Biden Should Stop Using Trump’s Playbook at the Border

Human Rights

President Donald Trump left office nearly two years ago, but you might not notice that if you were seeking asylum at the United States southwest border. Despite promises to reverse abusive Trump programs that eviscerated the asylum process, the administration of President Joe Biden has continued to use and even expanded many of the same policies, violating US and international human rights law.

On Wednesday, the administration said in court it would appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the Trump-origin Title 42 summary border expulsions violated US federal law due to the “irreparable harm” they cause to asylum seekers. The expulsion policy is slated to end by December 21.

Media reports indicate Biden is considering reviving yet another of Trump’s anti-asylum policies if forced to end the expulsions – the so called “transit ban” barring most people from applying for asylum, a right under US and international law, if they have not already done so in one of the countries they passed through on their way to the US border.

Axios and CBS are reporting the Biden administration is also considering increasing prosecutions of migrants who cross between ports of entry (checkpoints where Customs and Border Protection agents screen travelers), using the same inherently racist law that led to Trump’s family separation policy. Our research shows those prosecutions and imprisonments are both financially costly and ineffective in deterring migration.

Biden’s reliance on deterrence-based border policies has also proven deadly. Under Biden’s watch, and in combination with Texas’ abusive Operation Lone Star, which is partially federally funded, the number of people who have died crossing the US southwest border jumped to more than 550 known deaths in fiscal year 2021 (covering October 2020 to September 2021) from around 300 deaths per fiscal year under the Trump administration. Known border deaths surpassed 800 in fiscal year 2022, a new record.

Continuing to rely on policies that criminalize migrants and block asylum seekers is likely to lead to more loss of life. Immigration deterrence policies fail to stop people from migrating to seek safety, return to their homes in the United States, reunite with family members, or improve their quality of life, but rather compel them to cross in ever more remote and dangerous areas of the border.

The Biden administration should instead respect the right to seek asylum, create safe pathways for migration, and work to create a humane, rights-respecting border that puts human life and rights over politics.

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