When he took office, President Joe Biden recognized migration flows would spike if he scrapped his predecessor’s hardline border policies without a new asylum system in place.
The White House projected for traffic to return to highs of 2019, but arrivals exceeded expectations almost immediately.
A review of the past year by The Associated Press and AIM Media in Texas shows Biden, surrounded by many immigration advocates, was unprepared for the challenge, which included record arrivals in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and a camp of about 15,000 mostly Haitian refugees in a small Texas border town.
“They didn’t prepare for the potential of increased arrivals, and they really thought that they could message to migrants, ‘Don’t come yet. We’re fixing it,’ and they would listen and that’s not how it happened,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown of Bipartisan Policy Center. “No president is completely responsible for who is coming to the border, as I said, migrants decide when they’re coming to the border and they base their decisions on a lot of different factors. They base it on the situation they’re leaving. First and foremost is how bad is it where I am? Do I feel like I need to try and do I try to go to the United States in spite of all the cost concerns and dangers and likelihood of whether or not I’ll get in, right?”
The administration has veered between permissive and restrictive responses, leaving it politically isolated and underscoring the consequences of failing to have a new asylum system in place when it rescinded Trump’s policies.
Despite concerns, Biden was adamant about his campaign promise to start reversing Trump’s border policies by ending “Remain in Mexico,” known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” under which about 70,000 asylum-seekers were made to wait outside the country for hearings in U.S. immigration court.
Crossings fell sharply after Trump expanded the policy in 2019, but migrants were forced to wait in dangerous and unfamiliar Mexican border cities where finding steady work was difficult and finding attorneys was nearly impossible. Human Rights First, an advocacy group, documented 1,544 examples of violent assaults, including murder, rape, torture and kidnapping.
During the transition, advocates pushed for the policy’s immediate reversal, but consensus emerged for a more gradual winding down.
“They’re making progress towards a better asylum system. But it’s taken a lot longer than many of us expected,” said Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute.
In a statement, the White House said, “after four years of the Trump Administration’s chaos, cruelty, and misplaced priorities, the work to build a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system will take time and won’t happen overnight. In a short period of time, the Biden Administration continues to make considerable progress delivering on its plan.”