One Year Into His Presidency, Joe Biden's Immigration Policy Hasn't Made Anyone Happy

Some good changes have flown under the radar. But there have been few wins—political or practical.


President Joe Biden took office one year ago today promising that his administration would undo the damage former President Donald Trump did to the U.S. immigration system. He had big plans for reform and restoration. However, the U.S. immigration system does not look much better than it did on Inauguration Day 2021, despite improvements on the margins.

On his first day in the presidency, Biden began to tackle some of the harsh immigration measures imposed by Trump. He lifted Trump's so-called Muslim ban, which prevented citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. He signed an executive order halting construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. And he sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. Among other things, that bill set out to create a path to citizenship for undocumented people, clear backlogs in the family-based immigration system, and improve immigration courts.

However, many of those early wins—and supposed reversals of Trump's policies—came with asterisks. Biden was right to rescind Trump's "Muslim ban," but nearly all families affected by the policy remained separated because of visa application backlogs. He was right to halt construction of the border wall (which was never going to work), but his administration failed to stop Trump's land grab lawsuits and the federal government continued to seize private property along the U.S.-Mexico border through eminent domain. That ambitious immigration bill has gone nowhere.

Since taking office, Biden has cherry-picked which of Trump's most controversial policies he'll keep and which he'll discard. The ones he's kept are cruel, counterproductive, and are failing to please either side of the political aisle.

Key among them is Title 42, which critics say violates longstanding U.S. asylum law. The policy was first imposed by the Trump administration and allows Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to expel migrants on public health grounds. Deprived of the opportunity to present their cases for asylum, migrants are very often returned to dangerous communities and countries. Biden has kept Title 42 in place, even though it was the brainchild of notoriously anti-immigration Trump adviser Stephen Miller. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have questioned its efficacy as a COVID-19 mitigation measure from the very beginning.

CBP expelled over 1 million people under Title 42 in 2021, with over 7,000 migrants getting kidnapped and attacked by cartels and Mexican authorities post-expulsion since Inauguration Day. The Biden administration has also used Title 42 to deport thousands of Haitians to Haiti, even though many of the deportees hadn't lived in Haiti for years and were actually coming from South America. Some Biden appointees have suggested that the president's continuation of Title 42 "is largely based on optics—that it's staying in place because of concerns that ending it will fuel perceptions of a chaotic border."

But Biden's critics falsely claim that the Southern border is open. It's true that CBP reported a 21-year high of 1.66 million migrant encounters at the border in fiscal year 2021. The majority—61 percent—of those apprehensions resulted in Title 42 expulsions, and the figure fails to account for repeat crossings. "Perversely, continuing this Trump policy has also given ammunition to the hard-right nativists, because it has the unintended consequence of inflating the count of U.S. border crossings," writes The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell. Over one-quarter of encountered individuals were apprehended multiple times by CBP, Rampell notes—"nearly quadruple the share in 2019."

All the while, inefficiency has plagued day-to-day aspects of the U.S. immigration system. Two years into the pandemic, 60 percent of U.S. embassies and consulates are still partially or completely closed for visa processing. Nearly 440,000 immigrant visa applicants whose cases are "documentarily complete" are still waiting for visa appointments (the State Department scheduled just 26,605 appointments for this month). The nation's refugee intake hit a record low in fiscal year 2021 and our numbers aren't on pace to be any better in 2022. Legal immigration collapsed under Trump; it hasn't rebounded under Biden.

All that said, it would be unfair to say that Biden's immigration policy has been a complete failure. The administration evacuated a staggering number of Afghans after their country fell to the Taliban in August. Visa processing has been imperfect and many vulnerable people are still trapped in Afghanistan, but the Biden administration smartly introduced a private refugee sponsorship program that allows U.S. citizens to help support and resettle evacuated Afghans. Biden has rescinded some Trump-era rules that needlessly slowed down visa and work permit processing, and recently added 20,000 visas to this fiscal year's cap for the nonimmigrant nonagricultural worker H-2B visa. The administration restarted the Central American Minors program, which allows at-risk children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to come to the U.S. as refugees.

The Biden administration inherited a dysfunctional immigration system and has made respectable strides in fixing certain components of it. But those modest wins have been overshadowed by the unpopular middle path Biden has chosen. To his Democratic base, the administration's immigration policy is disappointingly punitive, unchanged, and contradicts campaign promises. Biden's Title 42 deportations, hard-line approach to the border, and lethargic processing of visa applicants have done little to placate his critics on the right, who say our nation's doors are open (though our borders are essentially as strict as they were under Trump).

After one year in office, Biden's record on immigration is bleak. He's failed to truly appease any political faction's concerns about immigration and is now stuck with both the bad optics of being an "open borders" president and the practical reality of a shuttered immigration system.

NEXT: How Many Supreme Court Justices Must Deny NPR's Reporting Before Media Outlets Believe Them?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Just let foreigners mail in their ballots for Biden from their home countries.

    1. No need to burden the USPS; just switch to voting by Facebook.

    2. Nation States have a right to decide who gets in. Not the elites but the people make this decision. America is bursting at the seams already with humans and the open borders to folks who are not coming into an America that assimilated into an "American" identify and not a "multicultural" one is dangerous to our liberties. Given our very weak economic state and deficit spending problems we need to halt all immigration for five years at least and also establish testing to ensure other countries don't due a Cuba boat lift to us.

  2. "Joe Biden's Immigration Policy Hasn't Made Anyone Happy"

    On the contrary, AOC seems much happier. Recall that Orange Hitler's "border enforcement" policies were so draconian they inspired her to cry in front of a fence. I haven't seen her do that since Biden took office.

    So unless you think the fence photoshoot was a shameless self-promoting publicity stunt — which sounds absurd and honestly a little sexist — you have to acknowledge things have improved.


    1. PS — And more generally our progressive #Resistance allies aren't denouncing CONCENTRATION CAMPS that put KIDS IN CAGES like they did when Drumpf was in office. That must mean Biden ended those atrocities.


  3. It's all bullshit anyway. Just enjoy the suffering of the people who do care and you'll be okay.

  4. ""Perversely, continuing this Trump policy has also given ammunition to the hard-right nativists, because it has the unintended consequence of inflating the count of U.S. border crossings," writes The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell."

    Uh no...this is not misleading, it is true. People are being apprehended by border police over and over and over again. That is bad. It isn't an inflated number. Even if you believe these people have a right of free movement, then this is WORSE because each capture and transport is itself a violation of their rights.

    Biden's rhetoric has been "The borders are open". The result is far more peoples' rights abused. People repeatedly manhandled by government agents. People fenced under bridges to keep them out of the hot sun. Biden not only declined to stop the Abuse, his encouragement of immigration has INCREASED the total number of abuses.

    But why should any of this be a new surprise? This is the leftist MO from the start- lots of feel good declarations, and damn the misery happening behind the scenes.

    1. This is the leftist MO from the start- lots of feel good declarations, and damn the misery happening behind the scenes.

      Otherwise titled: How I became a libertarian.

  5. The CDC has finally admitted (after 22 months of denials, obfuscations and lies by CDC, Fauci, Birx and their left wing media propagandists and censors) that covid infections provided longer and stronger immunity from the Delta variant than did vaccines.

    This acknowledgement also negates the repeatedly stated benefits (including to SCOTUS) of Biden's and other Democrats' totalitarian vaccine mandates (for previously infected Americans), but CDC hasn't had the courage to admit that devastating fact yet.
    And of course, this story was buried on page 7 of the Wall St. Journal, wasn't in the left wing media, and still hasn't been mentioned by Reason.

    Prior Covid-19 Infection Offered Better Protection Than Vaccination During Delta Wave

    CDC says research from California and New York before Omicron’s spread showed unvaccinated people without previous infection faced greatest risking media propagandists) that covid infections confer longer and stronger immunity from the Delta variant than vaccines.

    1. My shocked face is shocked!


  6. >>undo the damage former President Donald Trump did to the U.S. immigration system

    switching from Muslims to Haitians definitely undid damage.

  7. Still waiting for any writer to make the distinction between legal immigration, and illegal border crossings.
    (I am also waiting to be able to go back to "the doctor I liked", period)

    1. Oh, you can go to whatever doctor you want ... if you are rich as a Koch ...

  8. Another important story Reason didn't consider important enough to report.

    Looks like woke CEOs are sobering up about their past support for Biden's totalitarian mandates.

    1. It depends on whether you want to be woke, or actually have employees in the store selling overpriced coffee.

  9. Reason missed another key story today, as UK's Boris Johnson escaped growing criticism for holding a huge party during the Covid pandemic (in violation of UK's lockdown) by announcing the end to lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates in the UK.

    Joe Biden is now making Boris Johnson look like a libertarian, while Boris Johnson is now making Biden look like a totalitarian.

    1. Biden doesn't need Boris's help.

    2. Too bad Biden is too old to stay up past 4 pm partying 🙁

  10. One Year Into His Presidency, Joe Biden's Immigration Policy Hasn't Made Anyone Happy

    Come on now. I bet Trump is pretty happy.

  11. "One Year Into His Presidency, Joe Biden [...] Hasn't Made Anyone Happy"


  12. The Biden administration inherited a dysfunctional immigration system and has made respectable strides in fixing certain components of it.

    Fiona, can you share some of what you're ingesting. It appears to have marvelous hallucinogenic effects. I could use some of whatever you are taking to write this dreck.

    Oh yeah...and fuck joe biden. Useless shithead.

    1. Fuck Joe Biden.

    2. Fuck Joe Biden

    3. Fiona is a shika sock. Next they'll start using a white man's name. Something like Joseph Robinette probably.

  13. I’m sorry, but we don’t need any more immigrants coming to this country UNLESS they’re. either highly educated and highly skilled, OR they’re going to immediately take a job doing something useful, like driving a truck or working at the chicken plant.

    What we absolutely DO NOT need any more of whatsoever are more worthless deadbeats sitting around not doing anything. We already have too many of those now as it is, that’s why your local supermarket shelves are more and more empty more and more frequently, making us look like an old communist nation. This bullshit is killing us!

  14. Don't worry Reason and all you Tony's, Sarc's, Mike Larsons, etc. etc....Kamala is on it remember?!?!? I know she has only been to the border once, but she is going back and this time she is getting to the root cause. Promise.

    1. Ah yes, Kamala's prophylactic response to immigration:
      "Don't come! Don't come!"

  15. Look you dishonest marxist cunt, it was not a fuckong "Muslim ban" it was a ban on nations who couldn't, wouldn't or couldn't be trusted to accurately verify the identities of those immigrating. The fact that you repeat this dishonest smear is reason enough to ignore you and your open borders journavism forever, you make your audience more ill-informed than before reading your tripe.

  16. With record 45 million immigrants in 2017, USA needs a long break from such high levels of immigration.

    Of course with companies crying that the usual supply of cheap beholden workers has temporarily DRIED UP, with wages (finally) rising some, it wont be long before they DEMAND to expand the immigration pipeline.

    When supply of labor is suppressing wages, it goes to congress for a quick fix instead of letting supply/demand cure any shortage.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.