Former President Trump came into office as an anti-illegal immigration champion. However, one of his many contributions to a dysfunctional immigration system is that he didn’t reduce illegal immigration, in fact, it was stabilized under his administration. In a contrary manner, his administration was very successful at curbing legal immigration. The pandemic gave the Trump administration an excuse to limit the number of green cards to be issued in 2020, contributing to a drop of 90.5 percent compared to the same period in 2016.
The policies to limit the number of immigrants were based not on an economic argument, but on the former president’s own views about immigration. Trump was never shy about his disdain toward the population of certain countries or his interest in attracting those more suited in his view to improving the United States demographics. The policies the Trump administration enacted were fundamentally oriented to prevent non-white people to immigrate into the country: the Muslim Travel Ban, the Family Separation rule, the halt of the Refugee Program, and the Public Charge rule, were all policies aligned with his world-view, through a common factor: they all targeted predominantly Black and Brown people.
These policies were welcomed by his base, but they were also broadly rejected outside the Trumpian political sphere, where it was frequently argued that these measures could bring more stress into a social and economic system that could benefit from legal immigration. The alarms about declining population growth are starting to sound, with people from the own former president’s circle recognizing that the United States needs immigration to fuel future economic growth. Unfortunately, in his final weeks in the presidency, his administration moved forward to reenforce these principles by reducing the number of refugees to 15,000 in the new fiscal year (compare that to Obama’s 110,000 in his last year in the presidency).
There is no discussion that the former president was delivering goods to his base, but this situation has facilitated the appropriate environment where any type of immigration is thought to be dangerous for the country. The Republican Party has wasted no time in framing the crisis at the border as if it were an unusual event, while historical trends show the peak seasons, which in this case, are consistent with immigration patterns at the southern border from previous years. In addition, there are other behavioral patterns to consider, showing that the attempts at illegal crossings are boosted by those who have been previously expelled: recidivists. The fact that this increase started in 2019 is rarely mentioned.
While evading the fact that this pattern of crossings at the border started during Trump’s presidency, the Republican Party continues with their fearmongering, saturating public opinion with accusations of open borders, while knowing it is a complete fabrication. The crisis the Republican Party is so eagerly advertising is believed to be one of the underlying causes for the Biden administration’s unresponsiveness to the reshuffle of the Refugee Program, as was promised.
The pressure the Republican Party is putting on the Biden administration seems to be more effective than the demands coming from the Democratic Party to lift the cap on refugees that Trump left them with. There seems to be an excess of caution within the Biden administration to avoid serving Republican scare tactics. This administration has to juggle with the stress caused by the lack of response from an overwhelmed immigration system. With the Refugee Program dismantled, and currently dealing with an overflow of asylum-seekers, the administration has to rebuild the bureaucracy of a broken immigration system.
However, the Biden administration cannot allow itself to give Republicans an opportunity to craft their immigration agenda. Their argument has always been that this country welcomes legal immigration. The fact that seeking asylum and applying to the Refugee Program are legal immigration procedures is completely overlooked by Republicans they know it all too well. The Biden administration must not give them an opening to persist with the misrepresentation of immigrants.