President-elect Joe Biden sparked outrage among activists when, a month before Inauguration Day, he retreated from his promise to unravel President Trump’s restrictive immigration regime on Day One. Instead, he suggested, the Biden administration would undo Trump’s actions over a period of months, thus avoiding a rush of “2 million people on our border” and the ensuing chaos in the opening days of his presidency.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show that apprehensions at the southern border were at an eight-year high in October and November; December data will likely reflect similar activity. A new wave of migrant caravans, including a group that launched an unsuccessful trek from Honduras, is of particular concern.
Biden is right to worry that undoing Trump’s aggressive enforcement regime would prompt a spike in illegal immigration, but his proposed solution—rolling back Trump’s regulations slowly—misses what would cause that rush in the first place. The problem with Biden’s immigration plan is not its speed of execution, but its lack of any principle that would limit immigration, illegal or otherwise. Instead, the Biden agenda will encourage illegal entry—an arrangement with potentially disastrous consequences.
Biden’s immigration platform reveals the emptiness of his policies. Inasmuch as immigration defined Trump’s 2016 campaign, Biden’s agenda is almost entirely reactive, promising to undo policies that eventually led Americans to call for more, rather than less, immigration.
For example, Biden will end the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy, instead allowing asylum-seekers into the U.S., where they can then skip out on immigration court hearings. Biden will end the prosecution of adults for entering United States illegally. His administration will substantially expand asylum eligibility, curtailed by Trump because claims routinely yield few actual asylees but lots of absconders. And Biden will return to the Obama administration’s “Priority Enforcement” regime, which requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on serious criminal offenders.
As it relaxes enforcement, the Biden administration will also look the other way on illegal immigration. Biden has promised not only to reinstate DACA but also to seek a “path to citizenship” for America’s 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants and deportation relief for millions more resident under Temporary Protective Status programs.
Amnesty should be paired with reforms that discourage illegal immigration both before its implementation (to stop people from showing up to take advantage of it) and going forward. But by simultaneously reducing enforcement and increasing the incentive to immigrate, the Biden plan will only worsen the problem. His only concessions to discouraging illegal entry—more technology at the border and aid to Central America to target the “root causes” of illegal immigration—offer thin reassurance.
It is thus little surprise that tens of thousands of people are flooding the border, even amid a global pandemic. Rising illegal immigration represents a normal response to weakened enforcement, just as immigration slackened dramatically following Trump’s election. Biden’s election signals that America will give a free pass, and even citizenship, to those who skip the line.
That’s bad not only for the rule of law but also for the health and safety of Americans and immigrants alike. As we have seen twice over the past decade, migration waves can tax medical and humanitarian resources—already stretched thin by Covid-19—and spread disease. They also pull enforcement attention away from stopping criminals: ICE blamed the 2019 border crisis for a 12 percent drop in the arrest of serious offenders.
By diverting CBP resources, massive illegal immigration also distracts from drug enforcement, allowing tens of thousands of pounds of narcotics to deepen America’s ever-worsening overdose crisis. And large waves of immigrants make it harder to counter the abuse endemic to the trafficking process, including the estimated 60 percent to 80 percent of women raped in transit.
A rational system would screen refugees and asylum seekers while deterring illegal immigration. But hardline Democrats see any stance short of open borders as retrograde and racist. Biden and his advisors doubtless regard their soft-touch approach as the most humanitarian option, but by welcoming a surge of illegal immigration, they invite mass suffering in the name of compassion.
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