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Can the Biden Administration Do Better at the Border?


In this week's poll, we asked TBT readers whether they approved of President Biden's handling of the crisis on our southern border. A whopping 92% of respondents reported that they did not.

As astute readers have pointed out, Congress, not the president, is primarily responsible for immigration policy. In a missed opportunity, Republicans failed to capitalize on a bipartisan Senate bill that could have ushered in significant immigration policy changes. This bill, negotiated by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and James Lankford (R-OK), could have had very real impacts on the border crisis.

The proposed bill held the potential to address key issues in our immigration system. It aimed to reform our broken asylum process, strengthen detention policies, and establish a 'border emergency authority' that would trigger effective border closure when illegal encounters reach certain thresholds. Additionally, it sought to significantly restrict the process of 'humanitarian parole' and increase visas to promote legal immigration. Had they been implemented, these changes could have had a profound impact on our immigration landscape.

Republicans tanked the bill for a simple reason: Donald Trump demanded that they do so. Trump wants the border chaos—which polling shows is rivaling economy/inflation as the most important issue to voters heading into November's presidential election—to remain a top issue. As a political strategy, this might make sense. As a measure of governance, it is weak, feckless, and beneath even an institution as ethically bankrupt as our Congress.

That said, the border will continue to be a major issue as November approaches. Biden will likely have a difficult time convincing a significant number of undecided voters that Republicans own the crisis—especially since most have echoed the narrative that they want the president to utilize his office's powers before compromising on a bill tied to aid for the war in Ukraine.

Let’s take a look at what the president can actually do.

Under Section 212(f) of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, the president can "suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens" whose entry he finds "would be detrimental to the interests of the United States." President Biden could use this authority to reduce asylum claims by issuing an executive order that those seeking asylum do so only at legal ports of entry. He could also use an executive order to impose limitations, citing the backlog of more than 3 million pending cases.

The president could also repeal his administration's 2021 policy of vastly broadening the right to asylum to include people who claim to be threatened by domestic and gang violence. This was a great deviation from the historic intent of asylum. Given both the unmanageable backlog and the number of migrants who enter claiming asylum and never show up for their hearings, it is not difficult to make the case that we are simply incapable of maintaining such a broad policy at this time.

Most migrants who claim asylum are released pending court hearings, which can take up to four years because of the backlog. Around 60% of the migrants who do show up for their hearings are denied, suggesting that the percentage would be even greater for those who do not.

The Biden administration could also reverse its expanded use of humanitarian parole. The administration has applied it wholesale to include entire groups of migrants, including Afghans, Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans, and Ukrainians. More than 300,000 of these migrants were admitted in 2023. Many of these cases were run-of-the-mill economic migrants entering the country under a policy meant for much more specific situations.

More broadly, Biden could work more closely with Mexico in providing resources to help our neighbors better secure their own southern border, making it much more difficult for caravans of South American migrants to wind up at the U.S./Mexico border in the first place.

Finally, the Biden administration must do a better job of selling its victories on the issue. A Nov. 2023 report from the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank, showed that the Biden administration had deported a larger percentage of migrants encountered than the Trump administration had (47.4% of migrants encountered were deported under Trump, 50.9% had been deported under Biden).

Biden’s team may be worried that highlighting this fact will further alienate progressives who are already disenchanted by his continued support of Israel’s actions in Palestine. Given the aforementioned polling, however, that might not be the right calculus heading into November.

For far too long, immigration has been maintained as a wedge political issue at the expense of sound policies. A viable policy that includes reasonable pathways to the legal immigration of workers who can benefit our economy and enforceable policing practices that do not result in more illegal immigrants slipping through the cracks than are turned away will require comprehensive congressional action.

Unfortunately, that is not going to happen before November. In the meantime, the Biden administration should take the action it can in order to demonstrate to voters that it is approaching the crisis with a sense of urgency that matches their prioritization of the issue.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here. 


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  • BennytheDog

    Thanks for your article describing the Biden administration’s efforts vis-a-vis the Trump administration and Trump’s destructive political manipulation of the bi-partisan effort to improve the situation.

    If anyone wants to understand the underlying reasons for illegal immigration, read the linked essay in the WSJ. The primary reason for illegals is economic, they want a better life and we need their labor. It is that simple and has not changed since I was a roommate of two legal immigrants from Mexico who taught me the reality of the illegal farm labor immigration in California in the 1970’s.


    Sunday, April 7 Report this

  • Islandman

    Come on Mitch, you are better than this!

    Joe Biden can obviously do what Joe Biden wants! See College Loan Forgiveness, in direct violation of the Supreme Court decree.

    I could go on about Presidential Directives” but in the interest of brevity, I shall not.

    The house passed House Bill 42, an actual bill to close the boarder, 3 years ago, as one of their first acts.

    It still sits on Shumers desk.

    As far as “workers”those “workers” are future Democratic voters,

    pure and simple!

    However, the Democrats may be shooting themselves in the foot on that won.

    As Hispanics are figuring out that the Dems are similar to the oppressive regulatory over taxed failures, they are fleeing!

    Sunday, April 7 Report this

  • Tony2Chins

    Just as it is for illegal drugs coming across our border, politicians and policy makers are afraid to address the demand side of the immigration issue. If pols are truly concerned about immigrants "taking our jobs", then they should go after the US companies that are knowingly supplying these jobs. Corporations are realizing huge profits by underpaying and exploiting this vulnerable workforce. Politicians have no interest or incentive to restrict this source of bribe money...I'm sorry, "protected speech".

    Sunday, April 7 Report this

  • sandy

    Biden has deported more than Trump. But what is it in comparison to the numbers trying to come across the border? I fear Biden's number is higher only because of the volume coming across is higher.

    Sunday, April 7 Report this

  • jimandlope

    Yes the Trump edict has contributed dearly to the crisis but and it’s a big but will President Biden and his staff get his and other messages out there? Trump is certifiable, a crook, an insurrectionist and a liar yet he seems to be in the press more than our President who currently has great numbers but not being advertised. President Biden is the man for the job but he’s got to advertise it and his accomplishments. Jim Tierney

    Sunday, April 7 Report this

  • Rlasunto

    If more states follow Florida’s ( DeSantis laws with respect to illegal immigrants. Food inflation will certainly increase. Which is probably the real reason that the other Republican states will do this. There is already rotting produce in the fields of Florida. I’m guessing that the cost of meat will also go up since that industry also relies on illegal immigrants.

    The cost of milk will certainly follow. The cost of electronics and cars will most likely not be affected. It’s time for the republicans to let progress in solving the border crisis continue forward and not let Trump fail to do anything about it.

    Sunday, April 7 Report this

  • sandy

    I am not a Trump fan but I also am not a Biden fan. He did nothing in all his years in the Senate, as vice president. And as president I have concerns about his mental ability. I wish we had more choices but in the Democratic primaries there was noneor others. And there were problems with the Republican candidates. This will be a disastrous election no matter who wins. We can't keep paying for a war in Ukraine, paying for housing, food, medical for immigrants. Need to get them to pay their way. Can't continue to pay for interest on college loans. Need to find a solution so as a taxpayer I am not paying for others to have it better than me who worked for 45+ years. God protect the United States.

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  • rayfusco68

    We have a Mexico problem and the illegal immigration through our southern border is just one example of this problem. We won't solve the immigration problem until we solve the Mexico problem. China uses Mexico to smuggle fentanyl into the US, illegal migrants trains pass unimpeded through Mexico to our border, Manufacturing is moving to Mexico for cheap labor (not just auto industry), the President of Mexico admits openly that he won't take on the cartels. 79% of Mexico's trade is with the US, we have the ability to hammer their economy but the auto makers and other corporations that are moving there for cheap labor lobby our politicians to not interfere. We need selective immigration to help with our skilled and educated labor needs.

    Sunday, April 7 Report this