Why Biden Can’t Quit Trump’s Worst Immigration Policies

·5 min read
photo: Tom Brenner/Bloomberg/Getty
photo: Tom Brenner/Bloomberg/Getty

The issue that divides America now divides the Democratic Party as well.

A major immigration fault line erupted this week when the Biden administration extended a controversial policy from the Trump era that kept out migrants and refugees, and the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant rights groups immediately responded by saying they would resume a lawsuit filed during the Trump administration but had been paused after Joe Biden was sworn in to give the new president a chance to change course.

The policy at issue is Title 42, which allows Customs and Border Protection agents to expel migrants from the United States without court hearings or due process—ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that Title 42 "shall remain in effect until the CDC Director determines that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered non citizens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health.”

That’s what set off the folks on the left.

“We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any problems left behind by the Trump administration, but it has left us no choice but to return to court,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, the lead lawyer on the case, said in a statement.

Liberal vs liberal. That’s not something you see every day.

But then again, what did Biden and Co. expect was going to happen when they decided to follow in the footsteps of the most anti-immigrant president in a hundred years?

In 2016, Donald Trump got elected on the promise that he alone could save the country from Mexican rapists and drug traffickers, while his supporters trembled at the thought of “taco trucks on every corner.” Once in office, Trump instituted a Muslim ban, backed attempts to cut legal immigration, ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and tried to bring in more Norwegians and fewer folks from “shithole” countries.

And this is Biden’s role model on immigration? I bet no one saw that coming, least of all Biden.

“If I'm elected president, we're going to immediately end Trump's assault on the dignity of immigrant communities,” Biden said as he accepted his party's nomination at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. “We're going to restore our moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers.”

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Last week, the White House unveiled a 21-point plan to tackle the issue. With Republicans eager to portray Democrats as open-border fanatics who are putting the country at risk, the goal seemed to be to get out in front of the issue. The Biden plan beefs up border security, makes asylum harder to achieve, and speeds up the removal of migrants, including “for certain families who recently arrived at the southern border, cannot be expelled under Title 42, and do not have a legal basis to stay in the United States.”

There is obligatory lip service to supporting Dreamers, giving citizenship to the undocumented, and forking over economic aid to countries in Central America. But the political message is clear: Democrats aren’t wimps on border security, and they won’t let Republicans say otherwise.

For those on the left, the worst part of Biden’s immigration plan is its reliance on the “expedited removal” of families seeking refugee status.

Robyn Barnard, senior advocacy counsel for refugee protection at Human Rights First, accused the administration last week of violating asylum law and failing to “protect and respect” refugees.

“Expedited removal has proven to be a due process and human rights fiasco, again and again. The last thing the Biden administration should be doing is subjecting children, parents and other asylum seekers to this expedited deportation process,” Barnard said in a statement.

This split within the Democratic Party over immigration was a long time coming. Just look at the last few decades.

The Clinton administration got pushback from immigrant groups when it militarized the U.S.-Mexico border through Operation Gatekeeper.

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The Obama administration was not popular with some immigration activists for deporting nearly 3 million people.

Yet, the Biden administration—not yet seven months old—is already in a league of its own when it comes to dividing Democrats.

Biden himself is making things worse by trying to finesse the immigration issue, and he remains a moving target. From week to week, the president takes every position possible on the issue. He constantly fluctuates between the moderate positions he feels most comfortable with and the more radical stances that the left-wing of his party demands.

As a result, many of his supporters are confused and frustrated.

This includes Latinos, who are likewise bewildered by Biden’s maneuvers on immigration. They see the guy they supported in large numbers lurching to the right and impersonating a Republican. They’re disappointed, hurt, and angry. Some may even feel betrayed.

They’re not the only ones.

Biden is playing a high-stakes game on immigration. He seems willing to split his party in half, if it might mean more votes down the line (though, of course, there’s no guarantee it will). He’s breaking promises, resuming failed policies, and turning supporters into critics.

All for what? Political expediency? Winning elections?

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

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