have no real impact on reducing strain on the Department of Homeland Securitywho aren’t able to keep up with the shocking pace of immigration. Immigration is predicted to reach the highest point of the last two decades by the end of 2021.

Although the rates of immigration are high--though not yet to the rates under Trump’s administration in 2019--they are not unexpected given the circumstances behind much of this emigration from Central American countries. The pandemic has caused a rise in poverty and unemployment, which is particularly prevalent in societies that have not got systems in place to deal with such levels of social poverty, creating a renewed desperation for many asylum-seeking families. On top of this, two back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota, that devastated much of Central America, have left many homeless and displaced many families, as well as starving those who relied on subsistence farming. The increased rateof immigration only highlights how the border immigration system, set up in the 1990s, is not well equipped to deal with immigration on this scale. The process of resolving asylum claims is timely, which means that the number of pending asylum claims awaiting trial is up by half a million from under Obama, now at 1.3 million pending cases.

However, the greatest problem Biden must face is to try to reintroduce the very practice of asylum to the country. This almost completely stopped under Trump, who had left vulnerable refugees to their own devices and sent them back to dangerous towns south of the border as their cases were being processed. However, Biden has ambitious plans to revolutionise the asylum program to make it far easier for immigrants, and they will alsoprovide a path to legal citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already living in the US.

Whilst Trump sought to delay the issue of immigration until asylum programs ground to a halt, Biden is facing backlash and obstacles whilst attempting to undo the damage Trump did. Even though the current emergency at the border could well be called an immigration crisis, if Biden is able to put off eager policymakers, his humane outlook towards refugees could lead to one of the safest, open border-enforcement regimes the US has seen since the system was first established.