Positive Steps, Huge Disappointments
It’s impossible to evaluate President Biden’s first-year progress on immigration policy without starting with the former guy.
Under President Trump, immigrants were subjected to cruel policies that threw the system into chaos. Championed by the then-President, formulated by White House advisor Stephen Miller, and enforced by a group of rightwing cronies Trump placed in key positions, the relentless attacks on immigrants and our nation’s faltering immigration system were anchored in xenophobia, executed with malice, and implemented to mobilize base voters.
Trump and his team took an already dysfunctional and outdated immigration system and decimated it by executive fiat. During the four year war on immigrants, the Trump administration issued and implemented over 1,000 administrative changes. As a result, legal immigration levels were slashed; asylum protections and refugee resettlement programs were gutted; DACA and TPS recipients were threatened with losing protections and being deported; some 5,000 families were cruelly separated with no tracking system to reunite them; and undocumented immigrants and their loved ones were terrorized by an enforcement system designed to do just that.
Perhaps too many of us, inside and outside the administration, were overly optimistic that a new administration could reimagine and reconstitute a system that had been bombed into submission. It’s now evident that it will take years to sift through the rubble and build a fair, humane and functional system that reflects our best values and serves our national interests.
In the early months of the new administration, President Biden delivered on a number of his campaign promises. He issued a series of sweeping and targeted executive orders that helped to unravel some of the damage done by Trump. He extended relief to many immigrants threatened by Trump’s reign of terror. The new leadership at the Department of Homeland Security set a much more positive tone and moved in a much more positive direction than ever before. But on the big items – Biden’s promise to put millions of undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship and his administration’s promises to build a fair, orderly and humane migration management system at the southern border and beyond – the administration has fallen short. As of yet, these core promises have not been kept.
In the following document, we track and evaluate significant changes and developments during President Biden’s first year. It is by no means exhaustive. We focus on the issues America’s Voice tracks most closely. On the issues we do not address, we defer to colleagues who lead on those issues to evaluate progress.
Immigration Policy During Biden’s Early Days
At the start of 2021, the Biden administration made it clear that their focus on immigration involved undoing the cruel and xenophobic policies of President Trump and moving forward with a pro-immigrant agenda that modernizes our dysfunctional and decimated immigration system.
The First 100 Days
In the first 100 days:
- The new administration ended the Muslim and African Ban, shameful measures that excluded people because of their faith, race and national origin.
- Biden stopped further construction on Trump’s useless border wall.
- Biden signed a proclamation fully reinstating and fortifying DACA.
- Biden ended the “Public Charge” rule, a measure to impose a wealth test on low-income immigrants to chill participation in safety net programs and reduce family reunification through legal immigration channels.
- Biden revoked the Trump administration’s ban on legal immigration for family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and on diversity visa lottery.
- He reversed Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the U.S. Census.
- His administration took steps to end “Remain in Mexico” (MPP) – a Trump initiative that forced those seeking asylum at our southern border into dangerous conditions in northern Mexico (this decision was later overturned in the courts and the administration subsequently restarted – and expanded – the program).
- The administration created the “Task Force on the Reunification of Families” to reunite the children that were separated under the Trump administration.
- President Biden extended relief for a small group of Liberians living in the U.S. with Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
- Biden’s team granted new Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Venezuela and Burma (and expanded TPS for Haitians in May of 2021). They extended TPS for Syria, and moved to protect current TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, Sudan that Trump had threatened with deportation.
- The President committed to combating discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
- During his first joint session of Congress in April, President Biden used the opportunity to push members of Congress to pass legislation with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Signs of Trouble: Asylum Seekers at The Border and the Refugee Cap
Despite these significant developments, many were disappointed in Biden’s early handling of asylum seekers arriving at the border and his delay in raising the annual refugee cap.
In March 2021, the border saw an increase in border arrivals, above and beyond increases that started under Trump in 2020. Republicans and their right-wing media allies pounced, exploiting the increase to escalate attacks started in 2020 – before Biden took office – regarding what they called “the Biden border crisis.” Before long, many in the mainstream media were happy to legitimize and amplify this narrative. Blaring headlines and televised images of desperate Brown and Black asylum-seekers at the border turned this into the dominant immigration story of the year.
Biden backpedaled. He kept Title 42 – a public health rationale connected to COVID-19 concocted by Trump and his policy henchmen to eviscerate asylum. Despite a campaign promise to restore refugee admissions levels from Trump’s historic low, for months he delayed signing the paperwork and kept the cap at 15,000. Only a huge outcry from Senators and advocates led him to reverse course, and keep his promise to raise the ceiling to 125,000. Promises to reconstitute America’s asylum system – decimated during Trump’s presidency – have yet to be kept.
COVID-19 & The Border
Republicans used the spread of COVID-19 to scare voters, scapegoat immigrants and attack the Biden administration. Fear-mongering about immigrants and disease is something desperate politicians have done throughout our history, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 19th century to the AIDS crisis a generation ago to the pandemic of today. Scientists are clear that the most significant drivers of spreading COVID are the unvaccinated who already live here. As the Associated Press noted:
…public health experts say arriving migrants are not driving the rising infections in the U.S. The main culprits are people who refuse to get vaccinated. Furthermore, migrants who are allowed to enter are generally tested for COVID-19 and given hotel rooms to quarantine if they test positive, though federal authorities have not made data available about such cases.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
In June 2012, then-President Barack Obama announced DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to enable young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to apply for work permits and protection from deportation. With Democrats cheering this executive action and Republicans decrying what they called unconstitutional overreach, the battle between the branches of government on the future of DACA has been ongoing.
DACA, Trump, Biden & the Courts
In Trump’s first year in office, he ordered the end of DACA. The blowback was so intense, Trump claimed he did so because wanted to pass permanent relief through Congress. However, when presented with multiple bipartisan legislative proposals to meet his requirements, he and his administration torpedoed every bill.
The case ended up before the Supreme Court, in June 2020. Chief Justice Roberts sided with the four liberal judges, and the Court ruled in favor of keeping DACA in place. DACA remains vulnerable, though. When the case makes its way again to the Supreme Court, it is feared that the new 6-3 conservative majority will declare DACA unconstitutional.
DACA & the Biden Administration
The Biden administration has made several attempts to create security for DACA recipients through executive action. He signed a proclamation fully reinstating and fortifying DACA. He also attempted to comply with Judge Andrew Hanen’s order to publish the rule in the Federal Register and open it up for public comments before finalizing it. Unfortunately, without legislation in Congress, DACA remains vulnerable in the federal courts.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
Since its enactment by Congress in 1990, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) has been used to give safe haven to immigrants unable to return to their home countries due to natural disasters, political instability and humanitarian crises.
TPS by Country
After various efforts by advocates to assign a new TPS designation for Venezuela, the Biden administration finally announced this past year that it will designate Venezuela for TPS. For too long, Venezuelan immigrants have been living with the uncertainty and fear of being forcibly returned to Venezuela despite deteriorating conditions and the Coronavirus pandemic. This tool protects Venezuelans from being deported back to ongoing humanitarian crises and political instability.
In March, the Biden administration announced it is designating Burma for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This designation will give much needed relief to Burmese immigrants who have fled human rights atrocities, genocide, political upheaval, and ongoing instability. It gives those already here access to work permits and allows them to continue safely building their lives in the U.S. and protects them from being deported to a country currently in crisis.
This was a taxing year for Haiti and Haitian nationals as the country faced chaos amid political unrest, violence, corruption, widespread poverty, and food insecurity in a country still reeling from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and other disasters. The Biden administration delayed their redesignating of TPS for Haiti despite support from various Members of Congress, until late May of this year when DHS finally announced a redesignation of TPS for Haiti.
In January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syria. This long-awaited extension and redesignation will provide protection from deportation and permission to work for those Syrian nationals already covered by TPS, plus an additional 1,800 Syrians living in the U.S.
In July, the Biden administration redesignated and extended TPS for Yemen after months of advocacy and organizing. Yemen continues to descend into crisis amid widespread food and water insecurity, destruction of infrastructure, and dire humanitarian and economic conditions exacerbated by the ongoing impact of a 2016 cholera outbreak and the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 crisis, all of which make a safe return to Yemen impossible.
That same month, the Biden administration also redesignated and extended TPS for Somalia after months of advocacy and organizing. Severe drought and flooding contributing to food insecurity and internal displacement, a healthcare system strained by the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing cholera outbreak, and escalating violence amid three decades of conflict have compounded the humanitarian crises in Somalia and made safe return impossible.
El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, Sudan
Because of ongoing litigation, the Biden administration announced a 15 month automatic extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for all current beneficiaries from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal and Sudan. This extension comes after months of litigation, organizing, and advocacy by TPS holders and allied groups, but it marks a failure on the part of the Biden administration to redesignate these six countries – and designate others – for TPS and expand the protection to more long term immigrants who need it. The Biden administration has the legal authority to immediately redesignate TPS and did so eventually for Haiti. But, given the devastation from climate disasters, widespread violence, economic instability, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in these countries, they absolutely need to use it and expand TPS to other countries. In choosing to extend rather than redesignate TPS for the Central American countries and others on the list, the President is passing up an opportunity to protect thousands of immigrants who are already in this country, many of whom have been part of our communities for decades.
There is a long and growing list of countries for which a TPS designation is long overdue, among them countries in the Caribbean and Africa.
Cameroon is prominent on that list with long-standing violent conflicts, civil and ethnic strife and state-sponsored oppression targeting the Anglophone community in particular. Those displaced by violent conflicts elsewhere on the continent, including Ethiopia, also have a strong case for TPS designation. As do Caribbean nations like the Bahamas, devastated by hurricanes in 2020.
Despite sustained advocacy from Members of Congress and advocates and community leaders, the Biden Administration has so far not addressed TPS for these nations. The administration needs to do so, and soon.
Twin Hurricanes & TPS for Central America
At the end of 2020, Central American countries were devastated by hurricanes Eta and Iota. Various members of Congress and advocates proposed the government offer new TPS statuses to those affected by the hurricanes. Primarily affected individuals included immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The number of people suffering from lack of food supply in these countries has nearly quadrupled in the last two years, according to the United Nations, as Central America has been battered by an economic crisis.
A recent report from the Center for American Progress emphasizes the critical need for new Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Central American countries devastated by the compounding impact of climate change, natural disasters, social strife and widespread violence, economic instability, food and water insecurity, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Granting new TPS designations in the “northern triangle” countries will expand eligibility for work authorization and allow more people who are already living in the U.S. to send money home to their family through remittances. TPS provides stability for families living in communities here in the U.S. through protection from deportation, and would allow for some additional humanitarian relief through remittances for Central American countries still recovering from twin hurricanes Eta and Iota.
It is time for the Biden administration to use its statutory authority and grant new TPS designations as part of an overall regional stabilization strategy.
Remain in Mexico Policy (MPP)
The “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally called the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), is a Trump administration initiative designed to deter asylum seekers and endanger migrant families. After reaching U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) border crossing checkpoints, migrant families are dumped in Mexico with just a Notice to Appear that does not specify a time or date. Initially, the Administration promised asylum seekers they would only have to wait 45 days before their asylum hearing, but that quickly turned into months and years.
Human Rights First has documented the thousands of kidnappings, murders, rapes and other acts of violence or intimidation suffered by those in MPP who are among those who were denied in absentia, and the barriers these families and individuals faced in obtaining counsel.
According to the Migration Policy Institute in December 2021: of the approximately 68,000 participants in the original MPP, more than 32,000 were ordered removed, nearly 9,000 had their cases terminated, and just 723 were granted asylum or some other kind of immigration relief. The remaining 27,000 still had pending cases in U.S. immigration court when the Biden administration announced the suspension of MPP on its first day in office in January 2021.
MPP under the Biden administration
During his campaign, Biden vowed to end Trump’s Remain in Mexico Policy. In February 2021, the administration announced a process to address individuals forced into the process. The Administration quietly started to admit families, many of whom had waited for years to have their cases heard.
In June 2021, the Biden administration announced plans to reopen the asylum process to thousands whose asylum claims were denied in absentia because they were unable to show up in court on the U.S. side of the border – at times because they were held by kidnappers or not told they had a hearing. Unfortunately, the plans to completely end MPP were short-lived because the federal courts intervened.
MPP & the Courts
Ken Paxton and Eric Schmitt – Trump-loving Attorneys General in Texas and Missouri – filed suit in a GOP-friendly federal court, claiming that the end of MPP would bring more migrants into their state. In August, a Trump-appointed judge, Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, sided with Paxton and Schmitt and prevented the Biden administration from terminating MPP.
The U.S. Department of Justice appealed Kacsmaryk’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit. The panel of judges on that notoriously conservative circuit upheld the lower court ruling. An emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court followed and on August 24, 2021, the conservative justices of the nation’s highest court completed the job by reinstating Trump’s unlawful Remain in Mexico scheme, pending resolution of the Republican lawsuit by the lower courts.
In late October, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a new memorandum terminating MPP, but in December, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this attempt to end the program once again. The administration, arguing it had no choice, made plans to reinstate MPP with modified measures. The restart of MPP was met with a hail of criticism. As Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice, said.
There is no safe way to return people to danger. The United States has a legal and moral obligation to provide for the safety of those legally requesting asylum at our borders, embassies and ports of entry and, unlike the previous president, we expect the current president to take our legal and moral obligations seriously. Returning those seeking safety to wait in uncertain and dangerous conditions has a disgraceful track record of murder, assault, rape and kidnapping. Let’s be clear, Trump policies were designed to make sure valid claims of asylum never reached the inside of a U.S. court of law to be evaluated fairly on their merits by a judge. That should never be the goal of our asylum policy again. ‘Remain in Mexico’ was ineffective, cruel and indefensible under the last president and remains so under President Biden.
When the COVID-19 pandemic escalated globally, Stephen Miller looked for a way to cut off asylum at the southern border. He found it in “Title 42” – a part of U.S. health law, specifically Section 262 of U.S. Code Title 42 – that prohibits entry into the United States when the Director for Disease Control believes “there is a serious danger to the introduction of [a communicable] disease into the United States.” It was implemented in March of 2020.
Blamed on the CDC, even some of CDC’s own doctors argued that the decision to eliminate asylum for those seeking it was not based on public health, since many protocols were already in place and there was no evidence that immigrants were contributing to the spread of the virus. The American Immigration Council reported that, as of August 2021, the Border Patrol carried out more than 1.13 million expulsions. From April 2020 through August 2021, 60.5% percent of encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border led to an expulsion.nearly half a million individuals were expelled from entering the U.S. under Title 42.
Human Rights Watch has documented some of the human rights violations resulting from this policy, and the Marshall Project released data on the immoral nature of Title 42. Strict border policies focused on deterrence, which was common for the Trump administration, have done nothing more but make the trek into the U.S. more dangerous and deadly. It pushes desperate migrants into remote regions of the border. The Marshall Project reports that migrant deaths nearly doubled under Title 42.
Biden & Title 42
While Biden has made significant changes to address the COVID-19 pandemic compared to his predecessor, the administration has yet to end Title 42. DHS argues that Title 42 is driven by the public health imperative, and is not a tool of immigration. To date, no public health official has defended the use of Title 42 to expel asylum-seekers on public health grounds.
Disproportionately Inhumane Treatment of Black Migrants
Black immigrants face unique challenges in navigating a broken immigration system that perpetuates anti-Blackness. Black immigrants are more likely to be detained, more likely to be deported, and less likely to be granted asylum. In the early days of the Biden administration, the disparate impact came into sharper national focus.
Nana Gyamfi, Executive Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), stated it this way: “we are outraged at the callousness with which local, state, and federal governments, and even the immigrant rights movement, erases or ignores the needs and aspirations of Black migrants in the discourse of basic human rights and dignity. We are harmed every day by the criminalization of our Blackness and immigration status.”
Black Immigrants in Detention
Although the average immigration bond is around $10,500, for Black immigrants the average bond is over $16,000. Because Black communities suffer from over-policing, Black migrants are more likely to be charged with minor crimes that put them at greater risk of deportation. Finally, it has been recorded that Black immigrants are six times more likely to face solitary confinement within detention centers.
Oluchi Omeoga, Senior National Organizer at Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project (BLMP), noted: “it’s not a crime to be Black or a migrant. We are 8% of the non-citizen population, but represent 20% of those facing deportation proceedings. 20% of Black migrants are deported on criminal grounds. We are six times more likely to be held in solitary confinement when detained.”
Treatment of Haitians at the Border
This was a taxing year for Haiti and Haitian nationals. Haiti has become engulfed by political unrest, violence, corruption, widespread poverty and food insecurity – in a country still reeling from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and multiple hurricanes since then. The multilayered political, economic and humanitarian crises in Haiti created extremely unsafe conditions that have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite generously granting TPS to Haitians already in the country, the treatment of Haitians who showed up at the southern border to seek asylum has been less than generous. In September, the world saw the images of Border Patrol officers on horses using what appears to be whips to deter Haitians from entering the U.S. to request asylum. Black leaders and their allies immediately called on the Biden administration to end the inhumane treatment of Black migrants. Black Lives Matter condemned the treatment of Haitians at the border:
Over the weekend, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents on horseback whipped and brutalized Haitian asylum-seekers, forcing them away from crossing into the United States. CBP is rooted in the same history of slave catching as other policing agencies. This despicable origin is starkly illustrated in the video and photo images of this weekend’s brutality. Once again, we are reminded that policing and immigration are inextricably linked and that migration is rife with anti-Blackness.
Despite promises, the Biden administration did not pursue an investigation of the officers involved in the incidents at Del Rio. Witnesses among the migrants were among those swiftly expelled.
Black immigration activists and allies continue to rally against the mistreatment and disregard of Black migrants by the Biden administration, demanding an end to all expulsion flights to Haiti, an end to Title 42, and the release of Haitian migrants in immigration facilities.
Expulsions Under Title 42
Under Title 42, tens of thousands of immigrants from predominantly Black countries have been expelled this year without a fair hearing in front of a judge. In particular, one event seemed to panic the administration. When some 15,000 Haitian nationals at the border crossing of Del Rio, Texas, the news media covered it breathlessly. The White House began expelling Haitians to a country reeling from political violence, destitution and natural disasters.
Haitian nationals continue to be expelled under Title 42 with terrifying expediency by the Biden administration. Sadly, the unconscionable deportation of Haitians back to the chaos and lawlessness of Haiti was a defining moment for an administration that came into office promising a fair, orderly and humane migration management system.
Congress & Legislation
With the slimmest of majorities in both the Senate and the House, and with a Democrat in the White House, immigrants and their allies believed this was the best chance in years to pass immigration reform that created pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The President wanted it, Democrats supported it, and the best way forward, it was thought, was to attach legislation to a vehicle that could be enacted without Republican support.
Build Back Better (BBB)
When Biden proposed the sweeping Build Back Better framework, the legislation included immigration reform. Many immigrants and advocates welcomed this inclusion and noted it was a recognition of the essential role of immigrants in our society, especially during the pandemic.
The House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better bill in November 2021 with immigration reform provisions. Unfortunately, this piece of legislation hit a wall when it went to the Senate. And after the third version of immigration reform was, once again, rejected by the Senate Parliamentarian in December 2021, the path forward is uncertain at best. Will BBB be resurrected? It does not look good. If it is broken up into pieces, will immigration reform make the cut? It doesn’t look good. Why? The Senate Parliamentarian.
The Parliamentarian and Broken Procedures in Congress
Normally, an immigration reform bill in the Senate would need 60 votes to pass. However, Democrats, through the budget reconciliation process, wanted to pass immigration reform as part of the BBB package with a 51-50 vote in the Senate, including the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote.
There’s a hitch. Provisions in budget reconciliation bills must be reviewed by the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough. She issues advisory opinions on whether or not a provision meets the so-called “Byrd rules.” While the parliamentarian’s support of certain provisions, institutionalists in the Senate are loath to ignore or override her opinion.
In September and October 2021, Senate Democrats presented the Senate Parliamentarian with two immigration proposals. Both times, MacDonough rejected the different proposals. Her reasoning, controversial and challenged by numerous experts, was that immigration reform has no place within a budget reconciliation bill, arguing: “Changing the law to clear the way to (lawful permanent resident) status is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.”
A third immigration proposal – plan to grant 6.5 million immigrants a temporary parole status to work and travel – was specifically designed to meet her objections. Nevertheless, in December 2021 she flatly and firmly rejected it. Can Senators ignore MacDonough’s ruling? Technically, yes. But as of this date, the push to ignore the Parliamentarian’s opinion and enact path to citizenship provisions does not enjoy the unanimous support of all 50 Senate Democrats.
These troubling developments are a symptom of a larger problem in the Senate. It is an institution with undemocratic features and procedures that thwart the will of the majority. White rural states have disproportionate power in the body (Wyoming and California both have two senators). The filibuster, a Jim Crow relic used to block civil rights legislation, gives Republicans veto power over the Democratic majority. This leaves vehicles such as budget reconciliation, governed in part by an unelected Parliamentarian. So long as Congress allows itself to be impacted by these outdated procedures that empower the minority to block the will of the majority, it will be difficult to enact major legislation in many areas that are popular with the public but opposed by all Republicans. This includes immigration reform.
Dangerous Right-Wing & GOP Developments
As advocates spent the year working to craft progressive policies and push the Administration towards sustainable policy solutions, right-wing talking heads continued to push dangerous, racist narratives that many members of the GOP have embraced. Not only has this rhetoric led to violence in the past, it has become an important fixture in GOP political rhetoric. As we enter the election year it is especially important to note what we faced this year and how to combat the inevitable xenophobic political narrative.
January 6, 2021
2020 ended on a hopeful note when President Donald Trump was defeated after an exhausting election season. However, when the Present and Republican members of Congress incited a violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, many were left with questions about the fragility of our democracy and the sanctity of future elections.
Instead of accepting defeat, Donald Trump encouraged his followers to disrupt the election process, leading to vandalized property, the assault of law enforcement officers, and the deaths of various individuals, including Capitol police. As a nation, we watched our Capitol be overrun by individuals motivated by xenophobia, racism and white nationalism.
This fraught beginning set the tone for a year plagued by division, with immigrants often being used as scapegoats and political pawns in Republican rhetoric.
Exploitation and Stunts at the Border
After the insurrection, a sane political party, one committed to American democracy, would take stock of what happened, take responsibility for the excesses, and look to make amends. Instead, Republicans headed to the border. The Republican answer to the rise of the white supremacist terror threat was – and is – to demonize Brown people and don flak jackets to stage photo ops on gun boats in the Rio Grande.
Right wing media, ex-Trump officials, anti-immigrant hardliners and leading Republicans have relentlessly stoked fears of a “border crisis.” It’s worth noting the origin story of the “Biden border crisis” narrative was generated by Stephen Miller and his former DHS cronies – well before Biden took office. It has been fully embraced by Republicans and the right wing media ecosystem for months. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called immigrants coming to the border “terrorists.”
In March 2021,19 Republican Senators visited the southern border as a political stunt where they pretended to be Border Patrol and wore bullet proof vests and rode up and down the Rio Grande to patrol for individuals seeking refuge (see how the internet reacted here). That wasn’t the only instance lawmakers went to the southern border. Many House Republicans traveled to the border in April 2021 once again using migrant children as political props to double down on their inhumane, ineffective and deeply unpopular immigration policies, while rejecting and sabotaging commonsense immigration solutions. These visits to the border were nothing more than deranged attempts to obtain footage for future political campaigns featuring xenophic dog-whistles.
The fact of the matter is that Republicans feigned concern over a “humanitarian crisis” at the southern border after doing nothing to stop Trump’s cruel and ineffective border policies. This is not to say that the Biden administration has addressed border issues seamlessly or without issue. As detailed above, the Biden administration has kept a number of Trump policies in place and is expelling and deporting record numbers of migrants. But that does not fit with the Fox News narrative, so it is ignored by Trump supporters and criticized by progressives.
Republicans Continue to Embrace Xenophobic Politics
Throughout 2021, America’s Voice monitored the messaging of Republican campaigns, tracking thousands of paid communications both broadcast and online media, and tens of thousands of free media statements. GOP party committees, super PACs, and candidates have already spent millions pushing racist and xenophoibc dog-whistles. As we enter 2022, one thing is abundantly clear: Republicans will again rely on the strategic use of racism and xenophobia for their midterm campaigns and overall political strategy. The challenge is how to respond.
Research and Analysis: Immigration Can Be a Winner for Democrats
Despite claims from Stephen Miller and other Republicans that nativism is a winning strategy, recent history suggests that immigration as a wedge issue in competitive general election races is not nearly as potent as many in the right-wing ecosystem claim. Where Republicans need to expand their coalition to win, they often avoid anti-immigrant dog-whistles and opt for other issues to stoke racial fear. Our examination of the elections in 2021 provides the latest example of this trend.
In a collaborative report with the Immigration Hub, America’s Voice found Democrats can win on immigration if they fight to tell a different narrative, seizing the issue away from Republicans. Running away from the issues does Democrats no favors. The GOP is filling a vacuum and are looking to use the space to their full advantage. The American people are with Democrats but they are currently only hearing the misleading Republican narrative. Recent ad testing reiterates poll findings to this effect. In order to keep or persuade voters, Democrats must show their actions to move popular immigration solutions and how Republicans are attempting to block them. The full report can be found here.
A Look Forward
After four years of devastating policies under Trump, the Biden administration faced an enormously difficult task to build a fair, functional and humane immigration system. Too many dismiss this as an excuse. Those close to the operations of government and the breadth of the policy changes instituted under Trump know it is not. There is much to be appreciated in Biden’s approach on immigration and certain policies he worked to put in place that have extended protection to communities at a time when it is most needed.
However, on the big items – legalization, restoring asylum, restoring refugee admissions, restarting robust legal immigration, and fully protecting Dreamers, TPS holders and other essential workers – the President has failed to live up to his promises. The administration needs a reset. The administration needs to review the unfulfilled promises and rethink its strategy for delivering on them.
A final reminder. It is important to look beyond politics and remember the communities who work to save America and keep us going during the pandemic. Many in immigrant communities organized for Democrats to gain power. Many immigrants in the U.S. have lived under a broken system for far too long. All deserve better from their country. It is time to put politics aside and deliver. The future of this country and the lives of immigrants are intertwined. The hope is that President Biden will find a way to deliver on all of his promises so that “We the People” includes all of us.