Trump Immigration Policy and the Biden Transition

Author: Trevor Johnson, November 2020

This paper examines and reflects on the Trump administration’s immigration policies and their impact. The piece concludes with recommendations to the newly elected Biden administration, on what must immediately be done to restore some semblance of integrity to the United States’ immigration system in order to continue to protect people in a manner which exceeds minimum standards of dignity and respect for human rights. 

Image by Unsplash


Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that promised severe changes to U.S. immigration policy, a promise which he has accomplished with concerning effect. His administration was responsible for hundreds of immigration reforms and modifications to existing policies, impacting every non-U.S. citizen from exchange students and workers, to refugees and asylees. Changes have been detrimental, from a humanitarian perspective, particularly to those coming from Latin America. Practices of metering, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs), and Asylum Cooperative Agreements have been some of the most unprecedented. The Trump administration used the COVID-19 pandemic and a CDC public health rule to further its immigration agenda in a manner inconsistent with domestic and international law. 

This paper examines and reflects on the Trump administration’s immigration policies and their impact. The piece concludes with recommendations to the newly elected Biden administration, on what must immediately be done to restore some semblance of integrity to the United States’ immigration system in order to continue to protect people in a manner which exceeds minimum standards of dignity and respect for human rights.  


Under the Trump administration, U.S. immigration policy is constantly changing — with  Washington’s management of the border having had impacts far beyond Tijuana and McAllen. Policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (commonly known as the Remain in Mexico Policy), Asylum Cooperative Agreements and Third Country Transit have disproportionately impacted Mexican and Central American migrants and asylum seekers.  The harmful practices have been made worse by the impact of Covid 19,  and the Trump administration’s invoking of Title 42 of the Public Health Services Act, which gives the government broad powers to act during a public health crisis. COVID-19 and Title 42 are being used as an excuse to shut down the border to migrants, those seeking asylum, and to expel asylum seekers already in the United States. 

Trump’s determination to step-up enforcement, reduce benefits and subdue legal immigration has been through executive dictum, circumventing established procedures and bypassing “the National Security Council, the Office of Legal Council, and other bureaucracies with subject matter expertise, as well as the relevant cabinet secretaries who would be tasked with enforcing the new policies”(Waslin 2020). Over 400 policy changes have been made related to immigration, an effort further fed under the guise of public health concerns, and buttressed by Trump’s mainstreaming of the farcical narrative that the U.S.’ security and economy is threatened by legal immigration (Pierce and Bolter 2020). 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 50 immigration policy changes have been issued and while some are temporary, others like the Asylum Seeker Ban, Refugee Entry Suspension, Unaccompanied Alien Children replacement restrictions, MPP hearing postponement, and the closure of USCIS offices, are indefinite (Zak 2020). The following timeline shows but a sliver of the changes since 2018: 

Many of the changes have the intended effect of impacting Central American and Mexican immigrants. From working to end TPS status for hundreds of thousands of people, including immigrants from Northern Triangle countries, increasing barriers for asylum protection for gang violence, domestic violence and LGBTQ persecution, to challenges to DACA where nearly 90% of recipients are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (“Daca_population_data.Pdf” n.d.). Data from the Department of Homeland Security indicate that of affirmative asylum cases filed, six of the top ten countries are in Latin America (Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia) and the negative asylum cases filed include all the previous countries as well as Cuba and Ecuador (Baugh 2019). By way of hegemonic power, the United States has obliged Mexico and Northern Triangle countries to be an extension of its immigration enforcement apparatus, strongarming these countries into imposing U.S. border security far beyond the actual border. The Migrant Protection Protocols, metering, Asylum Cooperative Agreements and the invocation of Title 42 disproportionately affect certain vulnerable populations and are inherently a matter of humanitarian and policy concern to all of Latin America. 


In the Spring of 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began officially turning asylum seekers away at the border, although the practice reportedly began in 2016. CBP is claiming that the United States does not have the capacity or resources to process a claim at a port of entry, CBP agents inform asylum seekers that they must wait until such capacity exists. With little support from government officials, the result has manifested in a log kept in a scholastic spiral notebook and managed by the asylum seekers themselves, including names, ID numbers, and their place “in line”. Such a system has been the source of criticism from NGOs, civil society groups and legal professionals. A May 2020 report from the Strauss Center found that nearly 15,000 asylum seekers were on waitlists in over 10 Mexican border cities (Leutert, Arvey, et al. 2020). There are different lists in different border cities, lists specifically for Mexican nationals, and lists for asylum seekers from Central America and other countries – yielding occasional confusion and animus among the various groups seeking protections (Brigida 2019). Mexico has done little to provide support and, due to stay at home orders under the pandemic, shelters have closed, volunteers have dwindled and donations have dropped off, making the challenges of survival and staying near the port of entry that much more difficult. 

In 2017, the humanitarian advocacy organization, Al Otro Lado, filed a class action lawsuit challenging the metering policy. In the suit, the plaintiffs claimed that asylum seekers are forced into dangerous gang controlled conditions at the border, and alleged that, “CBP officials have discouraged aliens from pursuing asylum by forcibly removing them from ports of entry, threatening them with prolonged detention or separation from their children, and falsely telling them that they can no longer pursue asylum due to changes in U.S. law” (Smith 2019). The suit also argues that metering defies the concept of non-refoulement, the international law which obliges countries not to return an individual to a state where they will be persecuted. The United States is party to the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Protocol), which, in Article 33, makes specific reference to non-refoulement (Smith 2019). Instead of waiting in precarious conditions, many are pushed to make their asylum claims between ports of entry. Metering forces people into illegal crossing routes with inhospitable terrain and controlled by criminal groups, solely to exercise their right to seek asylum. 

Migrant Protection Protocols: 

In the first months of 2019, asylum seekers began to be forcibly returned to Mexico under a policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, also known as the Remain in Mexico policy). Previously, asylum seekers were allowed to remain in the U.S. while awaiting a determination on their claim but under the MPP, asylum seekers are returned to Mexico. As of May 2020, nearly 65,000 individuals have been returned to Mexico under this program, the vast majority from Central America: 35% from Honduras, 24% from Guatemala, 12.5% from El Salvador (Leutert, Eller, et al. 2020). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims that the MPPs will “help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system, and the ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations, and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need” and “will provide a safer and more orderly process that will discourage individuals from attempting illegal entry” (“Migrant Protection Protocols” 2019). The effects appear to be the opposite, as due process is sidestepped and the hundreds of reported cases of torture, kidnapping, rape and other violence have been disregarded as “anecdotal stuff”  by acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Mark Morgan (Acer, Gendelman, and Kizuka 2019). 

The denials espoused by DHS officials of the dangers awaiting those returned to Mexico contradict warnings issued by the U.S. State Department (DOS). The DOS has indicated that Mexican law enforcement have been complicit in abuses against migrants as well as designating the state of Tamaulipas, where MPP return people, is “designated as a Level Four threat, the same level threat assigned to Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, and Syria” (Acer, Gendelman, and Kizuka 2019). Outcry and resistance to the MPP have been widespread as highlighted in a testimony before Congress by asylum officer and USCIS union president Michael Knowles who stated that MPP “is an ‘unmitigated disaster’ and that ‘[t]hese policies are . . . the basis for human rights abuses on behalf of our nation’”(Acer, Gendelman, and Kizuka 2019). The U.N. Refugee Agency voiced concern in an amicus brief that MPP fear-screening policies, “lack key safeguards required by international law” as “applicants do not have access to counsel in the screening procedure; a decision is not appealable by the applicant; and applicants cannot meaningfully prepare their refugee status determination claims by meeting with lawyers and/or receive notice of upcoming court dates, or otherwise be assured of due process in their full asylum hearings” (Acer, Gendelman, and Kizuka 2019). Interviews are short, contain mostly yes/no questions that fail to inquire about fears and persecution, and place an unreasonably high burden of proof on the applicant. Such structure is not aimed at protecting those at risk, but rather to fast-track their removal.  

  Asylum seekers are further disadvantaged by the lack of legal counsel and the restrictions set forth by the DHS for lawyers to access returnees. MPP obstructs the right to legal representation guaranteed under Section 292 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and observed in data analyzed by Syracuse University’s TRAC program which shows almost 98% of returnees lack legal representation (Acer, Gendelman, and Kizuka 2019). 

Much like metering, the Migrant Protection Protocols conflict with the U.S.’ responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1980 Refugee Act. Forcing asylum seekers and others to remain in dangerous border regions can be a matter of life and death. The conditions have only become more dire amid the public health crisis of COVID-19. 

Asylum Cooperative Agreements

In late 2019, the United States signed Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACA) with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador which designated them as safe for asylum seekers. The ACA’s “allow the United States to deport any individuals who arrive at the border seeking asylum in the U.S. to countries with which they have these agreements, so long as the immigrant would have access to a full and fair procedure for determining their asylum claims, and would not have their life or freedom put at risk due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group membership” (Scribner 2020). Of principal concern is that the guarantee of freedom from persecution and access to fair claim of asylum cannot be met in the Northern Triangle countries. For the last several years, the top countries from which people were granted asylum include El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – so those who are seeking asylum in the United States, “are seeking it from the very same region that the United States plans to send them back to” (Scribner 2020). The persecution and danger, particularly gang violence, is not constrained by borders, therefore, those fleeing one Northern Triangle country will not be in any less danger in another. Once again, the issue of non-refoulement applies, as the dangers in one country are ubiquitous in the others.  These three countries have some of the highest murder and femicide rates in the world and do not offer protections to LGBTQIA+ populations, which should disqualify their consideration as states deemed acceptable to send asylum seekers. 

Of further concern is the lack of capacity and personnel to process large numbers of asylum seekers being transferred from the United States. In June 2019 a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala reported that the unit for handling asylum, the Office of International Migration Relations, had seven employees with a capacity to process no more than 150 cases per year: the backlog as of March 2020 was 713 (Schacher, Schmidtke, and Sawyer 2020). In El Salvador the situation is equally alarming, as President Nayib Bukele bluntly explained in a 60 Minutes interview with Sharyn Alfonsi in 2019 excerpted below (Alfonsi 2019): 

Sharyn Alfonsi: How can you keep asylum seekers safe here if you can’t keep the people who live here safe?

President Nayib Bukele: Yes actually, this is an agreement– that has a lot of ifs because…

Sharyn Alfonsi: What do you mean ifs?

President Nayib Bukele: Well, these countries have to be a lot safer, a lot safer.

Sharyn Alfonsi: A member of the President’s inner circle said that– asylum seekers could end up staying in El Salvador, that that could happen. Is El Salvador prepared for that?

President Nayib Bukele: Well, not right now. We don’t have asylum capacities, but we can build them.

Sharyn Alfonsi: But you don’t have it now.

President Nayib Bukele: We don’t have it now. When we have it–

Sharyn Alfonsi: And if he said, “I can throw up a tent.”

President Nayib Bukele: A tent. That’s not– that’s not asylum capacity. No.

The ACA’s were signed under threats of tariffs by Donald Trump on remittances, exports from northern triangle countries, and diplomatic pressure without the slightest concern for capacity to process and support transferees. They were put together with such haste and lack of foresight that the agreements, based on what information is publicly available, do not indicate who is financially responsible for the transferees or where funds to support them must come from. A member of a Guatemalan NGO supporting migrants, Refugio de la Niñez, described the process from being detained at the U.S. port of entry, CBP processing, and the arrival in Guatemala as, “a series of deceptions and intimidations” that traumatizes people who already have “extremely complicated protection needs”(Schacher, Schmidtke, and Sawyer 2020). 30 ACA transferees were interviewed by Human Rights Watch and some were told by DHS officials that “there is no asylum”, “there are no Central Americans allowed into the United States”, and  the interviewees described abusive conditions such as being given inedible frozen food, inability  to bath for days, denial of health care, or even access to an attorney (Schacher, Schmidtke, and Sawyer 2020). 

After minimal threshold screenings ACA transferees are put onto a plane with the belief that they are flying to another part of the United States to make their asylum claim, only to realize upon deboarding that they are back in Central America. In Guatemala for example, transferees have 72 hours to decide whether to apply for asylum there, seek temporary residence which costs $500, or return to their home country – an arbitrary forced decision as the Central America-Four Border Control Agreement “allows passport-free land transit for up to 90 days for nationals of the signatory countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua” (Schacher, Schmidtke, and Sawyer 2020). The manner in which the ACAs have been designed and executed, effectively dissuade people from continuing to pursue their asylum claims.

 Title 42

Efforts led by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House policy advisor Stephen Miller have tried to use public health concerns to limit immigration to the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic provided them the vehicle they had been looking for. Sections 362 and 365 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C 265, 268 authorize the Director of the CDC “to suspend the introduction of persons into the United States when the Director determines that the existence of a communicable disease in a foreign country or place creates a serious danger of the introduction of such disease into the United States and the danger is so increased by the introduction of persons from the foreign country or place that a temporary suspension of such introduction is necessary to protect the public health. This order applies to persons traveling from Canada or Mexico (regardless of their country of origin)” (“CDC Notice of Order 85 FR 17060” 2020). On March 20, 2020 the order, heretofore referred to as Title 42, was issued and went into effect the following day. Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, Chad Wolf and Stephen Miller regularly discounted CDC scientists and public health officials who explained there is no evidence that such actions under Title 42 would mitigate the spread of the virus. The CDC’s top doctor who oversees public health orders “refused to comply with a Trump administration directive saying there was no valid public health reason to issue it”, and the CDC’s head of the Division of Migration and Quarantine, Dr. Martin Cetron, “repeatedly pointed out that there was no evidence or science behind the decision and didn’t support the measure” (Dearen and Burke 2020). The White House and its legal team, put significant pressure on the CDC and its Chief of Staff Robert McGowan to issue the order, which gives government health officials unique power in times of a pandemic, including the “ability to stop the flow of immigration from countries with high numbers of confirmed cases, a legal authority the CDC does not normally have”(Dearen and Burke 2020). The impact of this order has been devastating. According to CBP data, over 250,000 people have been expulsed since March, over 60,000 in October 2020 alone (“Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: Title 8 Enforcement Actions and Title 42 Expulsions” 2020a; “Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: Title 8 Enforcement Actions and Title 42 Expulsions” 2020b).


Some of the basis for implementation include infrastructure and design defects of CBP and detention facilities. Facilities are not constructed in a manner conducive to quarantining and social distancing, individuals are often held for long periods of time in close contact with others, and due to the extreme geographic isolation of many facilities, medical services can be hundreds of miles away. It is important to highlight that in pre-pandemic times, such conditions are unacceptable for providing a minimum standard of care to those in the immigration system and inconsistent with the 1997 Flores Agreement. The Title 42 Order states that the faster an individual is “returned to the country from which they entered the United States, to their country of origin, or another location as practicable, the lower the risk the alien poses of introducing, transmitting, or spreading COVID-19 into POEs, Border Patrol stations, other congregate settings, and the interior” (“CDC Notice of Order 85 FR 17060” 2020). In a globalized world that is so interconnected, geographic borders are far less relevant, especially during a pandemic. Such expulsions under Title 42, in packed repatriation flights or buses, contribute to the spread which the order ultimately tries to mitigate. The further spread of COVID-19 and subsequent contribution to worsening public health conditions add to the economic and safety push factors which drive migration. Therefore, the order is not only inhumane, it is short sighted to factors of migration and ignorant to the science of how an infectious virus works in a globalized world. 


The impact the Trump administration has had on the immigration system has been unprecedented and the effects will be felt for years to come. The policies examined above offer only a glimpse into the undoing at the hands of Trump. However, the 2020 election has provided some hope, as President-elect Biden offers an opportunity to redirect the American immigration ship that has long been off course. The following section contains recommendations that the incoming administration must heed and prioritize from their first day in office. 

  1. Address the case backlog: Policies of detaining immigrants, making them wait in Mexico or sending them to a third country partially stem from the misguided conservative narrative that those seeking immigration benefits purposely avoid court dates and disappear to remain in the country illegally. The lack of legal counsel, financial resources, a permanent address, or a phone number are compounded by having to wait months or years for a notice to appear in court. The current backlog, shown in the graph on page 15, has surpassed one million cases, each taking an average of over 800 days to adjudicate, and over half of the asylum claims were from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala (Esthimer 2019; “Implementing Bilateral and Multilateral Asylum Cooperative Agreements Under the Immigration and Nationality Act” 2019).  Individuals seeking protections are not criminals evading court, but victims of an abusive and inefficient system that makes it impossible to follow the rules. Due to the inefficiency and inability of the United States to manage the system, it wants to share the burden with less efficient, vulnerable countries which lack the infrastructure or security conditions necessary to support asylum seekers. A burgeoning backlog and lack of resources to manage claims and petitions should not allow the government to take short cuts and punt the ball to other countries.
  2.  In order to manage this, the number of immigration judges and relevant court staff must be increased. Quota systems for judges should be eliminated and mechanisms should be put in place to allow for every individual case to be heard and reviewed without time constraints and without forsaking due process. The funding for this would come from drastically reducing the immigration enforcement budget and the elimination of unnecessary elements of the DHS. The spending priorities of DHS, which can be seen in the graph on the following page, are out of line with the needs of those seeking to make claims: in 2018 “Congress appropriated $16.7 billion for CBP and $7.5 billion for ICE, and just $437 million for immigration courts”(Esthimer 2019). 
  1. Metering and Migrant Protection Protocols: Any policies which  may violate the United Nations Refugee Protocol and guarantees of non-refoulement should be ended immediately. As signatories to international agreements ensuring protections for persecuted persons, the United States must forgo any application of immigration or border security which forces such persecuted persons to remain in perpetual conditions of insecurity, as has been extensively documented under the metering and MPP policies. These policies must be defunded, ended, and Congress should work, via congressional hearings and investigations at migrant shelters and ports of entry, to uncover abuses under these programs. The Biden administration, together with relevant counterpart authorities in Mexico, must make every effort to attend and process those who have been forced to wait in Mexico. Further, efforts must be made to expedite the claims of those under similar circumstances. Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar has introduced legislation, the “Asylum Seeker Protection Act”, which is supported by the ACLU and the Washington Office on Latin America, can lead the way (“Congresswoman Veronica Escobar Introduces Legislation to Defund Dangerous ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy” 2019). 
  2. Ending Asylum Cooperative Agreements: ACAs with Northern Triangle countries should be terminated, as they do not have the capacity to handle such claims nor do they meet the minimum standards of safety needed to provide refuge to those seeking protections. Any person who has been subject to the ACAs must be allowed to return to the U.S. to pursue their claims in an expedited fashion. Congress must take investigative actions to uncover abuses committed, with specific attention to credible fear interviews or lack thereof.
  3. Title 42: The Biden administration must halt the mechanization of detentions and expulsions implemented by the previous government, under the guise of public health. In a return to a belief in science and trust in those at the CDC, the analysis of the ineffectiveness of the CDC order must materialize in concrete action. The 200,000-plus individuals expelled must be allowed to return to the U.S. to pursue their claims and the bill to facilitate this process shall be borne upon the Department of Homeland Security. As the pandemic continues and in preparation for a similar future public health crisis, the power and authority which lie in this process must be revisited and reformed in a manner which limits potential abuse by the executive and abdicates sufficient influence to public health experts. 
  4. Expanding asylum eligibility: The Trump administration ended the eligibility for asylum for survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence. Biden must restore such eligibility and decrease what is now a high burden of proof in these cases. Gang violence extends far beyond the border of just one country and criminal networks being transnational,  have the ability to terrorize people far beyond the homes they have fled. Such persecution must be grounds for seeking protections and efforts should be made to solidify protections into law. 
  5. Temporary Protected Status: President Trump has tried to rescind TPS for hundreds of thousands of individuals who have survived devastating natural disasters, many from Central America. Some of them have been in the U.S. for years and have U.S. citizen children. To rescind their status would be to contribute to family separation. Further, many of the countries that TPS holders would be sent back to are dangerous or have recently been devastated by Hurricanes Iota and Eta. Biden must not only extend TPS for those currently protected, but also provide a path to citizenship. Much like DACA recipients, TPS holders have spent the majority of their lives in the United States, have family ties and are integrated into communities. As such, a lawful path to citizenship is necessary. Further, as the combined destruction from Hurricanes Eta and Iota is worse than anything to hit Central America in decades, Biden must grant survivors the protection they seek. 
  6. Court Reform: While the Supreme Court occasionally intervenes in immigration cases, questions of immigration are predominately handled under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). This results in judges and courts operating at the behest of the president and Attorney General, and thus subject to political pressure. Life-altering decisions are made in immigration courts and yet, “the system lacks the basic structural and procedural safeguards that we take for granted in other areas of our justice system”(“ABA Again Calls for an Independent Immigration Court” 2019). Of the most egregious is that individuals are not provided legal representation if they cannot afford one, including minors. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, and the National Association of Immigration Judges “sent a letter to Congress recommending that it make the immigration court system an independent one, separate from the Justice Department, to ensure impartiality and safeguard the system from political manipulation”(Esthimer 2019). Over 1,000 immigration attorneys have signed the letter. Rethinking this system is a matter of life and death – such structural reform must be pushed forward. 
  1. USCIS Fees & Asylee work: USCIS is a fee-funded agency so when there are budget issues, like the $1.26 billion shortfall during fiscal year 2020, the agency has proposed fee hikes like the 83% increase in cost for naturalization (Pierce and Meissner 2020). The proposal also included charging a fee for asylum applications, which only three other countries in the world do, including Iran. Refugees, Asylees and other immigrants are often lower income and should not be subject to the budgetary shortfalls of USCIS. Reforms must be implemented to limit the ability for exorbitant fees to be borne upon those seeking benefits. Finally, currently asylum applicants are not allowed to work while their claims are adjudicated. As this process can take months or longer, applicants must be granted temporary worker status. For those fleeing persecution, the ability to work, earn a living, and support oneself and a family, is a way to take control of one’s life. Our system must facilitate that. 

President-elect Biden has laid out an immigration plan and reforms that he has pledged to implement within the first 100 days of office. These include rolling back the Muslim travel ban, reinstating DACA, reversing family separation policies and creating a task force to find separated families, halting border wall construction and end the emergency declaration which freed up funds for construction, ending Trump’s public charge policy which is discriminatory towards non-wealthy immigrants, directing the DHS to develop a parole process for deported veterans, ending for-profit detention centers, and increasing the annual cap of refugee admissions to 125,000 (“The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants” n.d.). Most notably, Biden has proposed a plan to address more root causes of migration, contrary to Trump’s heavy-handed focus on enforcement. According to Biden’s website, the proposal is “a four-year, $4 billion package of assistance for the region, with aid linked to governments in the region delivering measurable reductions in gang and gender-based violence, improvements in legal and educational systems, and implementation of anti-corruption measures, among other things” (“The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants” n.d.). Funding for the plan will come from repurposing money from the DHS’s budget to be reinvested in Northern Triangle countries, with a specific focus on issues such as corruption, private sector investment, poverty reduction, economic development, and improving the security situation. This approach to Central America is symbolic as it conveys a new message to the region about the United States’ more inclusive and less punitive approach to immigration. 


The road ahead  will not be without significant challenges. First, the runoff elections in Georgia will determine who controls the Senate. The ability for Biden to implement much of his plan and for the adoption of long-term reform is likely dependent on the outcomes in Georgia. The pandemic is another large hurdle and the Biden team will be involved with the first stages of a vaccine rollout and domestic recovery efforts. At the same time, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the economies and healthcare systems in Mexico and Central America. The difficulty to survive has only been compounded by extreme weather events like Hurricanes Iota and Eta. In the fall months, reports are emerging of imminent large groups making their way north, similar to the caravans of 2019. If Biden implements more liberal policies, it will be argued that the ‘surge’ of migrants was waiting for him to open the doors. Such potential criticism may cause a more conservative and measured approach contrary to the promises laid out for his first 100 days. Despite what critics in Washington might say about Biden’s policies, decisions made in the White House will not stop people fleeing a climate catastrophe, crumbling healthcare infrastructure, and ceaseless violence. 

The recommendations above are presented as realistic changes that require moderate political will and are feasible for the Biden administration to accomplish. What would require more than a four-year presidential term and significant political will are more macro-level systemic changes. Protracted conflict, growing income equality, lack of economic opportunity, and climate change are only going to force increasingly more people to uproot and flee unlivable conditions. Separating families, putting kids in cages and treating asylum seekers as criminals has not reduced people from seeking refuge and opportunity in El Norte. Looking forward, it would be beneficial and conscionable for the United States to see immigration not as a security issue, but a humanitarian one. Providing a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented would be a drop in the bucket for a country of 330 million. Immigrants should have more flexibility and paths to legally stay in the United States and have access to healthcare and the public education system. Many want to return home but fear not being allowed back into the U.S. to work. Allowing more circularity would benefit the entire region both economic and socially. Immigrants pay much more in taxes than the benefits they receive and much of their earnings get sent home in the form of remittances anyways. An immigration system that is more fluid would result in more prosperity and safety. 

Migrant Protection Protocols, metering,  and Asylum Cooperative Agreements are yet another failure of U.S. policy and a stain on its human rights record. The United States must do better to recognize the interconnectedness of the region and the undeniable union of our countries. Border policy is foreign policy. Mexico is North America and Central America has been described as “America’s backyard”. Shutting our doors is a closed-minded answer to humanitarian, social, security, and economic issues that do not disappear behind a CBP badge or a defective wall. What the border needs most is a welcome mat and Biden should roll it out. 


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“———.” 2020b. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. December 2020.

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