Trump’s opposition to senators’ recently proposed $118 billion bipartisan border bill, tying border reforms to Ukraine aid, influenced many Republican legislators to reject it. It also dealt a potentially fatal blow to the possibility of new laws and tools that could reduce illegal crossings and ease strains on cities with overwhelmed shelters. Biden may have to manage such issues without Congress’s help during his reelection run. He could attempt to blame Republicans if crossings spike again and the situation slips out of control.
Here are 12 charts showing the state of the immigration system and the southern border under Biden compared to Trump:
Illegal border crossings soared in the months after Biden took office and immediately rolled back many Trump-era restrictions. Biden warned that he’d still enforce immigration laws, and he temporarily kept in place a Trump pandemic policy known as Title 42 that allowed authorities to quickly expel border crossers.
The number of people taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol has reached the highest levels in the agency’s 100-year history under Biden, averaging 2 million per year.
During the president’s first days in office, his administration announced it would not use the Title 42 policy to turn back unaccompanied minors who arrive without a parent or guardian. Their numbers began to shoot up almost immediately, and images of migrant children and teens packed shoulder-to-shoulder in detention facilities produced the administration’s first border emergency. Soon after, Biden assigned Vice President Harris to lead a new effort to address the “root causes” of Central American emigration.
Teens and children crossing without their parents continue to arrive at near-record numbers. Families and single adults have been arriving in historic numbers as well.
Migrants arriving across the U.S.-Mexico border are coming from a wider variety of countries than ever before. In 2019, the busiest year for border crossings under Trump, about 80 percent of migrants taken into U.S. custody were from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Last year those three countries accounted for fewer than half of all border crossings.
Migrants from Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Senegal and Mauritania — along with other nations in Africa, Europe and Asia — are crossing from Mexico in numbers U.S. authorities have never seen. For example, 14,965 migrants from China arrived across the southern border between October and December, Border Patrol data shows, up from 29 over that same period in 2020. The Border Patrol encountered 9,518 migrants from India during that same three-month span, compared to 56 during that period in 2020.
The challenge of processing, detaining and potentially deporting migrants from such a wide array of nations has strained the Biden administration, which has resorted to releasing migrants into the United States when facilities are overcrowded and requests for humanitarian protection can’t be resolved quickly.
Deportations, returns and expulsions
Since Title 42 ended in May, Biden officials have deported or returned roughly 500,000 people to Mexico and other countries, exceeding Trump’s totals, which averaged roughly 500,000 annually. But Biden’s higher numbers are partly the result of a much greater volume of illegal crossings.
Trump implemented the Title 42 policy at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 to rapidly expel border crossers without giving them a chance to seek U.S. protection. The Trump administration expelled the vast majority who entered the United States and border crossings remained relatively low.
Biden kept the policy in place and ended up expelling five times more border-crossers than Trump did, mainly because more migrants attempted to enter the United States during the period between Biden’s inauguration and May 2023 when he ended Title 42.
The Biden administration has released more than 2.3 million border crossers into the United States since 2021. The gap between the number of migrants taken into CBP custody versus the number of people who are sent back or deported has widened each of the last three years.
U.S. interior immigration enforcement
Border enforcement was among several policy that shifted from Trump’s term to Biden’s.
On Biden’s first day in office his administration ordered a pause on most arrests and deportations from the interior of the United States by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Trump had promised to deport “millions” of immigrants during his term but fell well short of that goal, despite giving ICE officers broad latitude to go after anyone without legal status in the United States. Deportations of migrants arrested by ICE averaged about 80,000 annually during Trump’s term.
Biden’s Department of Homeland Security issued new guidelines to ICE officers in 2021 directing them to prioritize national security threats, serious or violent criminals and recent border-crossers. Worksite enforcement — “raids” — were halted.
Deportations of migrants arrested by ICE have fallen to about 35,000 per year since Biden took office. Biden officials say they’re doing a better job targeting criminals who pose a threat to public safety, instead of detaining otherwise law-abiding immigrant workers.
Parole, in U.S. immigration law, is an executive power that allows the government to temporarily waive in migrants who don’t qualify for a visa. Biden has relied heavily on parole powers as the basis for his broader strategy to expand opportunities for migrants to reach the United States lawfully while toughening penalties against those who cross illegally.
The Trump administration used parole at times to alleviate severe overcrowding and help CBP process migrants faster. But Biden’s use of the authority is the most expansive in U.S. history. Republicans say his administration has exceeded its powers and parole was meant to be used sparingly on a case-by-case basis.
Biden officials say their implementation of a parole program in January 2023 allowing entry by 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela fleeing political repression and economic turmoil has reduced the border influx. Fewer Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans crossed the border illegally last year, but the program has been less successful with Venezuelans.
Trump slashed U.S. refugee admissions and set the cap at 15,000 in 2021 — the lowest level since the 1980 Refugee Act. Biden promised to rebuild the program when he took office. While Biden has admitted more refugees than Trump did, his administration is still falling below the 125,000 annual cap it has set, in part due to the strains of so many border arrivals.
Citizenship applications soared during Trump’s campaign and while in office after he vowed to curb immigration as president. By the end of his tenure, however, naturalizations lagged amid backlogs and financial struggles at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes applications. In 2020, his administration instituted a new citizenship exam, which advocates said was more difficult to pass.
After Biden took office, he restored the old exam and encouraged more immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.
An estimated 9 million legal permanent residents are eligible to become citizens, which allows them to serve on juries, apply for federal jobs and vote in U.S. elections.
Naturalizations climbed during Biden’s first two years in office but slumped last year. The number of new citizens taking the oath remains higher than during the Trump administration.
The U.S. immigration court system — a branch of the Department of Justice — was facing a huge case backlog when Biden took office, and the backlog has almost doubled since then to nearly 2.5 million pending cases. Many migrants are seeking asylum, a humanitarian protection for people fleeing persecution. Some of the migrants who have crossed the border recently and asked for protection are being scheduled for court hearings more than five years away.
The inability of the system to settle cases quickly has become an incentive for additional illegal migration, because border crossers with weak asylum claims can file for protection and spend years living and working in the United States before having to worry about the risk of deportation.
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