Comprehensive immigration reform is a legislative priority that seems to become more and more unrealistic with every subsequent presidential administration. And each president has attempted to improve the United States’ immigration policies through executive politicking: Barack Obama took to the pen and the phone for DACA, while Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the border.
It’s now Joe Biden’s turn, and he has essentially swung a “back door” wide open.
Despite blowback about how he handles immigration and a decidedly rightward shift on the issue, Biden has been especially liberal on immigration from a humanitarian point of view. Taking advantage of programs that would allow those seeking refuge from tumult-racked countries to get work quickly, 300,000 Ukrainians alone have arrived in the US through various programs, and by the end of 2023 360,000 Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians are expected to join them, per the New York Times. The Biden administration has also greatly expanded what is known as “temporary protected status;” over 670,000 individuals from 16 countries are taking advantage of a limited window of residence and work in the United States. They are offered deportation protection as part of the program, and most of those who qualify are longtime residents. This move is a sharp contrast to Trump, who sought to end the program.
Of course, these decisions don’t make headlines; in the eyes of many, Biden ignored the “front door.”
Biden spoke of his immigration policy in lofty terms on the campaign trail, and many of the president’s critics have attacked him and his officials (sometimes to the point of ridiculousness and violating rules of decorum) over what is going on down at the US-Mexico border. The “Biden border crisis ”has been a staple of conservative disdain for the president while largely an absent point of discourse in liberal circles, and as such public opinion is divided on the issue. Some Democrats, like New York Mayor Eric Adams, have shown a willingness to go after Biden because of spikes in migrants in his own city. Others on Adams’ left feel Biden has compromised his principles. Either way, the GOP-controlled House has made it a point to publicly show their commitment to addressing border policies, and hearings do indeed contain revelations concerning just how chaotic the situation is with in regard to migrants, crime, and arrests.
With these two aspects of Biden’s policy accounted for, how can his approach to immigration be properly evaluated? Biden comes off as a president concerned with the compassionate image of the United States, but also as a president almost scared to deal with the country’s most contentious issue. The reason for this is fairly obvious: Biden has the freest hand and most freedom from criticism by taking low-key executive actions for those who need the US as asylum. Any moves associated with the southern border leave him vulnerable.
In a way, the ire from GOP members of Congress directed at his subordinates protects him from attacks. And as some argue, the act of focusing on external migrants (and denying asylum for those making illegal crossings) de-incentivizes non-Mexican border crossings and achieves a sort of decent middle ground on the issue.
The problem, however, is that there is no room for middle ground in a polarized country.