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Immigration

Biden’s Immigration Policy Keeps Hitting New Lows

New border arrest data reinforces what we already knew about the president's immigration record.

U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas hosts a press conference at the Del Rio Port of Entry in Del Rio, Texas, September 20, 2021.
Photo via cbpphotos/Flickr

Some great news for all right-wing, anti-immigrant politicians who would rather blame the spread of COVID-19 on undocumented people than encourage their own constituents to get vaccinated: more people on the U.S.-Mexico border were arrested during the 2021 fiscal year than ever before.

This fact comes from Washington Post immigration reporter Nick Miroff. While Miroff initially reported that unreleased data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed arrests had peaked in 2021 to its highest since 1986, he later issued a correction that, no, President Joe Biden has managed to take “pro-immigration policy” to new heights by setting an unprecedented arrest record of 1.7 million people for the fiscal year ending in September.

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The fiscal year does include a little over three months of Trump in office, but that seemed to make up a fraction of arrests — according to the data, more than 1.3 million people were taken into custody since Biden took office. Miroff also points out that border arrests between fiscal years 2012 and 2020 averaged an estimated 540,000 people.

Miroff has some context for the numbers, saying that they’re being driven by a spike in “illegal” border crossings, and that the 1.7 million arrests also include people who have made repeated attempts to come to the U.S. But the most important figure he cites is that 61 percent of people arrested were expelled under Title 42, the policy enacted by Trump and adopted by Biden that immediately removes most adults without processing them under the guise of “public health.” Don’t worry, folks — a majority of the people being arrested aren’t even getting the chance to apply for asylum. They’re just being declared “illegal” with no way to make their case.

Of course, there is the obvious reaction to this new data, which is to point out Biden’s total but unsurprising awfulness when it comes to immigration policy. But many of us have shared little hope for the Biden administration to do anything substantial to make the country a safe and welcoming place, given his lack of ambition during his presidential campaign and his promises to improve the immigration system that he couldn’t keep.

You don’t have to look at these numbers to know the harm Biden is causing. The new data from CBP is the cherry on top of months of dark developments from the Biden administration, a final illustration of how little it’s willing to do to fulfill even the most basic humanitarian rights. Yes, there was the end to border construction, and the reversal of the “Remain in Mexico” policy for migrants seeking asylum, and a 100-day pause on most deportations. But there were still the expulsions, and another surge of unaccompanied minors cramped in tents, and camps of migrants in makeshift shelters, and Vice President Kamala Harris telling Guatemalans that she saw and heard them, before warning, “Do not come. Do not come.” (Even the Remain in Mexico policy is set to resume, with the Supreme Court ruling that the administration didn’t end it “properly.”)

And there were the unmistakably cruel and brazenly American attacks by Border Patrol agents on Haitian migrants during the expulsion of migrants under Title 42. It was a perfect visualization of the harm that CBP doles out regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge, even if Democrats are more subtle about their anti-immigration policies, even if they’re chastising CBP for their means to an equally cruel but wholeheartedly supported end.

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Perhaps what these new CBP figures do best is add insult to injury, revealing just the scale of this crisis of people coming to the U.S. in seek of refuge, and the complete unwillingness of this empire to help the people who are trying to leave behind the destabilization that said empire has created.