President Biden announces a border-related executive order
President Joe Biden makes an announcement on immigration and southern border security, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe)

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden issued an exec­u­tive order lim­it­ing asy­lum claims at the Unit­ed States’ bor­der with Mex­i­co this week fol­low­ing high num­bers of unau­tho­rized cross­ings by peo­ple seek­ing a bet­ter life in Amer­i­ca. The order, which took effect Wednes­day morn­ing, stops asy­lum pro­cess­ing in the coun­try once cross­ings rise over a 2,500 dai­ly aver­age and only resumes once dai­ly arrests are below 1,500 for a week. 

If migrants arrive in the coun­try while holds on asy­lum are in effect, they will be giv­en depor­ta­tion orders, with vio­la­tions poten­tial­ly result­ing in crim­i­nal prosecution.

Biden’s move elicit­ed dif­fer­ing opin­ions among mem­bers of Congress.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jaya­pal (WA-07), a Demo­c­rat who chairs the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus, denounced the order as “a dan­ger­ous step in the wrong direc­tion,” ref­er­enc­ing treaty oblig­a­tions and laws which require the U.S. to let peo­ple seek asylum.

Jaya­pal also com­pared the administration’s approach to Don­ald Trump’s attempt­ed Mus­lim ban. “While there are some dif­fer­ences from Trump’s actions, the real­i­ty is that this uti­lizes the same failed enforce­ment-only approach, penal­izes asy­lum seek­ers, and fur­thers a false nar­ra­tive that these actions will ‘fix’ the border.”

Oth­er Democ­rats praised the action, like Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Marie Glue­senkamp Perez (WA-03), who rep­re­sents a bat­tle­ground dis­trict. In a state­ment along­side oth­er front­line Democ­rats, Perez called the deci­sion “over­due,” say­ing that they have “long demand­ed Pres­i­dent Biden change course and empow­er the Bor­der Patrol.”

“Bor­der secu­ri­ty must be a top pri­or­i­ty for Pres­i­dent Biden,” Glue­senkamp Perez said. “The Pres­i­dent needs to do all he can to restore oper­a­tional con­trol of our South­ern Bor­der, and stop drug car­tels from traf­fick­ing fen­tanyl into com­mu­ni­ties across America.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er (WA-08), anoth­er front­line mem­ber, agreed that the deci­sion was “a start,” join­ing oth­er Democ­rats in call­ing for com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform.

Many pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions crit­i­cized the order. 

Julio Lopez Varona, the co-Chief of Cam­paigns for Cen­ter for Pop­u­lar Democ­ra­cy, echoed Jaya­pal, say­ing it was a step in the wrong direc­tion. “Pres­i­dent Biden’s Exec­u­tive Order effec­tive­ly clos­ing the bor­der is only the most recent blow in a long series of harm­ful immi­gra­tion poli­cies in the last year. Pres­i­dent Biden is pan­der­ing to xeno­pho­bia and fear-mon­ger­ing. It is rem­i­nis­cent of Don­ald Trump — and it is not a win­ning strategy.”

“We con­tin­ue to call on Biden to stand by our nation’s val­ues and deliv­er the pos­i­tive immi­gra­tion poli­cies he promised our com­mu­ni­ties, instead of con­tin­u­ing to imple­ment the same Trump poli­cies he once claimed to oppose.”

“With just a few months to go, we hope he will deliv­er on his cam­paign promis­es, instead of bor­row­ing from Trump’s playbook.”

Exec­u­tive action will not be able to stop all unlaw­ful migra­tion across the south­ern bor­der. Month­ly encoun­ters have been extreme­ly high under the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, with near­ly 250,000 migrant encoun­ters in Decem­ber of 2023. Still, even under the enforce­ment-ori­ent­ed Trump regime, month­ly cross­ings were as high as 133,000.

Despite the lim­it­ed pow­er of exec­u­tive actions — with legal chal­lenges almost cer­tain to arise — the new rule is as much about pol­i­tics as it is about policy. 

Polls have repeat­ed­ly shown that vot­ers per­ceive immi­gra­tion to be a seri­ous prob­lem fac­ing the coun­try, and the pres­i­dent needs to shore up polit­i­cal sup­port among vot­ers in states like Ari­zona and Neva­da ahead of the Novem­ber election. 

Groups such as the neolib­er­al Third Way assert that Democ­rats need to be able to win a greater share of inde­pen­dent vot­ers than Repub­li­cans to pre­vail in the fall, which part­ly helps explain the President’s right­ward tack on the issue.

While the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus and much of the Amer­i­can left aren’t on board with this exec­u­tive order, Biden’s tri­an­gu­la­tion on immi­gra­tion pales in com­par­i­son to the bru­tal and imprac­ti­cal cam­paign plans of Trump, who is run­ning on what he calls “the largest domes­tic depor­ta­tion oper­a­tion in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.” He has stat­ed that he plans to deport between 15 and 20 mil­lion new Americans.

Aside from being imprac­ti­cal and inhu­mane, Trump’s plans would be detri­men­tal to the Amer­i­can econ­o­my. Econ­o­mists have flagged that the pro­pos­als would be extreme­ly cost­ly and would plau­si­bly wors­en work­er short­ages and inflation. 

New Amer­i­cans have con­tributed great­ly to U.S. eco­nom­ic growth over the last few years, dur­ing which labor short­ages have been widespread.

Regret­tably, Trump’s unwork­able and prob­lem­at­ic immi­gra­tion plans seem to have some sup­port among vot­ers. An April 2024 Har­ris poll found that over half of Amer­i­cans (includ­ing 42% of Democ­rats) would sup­port mass depor­ta­tions of immi­grants lack­ing paper­work, while as many as 30% of Democ­rats thought that the U.S. should end birthright cit­i­zen­ship (though this would require a con­sti­tu­tion­al amendment).

It is clear that the U.S. needs com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform, and Democ­rats have long tried to pass it. In the fall, Repub­li­cans made it clear that any addi­tion­al mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine would have to be cou­pled with leg­is­la­tion to deal with unlaw­ful immi­gra­tion at the south­ern bor­der before pulling the plug on their own leg­is­la­tion when Trump opposed it. A more recent attempt to revive the leg­is­la­tion in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate also failed, prompt­ing the admin­is­tra­tion to piv­ot to this exec­u­tive order.

About the author

Owen Averill is the Northwest Progressive Institute's Federal Correspondent and an aficionado of all things Washington State. His professional experience includes internships on Capitol Hill, for Democratic congressional campaigns, and at the Brookings Institution. When he’s not writing about Washingtonians in D.C., he is running, reading, watching the Sounders, or catching up on Irish politics.

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