Use this button to switch between dark and light mode.

Biden at the Two-Year Mark: Significant Immigration Actions Eclipsed by Record Border Numbers

January 31, 2023 (2 min read)

Muzaffar Chishti and Kathleen Bush-Joseph, MPI Policy Beat, Jan. 26, 2023

"On his first day in office, President Joe Biden announced sweeping plans to reform decades-old U.S. immigration laws, undo many of the restrictive policies of the predecessor Trump administration, and provide a pathway to legal status for the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants. Two years later, few of those ambitions have been realized and the administration presents an image of one struggling to find its footing on immigration. Despite the slim Democratic majority in both houses of Congress during the president’s first two years, lawmakers remained paralyzed on immigration and did not advance the Biden agenda. Meanwhile, Republican state officials successfully used the courts to halt many of the administration’s executive efforts.

However, the Biden administration, like the predecessor Trump and Obama presidencies, has relied on the toolbox of executive actions to implement its priorities and transform key elements of the sprawling immigration system. In fact, midway through its term, the Biden administration has far outstripped the pace of executive actions taken during the Trump administration, which was perceived as the most activist yet on immigration. From January 20, 2021 through January 19, 2023, the Biden administration took 403 immigration-related actions, according to calculations by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), putting it on track to soon overtake the 472 immigration-related executive actions MPI counted for all four years of the Trump administration.

While some executive actions have been stalled by the courts, Biden’s measures have nonetheless affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including many seeking protection. Among these changes were more targeted interior enforcement; regulations to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides work permits and protection from deportation to unauthorized immigrants who arrived as minors; expanding humanitarian protection through Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and other programs; and unblocking legal immigration channels that had been chilled by the pandemic.

Yet the daunting challenges at the U.S. southern border, which is seeing record levels of migrant encounters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have overshadowed actions elsewhere in the immigration realm. Federal officials and border communities have been overwhelmed, and the perception of a chaotic border has been used as a political cudgel, including through the publicized busing of asylum seekers and other migrants to New York, Washington, DC, and other cities. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, authorities recorded 2.4 million encounters of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization, the most ever. The Biden administration’s attempts to end two hallmark Trump border policies—the Migrant Protection Protocols (informally known as Remain in Mexico) and Title 42 expulsions, which prevent access to asylum—have been stalled by the courts, only muddying the waters at the southern border.

Ironically, this border surge may have been partly prompted by the administration’s actions elsewhere to shield immigrants from deportation and provide humanitarian protections, as migrants expected a warm welcome in the United States after four years of Trump. Biden’s ambitious immigration agenda, therefore, may have contributed to one of his most vexing policy challenges. This article assesses the Biden administration’s major immigration actions during its first two years in office, concentrating on interior enforcement, legal immigration, humanitarian protection, and border enforcement. ..."