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List of 120+ Biden Actions to Help Try To ‘Shut the Border’

David J. Bier

Several news reports indicate that in his upcoming State of the Union address, President Biden plans to announce a major executive action to “shut down the border.” This action would be the latest in a long list of measures President Biden has taken to attempt to do so. Table 1 below lists over 120 actions the administration has taken to block the entry of people at the southwest border. What we know about Biden’s new plan sounds a lot like actions that he already taken.

Members of Congress have repeatedly accused President Biden of “intentionally undermining border security.” But the list below demonstrates just the opposite. Biden has tried every conceivable configuration of enforcement strategies, including: expulsions to Mexico, Remain in Mexico, mass deportations, mass detention, mass electronic surveillance of released asylum seekers, an asylum ban, coordinated crackdowns with foreign countries, blocking legal travel between foreign countries on the way to the United States, messaging campaigns, and much, much more.

Of course, a long list of actions—some of which are now reversed—doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that more enforcement is actually occurring. For this reason, this post concludes with a series of nine charts showing how much immigration enforcement has increased under this administration. In fact, virtually every measure of border enforcement currently is, or has at various points been, at a level that is higher than when Biden came into office—often higher than at any point under the Trump administration.

President Biden increased Title 42 expulsions and later Title 8 deportations to record levels. His administration is detaining far more immigrants than Trump was in January 2021 or even 2020 pre‐​pandemic. The number of immigrants under electronic surveillance is higher than ever before. He even tried the “Remain in Mexico” policy, achieving a higher level of monthly enrollments in 2022 than Trump at any point in 2020, before shifting enforcement strategies yet again. In 2023, he ordered more immigrants removed via immigration courts than any prior administration. He convinced Mexico to engage in the highest level of immigration enforcement to date. In his first two years in office, Biden removed a higher percentage of crossers than Trump did in his last two years in office.

When President Biden’s political opponents attack him for “intentionally undermining border security,” they are often just misconstruing actions taken to expand the border crackdown. For instance, a DHS memo from the president’s first day in office supposedly suspended deportations for 100 days. Yet, only a select group of deportations were briefly suspended, and the memo explicitly required the “surging of resources” to the border to carry out even more expulsions and deportations of recent border crossers. It was an intensification of border enforcement in pro‐​immigrant framing.

The same could be said for the administration’s expansion of “alternatives to detention,” which is just a euphemism for electronic surveillance of released immigrants. Critics treat this innovation as a favor to immigrants because they aren’t being detained, but they wouldn’t have been detained either way because congressional funding is limited to only about 34,000 beds. Ultimately, the surveillance program gets criticized even though it increases the administration’s ability to track border crossers.

Or take the Biden administration’s decision to terminate Remain in Mexico, which sent asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in the United States. The administration found that it had led to a massive 33 percent recidivism rate among enrollees and was sucking up resources that could be used to carry out other crackdowns. He ended Title 42 expulsions to Mexico so that the administration could impose even harsher punishments. Biden has replaced Remain in Mexico and Title 42 with an outright asylum ban and the first‐​ever permanent deportations of some non‐​Mexicans to Mexico.

The claim that Biden is unwilling to take any actions to address illegal immigration contradicts the evidence, both qualitative and quantitative. Yes, illegal immigration persists at extremely high levels compared to prior years. But as this extensive list of actions demonstrates, that is not the result of an unwillingness to carry out draconian actions toward border crossers, but rather, because the United States is among the freest countries on earth and has the best labor market in the world. We should be shocked when huge numbers of people don’t show up at the border—which has only been achieved through economic downturns.

The answer to why these measures did not work is complicated in some ways, but the basic point is simple. When large numbers of immigrants do arrive, the government lacks the resources to detain and remove all of them. That’s why the Biden administration has asked for unprecedented resources to carry out its deportation agenda, effectively doubling Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s annual budget. But even this level of resources will be insufficient. Because the benefits of living and working in the US are so great, many immigrants will still find a way.

As long as people persist in the misconception that Biden has “opened the borders,” they will feel no need to adopt approaches to ending illegal immigration that don’t involve just more enforcement. Indeed, it was only after the Biden administration’s failed attempts to “shut down the border” with Title 42 that it opened up new legal avenues to enter into the United States, like its successful parole sponsorship initiatives for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. But these programs have low caps and aren’t open to most immigrants arriving today.

The administration should review this list of 120+ failed actions and reconsider potential new actions that will just try more of the same. It should instead focus on the successful actions that have effectively reopened the border to legal migration.

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