The Trump administration and the Biden administration have very different approaches to immigration policy, particularly at the US southern border, both in rhetoric and policy. Biden has made it a goal to reverse much of what Trump did while in office, though it’s slow going for him. The number of migrants at the border is the highest it’s been since 2019, especially the number of minors reaching the US border, and year-end numbers could overtake 2019 levels of migration if the rate keeps up.
How is COVID-19 affecting the situation?
There are some lingering concerns that migrants could be bringing the coronavirus with them, though experts say those transmission vectors shouldn’t make the situation within the United States any worse than it already is. The CDC is far more concerned that COVID-19 could spread within migrant populations who don’t have access to healthcare upon arrival in the US and while in refugee camps in Mexico than the risk of the disease jumping from them into the general US populace.
Economic devastation from the pandemic is just one reason experts believe migrants are traveling north. Other reasons include extensive damage from hurricanes over the past few hurricane seasons and political violence. Those fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries can apply to be asylum seekers, or people asking for the protection of a foreign government. In spite of increasing asylum seekers since 2018, the Trump administration made it difficult to even apply, leading to a backlog that Biden is now attempting to clear out, amongst many other aspects of immigration reform.
What has Biden done so far?
The Biden administration almost immediately rolled back Trump’s unprecedented 2019 Migrant Protection Protocols (or MPP), commonly known as the “remain in Mexico” program, and promised to start processing those currently waiting in Mexico. The MPP dramatically reduced the number of people able to apply for entry, much less apply successfully. Another policy was “metering,” or limiting the number of people each port of entry was allowed to process per day. However, the processing of waiting migrants didn’t begin until mid-February, and thousands remain in Mexico with no guarantee of permanent entry to the US. The White House Press Secretary has warned individuals seeking entry that “now is not the time to come,” due to both COVID travel procedures and the fact that the Biden’s system is not fully set up yet and thus unable to smoothly process large numbers of people (CNN).
The Biden administration has also tried to reduce the number of unaccompanied minors being held in processing facilities and detention centers at the border, with mixed success. At this point in time, minors are supposed to be held for no more than 72 hours before being placed by the Department of Health and Human Services with a family or a shelter trained to work with migrant children, though at times that time limit has been exceeded.
Overall, the Biden administration is attempting a 180 on border policy in regards to how migrants are handled. The border will not be broadly opened to anyone seeking entry, and most adults without children are likely to be turned away under COVID protocols. The logistics of performing this 180 are massively complicated, as are the logistics of processing those currently waiting at the border. Both processes are moving slowly, but they are moving.