EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Joe Biden changed the aggressive rhetoric on migration in his first year in office but failed to deliver on a promised legalization for millions of undocumented migrants. He also did not achieve either a more secure U.S.-Mexico border or a more humane immigration system, policy experts, politicians and some advocates said Wednesday.
“We have seen a welcome shift in rhetoric and approach to foreign policy, with a focus on cooperation and partnerships instead of threats and the transactional nature that characterized the Trump years,” said Maureen Meyer, vice president for program at the Washington Office for Latin America. “Yet in several areas, the administration has failed to enact the bold measures to live up to campaign commitments and to clearly separate (his) administration from Trump-era policies and practices.”
The biggest disappointment stems from Biden’s “faltering migration policies,” WOLA experts said, noting the administration has been slow to build adequate infrastructure to process asylum-seekers humanely and guarantee due process.
Even though the right disputes Biden’s commitment to border security, WOLA says he’s keeping in place the “enforcement first” approach of the previous administration through the Title 42 public health order that allows immediate expulsion of unauthorized migrants and the recent renewal of the “Remain in Mexico” program for asylum-seekers.
They also say the administration is pressuring Mexico to stop third-country migrants at its border with Guatemala, resulting in “dire humanitarian consequences.”
“Political rhetoric aside, we see unfulfilled promises and the continuation of Trump-era policies and strategies. This has been very disappointing,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “We expected from him an immigration reform to fix our broken immigration system and let productive people step out of the shadows. When you step back, you see that the administration and the new Democratic Congress failed to deliver on those promises.”
Garcia said migrants are being expelled without access to legal counsel, thousands remain in detention centers, the backlog at immigration courts is growing and there’s still little accountability over border agents, such as those who charged on horseback at Haitian migrants coming across the Rio Grande at Del Rio, Texas, last year.
“We will continue pushing for immigration reform in 2022 despite it being an electoral year. We think (the administration) made a mistake by not acting more decisively at the onset, when it had more political capital,” Garcia said. “I am worried that with a shift to the mid-term elections, immigration reform will be placed on the back-burner. […] I think that’s a mistake because if communities supported you and you did not deliver, they might meet you with apathy come election time.”
On the right of the political spectrum, GOP officials who represent districts bordering Mexico blame Biden for a record number of unauthorized migrants and a worrisome spike in synthetic drugs like the deadly fentanyl being smuggled into the United States.
Federal agents in fiscal year 2021 “encountered” almost 2 million migrants at the northern and southern borders, airports, seaports and in the continental U.S. – more than 1.7 million of them just at the border with Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-New Mexico, chastises Biden for halting border wall construction and sending mixed messages that allegedly encourage more migrants to come to the United States.
“These are record numbers of people and drugs that are coming across the southern border,” Herrell said in a conversation with the Center for Immigration Studies last week. “This open border is causing so many problems and so much harm to our neighborhoods all over the nation. It isn’t just about the southern border.”
She said the record number of migrants is taking agents away from their patrol duties to help administrators with the processing of migrants. This makes life easier for smugglers and puts a strain on local law enforcement forced to pick up the slack.
“This is now putting more pressure on our local law enforcement,” she said. “Many of our local agencies are understaffed, under budget and so now we have more problems happening because of the open border: drug, people, crime – all of this.”
Added U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, “We have seen the border crisis escalate to record levels, and Americans have paid the price. Sadly, with no tangible solutions coming from the White House, there is no end in sight to this crisis. Biden’s term as president will be marked by complete chaos at the southern border with devastating effects for our country.”
While the Biden administration points to victories in managing the COVID-19 crisis, delivering vaccines, and promoting stimulus and infrastructure funding, a January 2022 Gallup poll puts the president’s approval rating at the lowest (40%) it has been since taking office.
Biden supporters in Texas say the president did what he could during his first year in office given that the Trump administration, far from fixing an inadequate immigration system, made it more chaotic and cruel.
“When President Biden and Vice President Harris took office one year ago, our country faced a deeply damaged immigration system worsened by four years of cruelty, chaos, and confusion. Restoring order and humanity to our immigration system and addressing our challenges at border communities is a tall order and it will take time, but the administration has already demonstrated its commitment to listening and taking action,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.
She said Biden has reunited hundreds of families separated at the border during the Trump administration, halted “wasteful” border wall construction and lifted border travel restrictions.
Escobar said Title 42 and Remain in Mexico must go. “The administration also needs to keep immigration reform at the top of its priority list, despite Senate obstruction,” she said.