The immigration conundrum, seemingly unsolvable, has persisted across Democratic and Republican administrations, creating a divisive moral and practical dilemma.
Immigration has long served as a political weapon for both mainstream parties, with Democrats portraying Trump as a callous xenophobe and Republicans characterizing Biden as weak and impractical on the issue.
As immigration takes center stage in the 2024 campaign, it’s essential to scrutinize the Biden administration’s approach.
Despite four years of Democratic criticism against Trump’s immigration policies, Biden’s entry into office was marked by grand promises to reform decades-old immigration laws, overturn Trump-era restrictions, and pave a path to legal citizenship.
However, by 2023, many of these aspirations remain unfulfilled, leaving the administration struggling to find its footing on immigration. Even with a slim Democratic majority in Congress during his first two years, legislative progress on immigration was stymied, and the administration faced legal challenges from Republican state officials that halted numerous executive efforts.
Nonetheless, Biden has taken a proactive stance on immigration, issuing 403 immigration-related executive actions in his first two years, surpassing Trump’s four-year total of 472. This paradox underscores the complexity of the issue, as Trump was perceived as an activist on immigration despite a lower executive action count.
Despite Biden’s activism, significant challenges persist at the U.S. border, with record levels of migrant encounters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Paradoxically, this surge may be linked to the administration’s actions to shield immigrants from deportation and provide humanitarian protections, creating an expectation of a warm welcome after four years of Trump’s policies.
Biden chose not to disband ICE, despite calls from the left, instead opting to realign the organization’s focus. While Trump targeted unauthorized immigrants broadly, Biden has narrowed ICE’s focus to recent border crossers and those posing national security or public safety threats. Consequently, removals by ICE in FY 2022 numbered 72,100, down from Trump’s annual average of 233,000 and Obama’s annual average of 344,000.
Daily detentions under Biden have also decreased, with an average of 22,600 in FY 2022, compared to Trump’s high of 50,200 in FY 2019. To offset this decline, Biden has significantly expanded ICE’s alternative detention programs, which track noncitizens through smartphone apps or ankle monitors during their immigration cases.