Why is Biden pursuing Trump-era policies? There is frustration among activists and government officials over the continuity of Title 42 and the Remain in Mexico policy.
In early July, amid promises of new immigration policies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) drafted a comprehensive nine-page plan to end Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic policy to swiftly evict migrant families with kids. But the plan was shelved shortly after and was never implemented.
This came after senior White House and DHS officials raised concerns about the risk of undoing this policy when migrant arrests had skyrocketed to a 21-year high and the Delta variant of the coronavirus was spreading rapidly.
Instead, the Biden administration ended up defending the use of Title 42, which was first invoked by the Trump administration in March 2020 despite objections from some officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since July, immigration officials have used Title 42 and other Trump-era immigration policies to expel more than 44,000 migrant parents and children traveling as families without allowing them to apply for humanitarian protection.
“We are in this very strange place where we are enforcing Title 42 more strongly than the Trump administration.”
A Biden administration official stated that he requested anonymity to speak freely.
An opportunity for reform or just continuity of anti-immigration regulations?
Disagreements between officials appointed by Biden who have pushed for stricter enforcement of immigration policies, including increased deportations, and others who support expanding access to the asylum system have hampered the policy goals of the administration, people involved in these discussions said.
The Biden administration could find itself implementing the most radical border restrictions instituted under former President Donald Trump: Title 42 expulsions and the Remain in Mexico policy.
Although some government advisers insist that the application of Title 42 is necessary in a pandemic context, other officials believe that the continued implementation of these immigration policies is based largely on optics, and that they will be maintained due to fears that eliminating them might suggest the appearance of a chaotic border.
“At the end of the day, politics trumps policy. And the politics of having large numbers of people deported at the border is what has won.”
Said a member of the Biden administration familiar with the internal disputes.
Reviving the Remain in Mexico policy was presented by some as a deterrent tool. Some officials even believe the policy could be applied in a way that offers better processing and security for asylum seekers. The Biden administration has also considered trying to convince the Mexican government to sign an agreement that would allow the United States to redirect non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico.
A difficult balance for a damaged administration
Tyler Moran, Biden’s senior immigration advisor, said the Biden administration isn’t just focused on deterring migrants. He noted that work has been underway to expand refugee resettlement and work visas and mitigate the factors that push people to leave their home countries.
The administration, Moran added, is still trying to rebuild an asylum system destroyed by Trump-era restrictions. You also have to act carefully to ensure that changes in immigration policy resist lawsuits.
Due to these differences in immigration policy, the relationship between the Biden administration and the immigrant advocacy community has deteriorated greatly throughout the year.
“The asylum system needs to be restored. These are not Trump policies, they are Biden policies at this time.”
Said Astrid Domínguez, an immigration advocate who oversees a coalition of advocacy groups in South Texas.
Cecilia Muñoz, who served as former President Barack Obama’s top immigration adviser, stated that she largely understands the frustration of immigration advocates. But she said the Biden administration faces very few and terrible alternatives, noting that all decisions, such as sending migrants to Mexico, detaining them, or releasing them in the United States have profound humanitarian and political consequences.
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