President Joe Biden’s administration has made mistakes on immigration policy, but not the ones its critics think. Recent actions, including a parole program for individuals from four countries, show promise and may help overcome the administration’s twin mistakes: failing to frame the border situation as a refugee crisis and continuing some of former President Donald Trump’s border enforcement policies.
The United States is experiencing a historic refugee crisis in the Western Hemisphere that has been billed as a “border crisis.” The unprecedented economic collapse and widespread human rights abuses have caused more than 7.1 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants are leaving their country since 2015, with many barely surviving and going to places outside the United States. Almost 2 million Venezuelans have gone to Colombia and 1.3 million to Peru. Cubans and Nicaraguans they also fled their authoritarian governments in large numbers, and violent gangs terrorize Haitians.
The Biden administration shot itself in the foot by admitting to critics that the success of immigration policy will be measured by the number of border patrol “encounters” with migrants. Then, inexplicably, the border numbers guaranteed by the administration would be greatly inflated by the continued use of Title 42, the immigration removal authority that has been masquerading as a public health regulation since March 2020.
Many people mistakenly believe that encounters are the same as “apprehensions,” a long-standing Border Patrol statistic. That is not the case. Encounters include four different enforcement actions, including expulsions carried out under Title 42 of the Health Authority. This authorization was rarely used before March 2020.
Title 42 created inaccurate statistics because re-crossers were generally not prosecuted or faced legal consequences other than being sent back across the US-Mexico border. As a result, “the number of total encounters overstates the number of unique people trying to cross the border,” according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Many of the people crossing the border are Mexican job seekers who repeatedly try to travel north, since jobs in America are plentiful but legal work visas are few and far between. Since the ports of entry were generally closed to asylum seekers because of Title 42, groups of people seeking protection entered the US illegally and presented themselves to Border Patrol agents, further increasing the numbers.
If Title 42 had not been in effect, CBP apprehensions at the Southwest border would likely have been around 1.2 million in fiscal year 2021 and below 1.6 million in fiscal year 2022, according to an analysis in an upcoming report from the National Endowment for American Policy (NFAP). ), of which I am the executive director. ( record for arrests was 1.64 million in FY 2000.) NFAP estimates that retaining Title 42 would result in approximately 471,000 new encounters at the Southwest border in FY 2021 and about 627,500 more in FY 2022.
The Biden administration has fallen into the trap of allowing its opponents to define the terms of the debate. After Biden officials decided to stop using Title 42, the Supreme Court ordered the authorities to stay put as he waits to hear arguments on the standing of states trying to force the Biden administration to continue using Title 42.
Regulating care for asylum seekers would also be necessary with better metrics. However, managing the humanitarian flow would be easier if the Biden administration allowed asylum seekers to file their claims in an orderly, timed manner at a legal port of entry. The management tried to correct it with phone app allowing individuals to get scheduled appointments at the port. It remains to be seen whether enough people will be allowed to file daily at ports of entry to make using the app a viable alternative. Still, the idea is good. However, the proposal for a regulation that would render most individuals ineligible for asylum if they do not report at the port of entry.
Providing legal means to seek relief through at least partial opening of ports of entry and recent establishment parole programs accepting up to 30,000 Venezuelans and others per month (with American sponsors) reduced illegal entry. “Encounters of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan non-citizens attempting to illegally cross the southwest border have decreased dramatically since President Biden announced an expanded parole program for these individuals,” according to Ministry of Homeland Security statistics released yesterday. “Preliminary numbers from January show that encounters of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans illegally crossing between ports of entry on the southwest border have decreased by 97% compared to December.”
More opportunities for legal work in the US and the implementation of a broad refugee program in the Western Hemisphere would be reasonable next steps. Treating the situation at the border as a refugee crisis shifts the focus to helping people.
Members of Congress and others opposed to the Biden administration’s parole program had no objection to the Trump administration’s dismantling of the US refugee program. They also did not advocate for any other legal way for people fleeing oppressive governments to enter America. Without pathways to legal entry, it is inevitable that more people will cross into the US illegally.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, joined by other Republican attorneys general, filed a lawsuit through the parole program s same US District Judge which blocked another significant immigration measure of the Biden administration. While the parole program appears to have a sound legal basis, by halting it for a year or more, the lawsuit could prevent a successful way to provide legal recourse to those fleeing oppressive conditions.
In addition, the parole program is part of the agreement with Mexico. “Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants each month from four countries who attempt to walk or swim across the US-Mexico border and are turned back,” reports PBS. “[T]The US cannot easily send people back from those four countries for a number of reasons that include relations with the governments there.”
Only the Mexican government accepted more deported migrants after Biden implemented the parole program. If the parole program is blocked, more people would be released to the U.S. instead of returning to Mexico, which the plaintiffs would not want. This is a foreign policy compromise that should not involve attorneys general.
Critics of increasing the number of CBP encounters argue, without much evidence, that individuals would not come to America if America’s immigration policies were tougher — in other words, if Biden were more like Trump.
Despite what his supporters claim, Trump’s policies have not reduced illegal immigration or discouraged people from applying for asylum. Pending asylum cases increased by almost 300 percent between FY 2016 and FY 2020 (from 163,451 to 614,751), according to at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Southwest Border Arrests (Illegal Entry View) rose more than 100 percent in between FY 2016 and FY 2019 (from 408,870 to 851,508). At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, fears subsided for several months, but by August and September 2020, fears had returned to approximate level of illegal entry for the same months of fiscal year 2019.
Providing individuals with legal ways to work or seek protection in America is the only viable way to reduce illegal immigration. Treating people humanely is not a sign of weakness. Facilitating orderly entry is smart policy in keeping with America’s best traditions as a nation of immigrants and refugees.