Joe Biden's immigration policy

Image: Javier Gonzales


The policy implemented in the Democratic administration is little different from the agenda proposed by Trump

Democrat Joe Biden took office in the United States with a promise to implement more lenient immigration policies than his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump. Among the points foreseen in his campaign platform for the migration agenda were the adoption of a fairer policy for immigrants, emphasizing that they were welcome in the country; the promise to solve problems such as undocumented immigration; and increasing quotas for asylum seekers and refugees.

After nine months in office, however, the democrat faces a series of criticisms for violating the human rights of immigrants, especially in the case of those in clandestine condition, since his policies in this area have been considered illegal and inhumane. Criticism intensified after the release of images of Border Patrol agents mounted on horses and whip in hand, in the Texan town of Del Rio, on the border with Mexico. This dramatic episode increased pressure on the president, who was heavily criticized by allies, supporters and opposition.

Economic crisis, pandemic and illegal migration in the US

The number of undocumented migrants at the borders has reached record levels since April 2021. In the city of Del Rio, in the state of Texas, there are about six thousand immigrants, mostly Haitians, waiting to enter the country. In September of this year, around 15 migrants, including pregnant women and children, were awaiting asylum in miserable conditions, with few basic services and in intense heat. Most of these people were deported among the dozens of flights full of migrants that left Texas for Haiti. Since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in their home country, many Haitians who camp under the Del Rio International Bridge lived in South America, especially Chile and Brazil.

The consequences of the covid-19 pandemic in the region have further driven migration to the southern border of the United States. Thus, in addition to Haitians, migrants from Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Brazil moved to the US. The causes for the increase in migration involve economic, social and environmental problems.

Migration of Brazilians in an illegal situation breaks record

The migratory flow from Brazil to the US reached record levels during the current global health crisis. Between the months of October 2020 and August 2021, around 47,4 thousand Brazilians were apprehended, a larger amount than in the previous 14 years. The suspension of the issuance of visas also contributed to the increase in these rates, making many Brazilians risk taking illegal routes. Since October 2020, more than 37 families with around 50 Brazilians have been arrested on American soil after illegally entering Mexico.

In 2021, the total number of people in family groups seeking to migrate to the United States tripled, compared to 2020. The topic gained prominence in the Brazilian press after the death of Lenilda dos Santos, left behind during the crossing, without water and without food. The increase in the number of children is also significant. In just two months, around 3 children entered the United States illegally. Reports of abuse, including sexual abuse, committed by human traffickers are constant. In addition, the migrant arrives in the country of destination with debts, while the family is the target of extortion in their country of origin. The United States is the main destination for Brazilians abroad, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

In reaction to this increase, the Biden administration has expanded the number of flights of deportees from the United States. As of October, two weekly flights from the USA with Brazilian deportees are expected to leave. Another measure that should limit the entry of Brazilians into the country involves the Mexican government's decision to require visas from Brazilians. The objective is to try to contain the increase in the number of these irregular crossings through the territory in collaboration with Washington's policy.

Continuities in migration policy

Biden arrived at the Presidency, promising to reverse the restrictive migration measures implemented by Donald Trump. In his administration, the Democrat announced in the campaign, he would “undo the damage caused by Trump and recover America's values”, as a “nation of immigrants”. Among his proposals were helping undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship, provided they met a series of criteria; protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, adopted during the Barack Obama administration; reset the program Central America Minors (“Central American Minors”), which provided minors from the Northern Triangle with the opportunity to come to the US as refugees; raise the limit on refugee admissions ; and close the policy stay in mexico (“Remain in Mexico”), which required asylum seekers to remain on Mexican soil. Furthermore, it reaffirmed its commitment to asylum seekers and refugees.

During the presidential race, the press also focused on the fact that the candidate for vice president on Biden's ticket, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), was the daughter of immigrants, which would indicate greater sensitivity to the issue on the part of her government team. What reality has shown, however, is that the policy implemented in the Democratic administration is little different from the agenda proposed by Trump.

The intensification of the deportation of Haitians has intensified the criticism that the current government's migration policy is inhumane and counterproductive.

The first problem with immigration is in relation to the detention centers, which maintain the extremely precarious conditions inherited from the Donald Trump administration. Migrants still experience poor facilities without access to essential services. In addition, these centers were overcrowded in the midst of a pandemic, facilitating the spread of the coronavirus in these environments. Journalists reported that the government made it difficult for the press to access these sites.

To deal with this issue, the president designated Kamala to oversee diplomatic efforts, in yet another attempt to contain the increase in the flow of migrants in irregular conditions through a “effective and human action plan”. It didn't work out very well. On a visit to Guatemala, her first international trip in office, the US vice president made controversial statements. “I want to make it clear to folks in the region who are thinking of making that perilous journey to the US-Mexico border: Don't come. Don't come,” warned Kamala. The statement was heavily criticized, including by her supporters, who reminded the deputy that (1) seeking asylum is legal and (2) deporting asylum seekers is illegal.

Some measures implemented during the Trump administration were revoked by Biden, such as: the suspension of funding for the wall on the border with Mexico; the determination of the end of restrictions on the entry into the United States of holders of passports from seven Muslim-majority countries; the reduction of the immigration inspection policy by federal immigration agents in the country; and the creation of a task force to reunite separated immigrant families. However, the forced deportation policy remains, under the justification of the controversial rule Title 42 (“Title 42”), invoked in the previous administration to prohibit the entry of immigrants.

Criticism of Democratic Leaders

In addition to attacks from members of the Republican Party, who assess Biden's immigration policy as weak and ineffective, the president faces criticism from his own ranks. At least 61% of Democrats are against the mass expulsion of migrants, and 30% are in favor of Biden's measures. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, criticized the president and called for an end to mass deportations, attitudes he considers hateful, xenophobic and typical of former President Trump. The media has also been highlighting that the government gives in more to the requests of the republicans , bringing dissatisfaction to the Democrats. In the midst of this crisis, the US State Department's Senior Legal Counsel Harold Koh resigned from office, for opposing the attitudes and decisions of the government.

There is pressure from Democrats to repeal the Title 42. Biden still does not seem to intend to follow this path, indicating, on the contrary, a posture of continuity of the practices adopted in the Trump administration. One indication was the decision by the Executive to appoint Chris Magnus to head the US Customs and Border Protection agency. (US Customs and Border Protection, or CBP). The chosen one supports the maintenance of the rule mentioned above, as well as the acceleration in the process of deportation of migrants.

*Isabella Fontaniello is a Master's student at the Graduate Program in International Relations at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU).

*Debora Figueiredo Mendonça do Prado is a professor at the Institute of Economics and International Relations at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU).

Originally published on the US Political Observatory and Institute of Science and Technology for Studies about the United States.


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