Where Biden Has Fallen Short on Immigration [Updated]

The new administration has done much good. But it has also broken key promises.


President Joe Biden.


The Biden administration has done a great deal of good in reversing many of Trump's anti-immigrant policies. Examples include ending Trump's anti-Muslim travel bans, terminating or allowing to expire the previous administration's bans on most immigration and work visas (adopted under the pretext of combating the Covid pandemic), revoking the border "emergency" declaration and the accompanying diversion of federal funds to build the wall, and fully reinstating DACA. The administration has also laid out an ambitious legislative agenda to legalize most current undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and make it easier for many new immigrants to enter. Even if that agenda is unlikely to pass anytime soon, it still serves a valuable function in moving the "Overton window" on political debate.

The above list—which isn't exhaustive—should give pause to those (including some libertarians) who claim that Biden's immigration policies are  no better than Trump's. But it is also true that there are several immigration issues on which Biden has so far fallen woefully short.

Perhaps the most egregious is the administration's decision to break the president's promise to raise the annual refugee admission ceiling to 125,000 (62,500 for the rest of the current fiscal year) [but see update below]. Instead, Biden will keep in place Trump's historically low ceiling of 15,000, albeit while dropping the latter's restrictions on admission of refugees from many African and Muslim-majority nations. This decision may even lead Biden to break Trump's record for having the lowest refugee admissions ever. Liberal Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell summarizes:

Biden has spoken warmly of immigrants in general and refugees in particular…. Shortly after taking office, he announced plans to rebuild the refugee resettlement program, which had been hobbled by years of successively lower refugee admissions ceilings set by Trump. Biden said this process would begin by quadrupling the record-low ceiling that Trump had set for fiscal 2021 (taking it from 15,000 to 62,500)….

Biden announced all this in early February. His State Department submitted a detailed report to Congress on the new ceiling and eligibility criteria days later. State Department officials began booking flights for refugees who had been waiting for years — people who had been fully screened for national security and public health concerns and deemed ready to go.

Then, astoundingly, Biden blocked his own policy from taking effect.

Without explanation, Biden never signed the paperwork, called a "presidential determination," legally necessary to lift Trump's restrictions. So, roughly 715 desperate refugees whose travel arrangements were made by Biden's own State Department — many of whom had given away their possessions and vacated their homes in anticipation of relocation — had their tickets abruptly canceled.

There is no justification for this reversal, and the administration hasn't offered any kind of policy rationale for it. For some of the refugees barred by the decision, the issue is literally a matter of life and death. At the very least, they will be condemned to spend many more months under conditions of severe privation.

The media reports anonymous White House sources indicating that it was caused by fear of "political optics" relating to the situation at the southern border. In reality, the refugee policy has no connection to the border situation, because the refugees are not crossing that border, and would not be undocumented migrants, having been already vetted and approved for entry. The administration's fear of political backlash—if that is indeed the cause of the reversal—is also grossly overblown. In reality, few Americans even know what the refugee limit is (surveys consistently show most have no idea how much immigration there is in general and other fairly basic aspects of immigration policy), and those few who both know and would be angry about the administration's decision to raise it are likely to be hardcover immigration restrictionists whose support Biden is highly unlikely to get, short of fully embracing a Trumpian agenda across the board.

The problems at the border that may have spooked the administration on the refugee cap are themselves largely a consequence of another flawed Biden policy: the decision to keep in place Trump's Title 42 policy of expelling nearly all migrants at the southern border, while making an exception for unaccompanied minors. Predictably, this has led to both a surge in crossings by lone minors and continued undocumented migration elsewhere, as there is almost no way for adult migrants and intact family groups to cross legally.

Biden has perpetuated the Title 42 order despite the fact that it is of dubious legality  and do not actually benefit public health.  It was enacted by the Trump White House  over the opposition of CDC scientists, who believed it to be unnecessary. As Cato Institute immigration policy expert David Bier explains, Biden could easily address these problems by rescinding the Title 42 expulsion order, and reopening ports of entry.

A third area where the administration has fallen short is its failure to fully terminate lawsuits seeking to seize property for border wall construction through the use of eminent domain, despite the president's campaign promise to do exactly that. Just two days ago, a federal court upheld one such condemnation, allowing it to go forward.

These takings were initially begun under the Trump administration. To my knowledge, the new administration has not initiated any new border wall eminent domain cases. In addition, the termination of Trump's emergency declaration and accompanying funding diversions has led to the end of wall construction efforts in areas where the diverted funds were being used. Thus, overall, Biden's record here is still a major improvement on Trump's.

Nonetheless, the administration can easily improve further simply by terminating all border wall takings, including those unrelated to Trump's emergency declaration. The federal government can terminate ongoing eminent domain cases anytime it wants. No law prevents it from doing so. The administration could also potentially return at least some of the previously seized land to its rightful owners.

The Justice Department claims to have been surprised by the recent district court border wall decision, because its lawyers had asked for continuances in all ongoing border wall takings cases. Even if this is true, they could and should have avoided this problem by simply terminating these cases entirely, not just seeking continuances.

Finally, David Bier highlights another Biden immigration policy failure that has received far less public attention than the three discussed above. But it is an important one nonetheless:

President Biden ended President Trump's immigrant visa ban and allowed his nonimmigrant visa ban to expire on April 1. While this is progress, the president is inexplicably keeping 76 percent of consulates fully or partially closed to routine visa processing, affecting about 71 percent of all visa applicants. The consulate closures are acting as a de facto ban on legal immigration and travel, even though all travelers to the country must receive negative COVID-19 tests and more than 551 million doses of the vaccine have already been administered outside the United States….

As of April 8, 2021, just 57 of 237 visa processing sites around the world (24 percent) were fully operational for nonimmigrant visa applicants, and just 97 (41 percent) allowed anything other than emergency applications (Table 1). Even many open sites have massive wait times for visas. The average wait was 95 days for a visitor or business traveler visa, but 31 percent of sites open for those visas had waits longer than 4 months, and 22 percent had waits longer than 6 months….

As Bier explains, there is no good reason to continue these visa restrictions at a time when State Department employees are being  vaccinated, and the administration has multiple perfectly legal ways to restart visa processing without requiring in-person interviews (Bier describes them in detail).

In sum, Biden's immigration policy is already a massive improvement over Trump's. There are likely to be further improvements in the future. For example, the administration may well eventually raise the refugee ceiling and expand visa processing as the pandemic continues to recede.

But being better than Trump on immigration—even vastly better—is a very low standard of comparison.  On multiple fronts, the new administration is unnecessarily perpetuating cruel Trump-era policies, thereby inflicting needless suffering on migrants, refugees, and even American property-owners along the southern border.  Each of the policies discussed above could easily be changed without passing any new legislation (most were enacted through unilateral executive actions in the first place), and without much, if any, political risk.

Immigration advocates should recognize the good the Biden administration has done. But they should also press as hard as possible for it to end more of the evil.

UPDATE: After an upsurge of criticism by immigration and refugee advocates, the White House now says they will not make a final determination about the refugee cap until May 15. But it is far from clear they will actually stick to the original promise to set the cap at 62,500 for the remainder of the fiscal year, and 125,000 per year, thereafter:

President Biden on Friday all but abandoned a pledge to enable tens of thousands of refugees fleeing danger abroad to come to the United States this year, then abruptly backtracked after drawing a furious response from human rights advocates and fellow Democrats.

In a directive issued early Friday, the administration announced it would leave the cap on refugees at 15,000, the record-low ceiling set by President Donald Trump. But after hours of blistering criticism from allies, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reversed the announcement, issuing an unusual statement saying the order had been "the subject of some confusion."

Psaki said that Biden would actually set the final cap — which sets the refugee allotment through the end of September — by May 15, and that while the White House expects it will be higher than Trump's ceiling, it was "unlikely" to rise to the 62,500 that Biden had put forward with some fanfare in February.


It's good that immigration advocates forced the administration to backtrack on the apparent decision to maintain the ludicrously low Trump cap. But they should keep up the pressure to ensure Biden at least keeps his original promises.

NEXT: "Caught up in a Storm of False Accusations, Professors Found Themselves Fighting to Clear Their Names"

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  1. Perhaps the most egregious is the administration’s decision to break the president’s promise to raise the annual refugee admission ceiling to 125,000 (62,500 for the rest of the current fiscal year). Instead, Biden will keep in place Trump’s historically low ceiling of 15,000

    Because we are already drowning in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors, and we can’t handle the crisis we have now. So it doesn’t make sense right now to add another hundred thousand on top of that. Not to mention – we are still in a pandemic with very high rate of unemployment!!

    1. Refugees are a different group from the Central Americans showing up at or crossing the border and seeking asylum. It’s apples and oranges.

      1. Latino Americans want to give preferential treatment to which group?? That sounds WAAACIST to me. 😉

    2. We are not “drowning in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.”

      We can easily handle many more than we are admitting now.

      1. Depends on how much you believe the Admin about how much Trump (Miller) wrecked the system.

      2. We can’t handle our domestic homeless crises.

        1. Do you think that’s just because we don’t have enough homes or something?

      3. I guess you haven’t seen the photos of overflowing migrant shelters way beyond capacity?

    3. Biggest losers from the open border traitors, like the Judas Somin? Blacks.

      I save a ton on landscaping. Since blacks voted this agent of the Chinese Commie Party into the Presidency, their unemployment has gone from 4.1% under Trump to 6.5%. This is only the beginning. Their wages have dropped. They will be ethnically cleansed from their historic neighborhoods. Their murder rates have surged as thousands of blacks have been slaughtered from the policies of the paid Chinese Commie spy in the White House.

      1. Black unemployment was at 16% in June, 2020, it was at 10.4% in December 2020, in March 2021 it was 9.8%.

        1. See the Labor Dept. website, Queenie. Your numbers are fake. Black voters are just starting their suffering from their awful judgment. Where do you live, Queenie. I strongly urge them to defund the police. I bet you live in a nice white neighborhood, like this Commie. I can understand it. She does not want to get mugged and jacked, thanks to her own advocacy. This big Commie phony can also cry on cue. She’s the victim? Heck no. She’s the employee of George Soros, as AOC is.

          1. Odd: “Meanwhile, much of the discussion of her homes has been banned on Twitter and Facebook.

            Twitter on Monday locked out a black sportswriter who questioned why Cullors was stacking up properties including one in a mostly white neighborhood. Facebook this week also blocked users from sharing a story that reported on the purchase of the homes. ”

            These traitor platforms should be seized in civil forfeiture. I may try to mandamus the DOJ.

            1. “I may try to mandamus the DOJ.”

              We look forward to your ranting about how the lawyers torpedoed your attempt to be a lawyer.

        2. “Black unemployment was at 16% in June, 2020, it was at 10.4% in December 2020, in March 2021 it was 9.8%.”

          And, before the pandemic, at the end of 2019, it was 5.3%. So, what’s your point? Black unemployment under Trump continued to decrease as it did under Obama (from your own link no less). Until the racist Democrats shut down the economy.

    4. “we are still in a pandemic”

      It’s going to go away as soon as the weather gets warmer, now that any American over 16 can go get vaccinated, unless they wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

  2. “237 visa processing sites around the world ”

    We have way too many embassies and consulates.

    For instance, we have three missions in Brussels [Belgium, EU, and NATO] and two in Rome [Italy and Vatican].

    1. The Vatican is ridiculous. I suppose some American Catholics would hit the roof if our government said “you are a fake country, we’re not going to have diplomatic relations with you”. But we ought to do it. The Vatican is a fake country.

      1. You just hate religions. Its just as real as Monaco or Liechtenstein or Nauru or Andorra, all of which have diplomatic relations with us.

        Ambassadors can be dual hatted, it used to be that way in Rome. As it is with Nauru, for instance, which shares a US ambassador with several other island “nations”.

        No need to insult the Pope or Catholics by breaking relations.

        1. The way SCOTUS is headed I wouldn’t be shocked if shutting down the Vatican embassy would be held to violate free exercise. Not that it’ll ever come to that. Diplomatic missions are beloved by both parties. It provides more fodder for the ambassador sweepstakes. On that note, shout out to Ray Flynn for the Vatican! It’s also funny for any self-respecting Republican to want to abolish that embassy. After all, it was established by St. Ronnie himself! (Which I didn’t know until now, but Wikipedia is great for that.)

  3. Several (perhaps naive) questions.

    When refugees are cleared to settle in this country, who pays to house them? to feed them? to provide medical care? Who pays for the expense of educating their children? Is all of this shouldered by taxpayers? Or do private relief agencies play a part?


    1. You submitted your questions to the wrong text box.

    2. Do you think refugees are unemployable?

    3. The answer is illegals will be bused from polling site to polling site to vote for the Democrat Party, at a very low wage.

      1. “The answer is illegals will be bused from polling site to polling site to vote for the Democrat Party, at a very low wage.”

        Why bother, when you can just program the voting machines to only count votes for Democrats? Automation increases unemployment once again…

    4. “Who pays for the expense of educating their children?”

      Are you assuming they’re arriving with school-age children in tow, or assuming they stay here long enough to conceive them and raise them to school age while they’re here?

      If it’s the latter, I have bad news for you. THOSE are American citizens.

    5. “When refugees are cleared to settle in this country, who pays to house them? to feed them? to provide medical care?”

      Mostly nonprofit organizations.

  4. UPDATE:
    After backlash, Biden will increase the limit on refugee admissions.
    After a backlash from Democrats and human rights activists, the White House abruptly reversed course on Friday on the number of refugees it will allow into the United States, a reflection of President Biden’s continuing struggle with immigration policy.
    Just hours later, the White House put out a statement saying it expected to increase the cap next month. It did not comment when asked to specify the number.

  5. How many Americans have contracted covid-19 (and later died) from illegal aliens released under Biden’s immigration policies into the country despite covid+ status? That is another question to ask.

    1. It’s a question to ask, but if those asking it are the same people who’ve spent much of recent history minimizing the virus’ threat and attempts to combat it they should be seen as questions of immensely bad faith.

      1. If that number is anything more than 1, it is wrong. Period.

        1. Nonsense, Commenter. Refugees are people as well, and any moral system insular enough to not care about that at all is a monstrous one.

    2. “How many Americans have contracted covid-19 (and later died) from illegal aliens released under Biden’s immigration policies into the country despite covid+ status?”

      Fewer than the number who contracted covid-19 from Republican super-spreader rallies, from back when the approach was get as many people infected (and therefore, theoretically immune) as quickly as possible, so we could get the economy restarted.

      1. You have absolutely zero evidence that what you typed is true. Zero. You’re just trying to score points.

        1. Just because it’s true is no reason to accept it.

  6. the decision to keep in place Trump’s Title 42 policy of expelling nearly all migrants at the southern border, while making an exception for unaccompanied minors. Predictably, this has led to both a surge in crossings by lone minors

    Keeping the same policy that’s been in place for over a year, has suddenly led to a surge. Predictably.

    That’s some rock-solid dedication to one’s faith right there.

    1. Did Trump’s policy have the exception noted? If not then it’s not the same, is it?

      1. Did Trump’s policy have the exception noted?

        Sorta had to have — I’m old enough to remember Biden campaigning on Trump’s “kids in cages” policy.

        1. Someone in Trump’s inner circle with more interest in immigration policy (Probably Mr. Miller) sold him on the “hassle them until they decide that the US isn’t a great place to live” strategy. Why not? Claiming that America isn’t great helped get him elected and made him a few bucks on merch sales.

  7. No one seems to acknowledge that a network of cayotes and activists inform potential illegal immigrants of the possible methods of gaining entrance to the US. The un8verse of refugees, asylumn seakers and economic immigrants subistantially ooverlap. Parents seeing the sympathy so called “dreamers” may be willing to send their children across the border under the care of cayotes, so they will be released into the custody of Tio Thomas or some other relative already here.

    This is all a predictable responses to the change of administrations.

    1. It’s interesting that according to anti-immigration folks we’re having an influx of people that are both 1. unskilled, semi-literate, unable to speak/write English well, certain to be financial drains third world peasants but who also 2. are impressively fluent in American current policy/events and our Byzantine immigration law and system…

      1. The evil leftists are going out and coaching them on exactly what to say if they get caught when they show up to turn themselves in and request refugee status.

        1. Actually, that’s exactly what steinmetz was saying. The coyotes ARE coaching people to come to the border for their own financial gain. Are you denying that?

          1. “Actually, that’s exactly what steinmetz was saying.”

            Which makes it true?

  8. worrying about optics is foolish because public opinion on this particular topic is not related to things that actually happen. People who are anti-immigrant ALREADY think Biden wants to swarm the country with immigrants, regardless of what he says or does.

    1. Somehow the illegal immigrants got that impression, too, which is why our border is being swarmed.

      1. It’s almost like conditions in the US are better than they are in other places, and people would rather be here than there.

        1. Guess there’s a price to pay for making us great again.

  9. “While this is progress, the president is inexplicably keeping 76 percent of consulates fully or partially closed to routine visa processing, affecting about 71 percent of all visa applicants.”

    Yeah, I got ripped off by the state department for $320 in visa fees in February. I had applied for visa’s for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law last year before the covid hit, then their appointments were cancelled by the embassy shutting down because of covid. They said no refunds, but you can reschedule your appointment within a year.

    So a year rolls around, and I ping them to see if they will refund the fees or schedule an interview for them. They said sure come on down and have your interview, then they were told we aren’t issuing visas so your application is denied, and we are keeping your visa fees. They didn’t even look at their documentation.

    I’d never seen anything so sleezy, I don’t expect competence from the government, but a little integrity would be nice.

    1. But this same government will implement Universal Healthcare !

      1. really? But the private sector was doing such a great job of it!

  10. “But it has also broken key promises.”

    Does the President’s constitutional obligation to see to it the laws are faithfully executed count as a “key promise”? Because I understand there are immigration laws.

    1. As you vociferously argued for the previous administration, there is lots of discretion delegated to the executive in immigration laws.

      Way to turn on an outcome-oriented dime!

      1. shocker

    2. ” I understand there are immigration laws.”

      Do you also understand that there are self-contradictions in those laws?

  11. I have a theory – maybe Biden has listened to the voices on the extreme far left of his party, that the United States is a racial dystopia where police hunt black men for sport.

    So why would he put any refugees at risk by bringing them here?

  12. Somin, let a million Indian law professors into the US. They would love to work for $25000 a year.

    Tear down the fake licensing requirements. Pro se criminal defendants have been shown to outperform defense lawyers in jury verdicts. Your licensing obstructions are fake.

  13. Another fine meeting of Libertarians For Authoritarian, Bigoted, Cruel Immigration Policies And Practices, convened by the Conspiracy’s carefully cultivated conservative commenters and precipitated by outrage provoked by some genuine libertarian content.

    Carry on, clingers . . . but only so far and so long as better Americans permit, as is customary.

    1. You’re not a better American. You never have been; you never will be.

      1. The liberal-libertarian mainstream is the better and victorious element in America, I Callahan. The culture war has been settled. Clingers lost.

  14. I have rarely put in a good word for Trump here. But at least you knew where he stood. He did, to the extent the courts allowed him, exactly what he promised the voters, and exactly what he told prospective immigrants. He said he would do his best to boot them out and make their lives miserable in the meanwhile. And he did.

    To promise changing this and then simply not doing it, especially going for months being silent about it, is the worst of all worlds. It invites chaos. It is dishonest with the voters.

    Biden coild have followed a strategy on immigration similar to the one he pursued on court packing, promising to study the matter without actually promising to do anything. But he didn’t. He was elected promising full-throated change. He promised specific major changes in his inauguration speech. And then he flat out reneged, quietly for months and finally publically.

    One is reminded of Monty Python’s Sir Robin

    “When danger reared its ugly head
    He bravely turned his tail and fled
    Yes brave Sir Robin turned about
    And gallantly he chickened out
    Swiftly taking to his feet
    He beat a very brave retreat
    Brave, Brave, Sir Robin.”

    I have said that the Constitution supports complete freedom of choice on immigration, allowing both nativist and open door policies and leaving it wholly to the elected branches which to choose or what compromise to make.

    But an electorate is entitled to know which policies its elected leaders actually favor.

    1. “I have rarely put in a good word for Trump here. But at least you knew where he stood.”

      He stood wherever he thought he could profit personally from standing. That’s approximately 100% of his policy.

  15. Reason has never met an immigrant it didn’t like.

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