A review of President Biden’s first year on border policy
In January of 2021, as President Biden and his team transitioned from the campaign to the White House, addressing U.S. border policy was top priority. A year later, the lasting impact of those initial decisions is undeniable — the Biden administration’s policies and actions on the border created a crisis, and his continued inaction allowed it to devastate our immigration system.
In the opening days of President Biden’s first year, the main goal of his administration centered around reversing the policies of former President Trump. Instead of reviewing policies based on their effectiveness, the Biden administration blindly canceled President Trump’s policies without first analyzing the impact the removal of those policies would have on our border communities.
On the very first day, the Biden administration effectively terminated the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the Remain in Mexico policy. The policy allowed for asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until the time came for them to appear at an immigration hearing. This program reduced the number of border apprehensions by 64% over a four-month span in 2019 and was a major component of the Trump administration’s efforts to combat illegal immigration. Earlier this year, I sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas questioning the administration’s rationale for suspending the MPP. While a court order required the Biden administration to reinstate the program, the administration continues to fight the use of this effective strategy through legal challenges.
President Biden also issued other executive orders (EOs) that reinstated catch-and-release measures, a controversial practice terminated under the Trump administration that allows undocumented migrants to enter the United States without a visa. President Biden’s policies gave undocumented immigrants traveling with children an ability to remain indefinitely in the United States, and many warned that this policy would incentivize human trafficking of children across the border. These warnings proved true as Border Patrol agents encountered almost 19,000 unaccompanied children two months later in March, five times the number encountered in the same month of 2020.
Another policy targeted by President Biden was border wall system construction. After the federal government had already paid for much of the wall system, the president canceled the project, which not only wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, but also left our border vulnerable.
The administration’s actions quickly led to a surge of migrants on the border. Within weeks of President Biden’s inauguration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encounters with family units at the southwest border increased 400 percent compared to months prior to election day, prompting leaders from across the political spectrum to warn the White House of an impending border crisis.
“We are writing to express our deep concern that your recent sweeping border security and immigration enforcement policy rollbacks are causing a new crisis at our southwest border, undercutting the rule of law, and damaging the integrity of our territorial borders,” my colleagues on the Committee on Homeland Security and I wrote to the president in early February, 2021.
Despite the warnings, however, President Biden chose to ignore the crisis he and his administration had created as details of the humanitarian crisis became publicly known. Border Patrol agents reported that the Biden administration had “become the biggest facilitator of human smuggling across the border.” Drug smuggling exploded as Border Patrol agents seized more fentanyl by April 2021 than in all of 2020 combined. Suspected or known terrorists were reported to have been apprehended while attempting to sneak into the United States during the crisis.
However, the administration continued to remain silent as human smuggling and drug trafficking continued to reach record highs until the crisis reached a breaking point in September when thousands of Haitian migrants camped at the border. When those migrants were met by Border Patrol agents, who attempted to gain control of the situation, many attempted to rush across the border and were met by agents on horseback. During the encounter, an agent was photographed using his reins to control the horse he was riding, leading to a photo that media outlets began using to falsely accuse the agents of using “whips” to strike immigrants.
Instead of supporting the agents who were performing their duties under very difficult circumstances, the Biden administration helped promote this false narrative – even after the photographer who took the photos refuted the claims. Instead of taking responsibility for the dozens of actions they took to create the crisis, the administration chose to blame everyone else — including the officers who were charged with protecting our border while working overtime to provide care for the influx of unaccompanied children.
One year ago, President Biden implemented a border strategy based on overturning President Trump’s actions without regard to the impact on the border. His actions signaled that the border was open with catch-and-release policies and weakened security, and he ignored warnings of the crisis for months. When the crisis reached a pivotal moment, he betrayed the law enforcement agents who were performing their duty to our nation.
President Biden’s policies have completely failed the American people, but it is not too late for him to change course. To secure the border President Biden must reimplement the proven policies he scrapped and begin supporting our law enforcement agents on the border. If he chooses not to, his legacy on the border will remain what it is at the end of his first year — a complete and total failure.
Michael Guest represents the 3rd District of Mississippi and is vice ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security.
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