Biden Once Appeared To Support Immigrants. The SOTU Demonstrated He No Longer Seems To.

By Juan Carlos Gomez

4 min read.

President Biden’s State of the Union address makes it clear that he has decided to continue down the path of enforcing harmful and failed immigration policies rather than strengthen our country by supporting and welcoming immigrants as he promised in his 2020 campaign. While the Biden Administration has taken some important actions to support immigrants, its consistent pattern has been one step forward and three steps back. Now, the administration seems intent on rolling back any progress it made and any trust it rebuilt with immigrant communities for the sake of appearing “tough” on immigration. 

But being “tough” does not mean you have to support cruel and ineffective policies. That’s something that Biden seemed to understand shortly after his inauguration. In February 2021, Biden introduced an executive order to address immigration, stating, “Securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them… Nor is the United States safer when resources that should be invested in policies targeting actual threats, such as drug cartels and human traffickers, are squandered on efforts to stymie legitimate asylum seekers.”

President Biden said he would work to restore our asylum system, which had been eroded by the Trump Administration. But just three short years later, Biden has instead decided to employ many of those same policies to thwart asylum seekers. Not only is he parroting Trump’s immigration policies, but he’s also building on them to further curtail migrants’ rights.

There are numerous examples of how the Biden Administration has continued or made the policies of the previous administration more severe: 

  • The Trump Administration enforced Title 42 during the height of the COVID pandemic to limit entry into the United States, claiming that it was concerned about public health. The Biden Administration continued to implement that policy even without the flimsy public health justification. 
  • The bipartisan Senate border bill Biden endorsed includes funding for the border wall he once promised he would not fund. 
  • The Biden Administration is considering using the same authority the Trump Administration employed to implement the Muslim ban and limiting asylum seekers, to once again restrict access to asylum. Biden denounced that policy on his first day in office.

Last week, Joe Biden and Donald Trump visited the border. Although they visited separately, both centered their talking points on the same racist approach to immigration. Instead of proposing actual solutions to support our immigration system, Biden uplifted the failed Senate bill consisting of Trump-era policies and even went so far as to invite Trump to “join him” in working to pass these policies together. 

During his State of the Union, Biden had the opportunity to distinguish himself from Trump. Instead, he chose to continue to double down on hateful and harmful policies. His speech was reflective of his administration so far, demonstrating a strong disconnect between his rhetoric and intentions. 

Biden said he would not demonize immigrants, but moments earlier used the incredibly racist term “illegal immigrant.” No human being is “illegal.” Continuing to echo that language is dehumanizing and puts immigrant communities at risk of violence. He said he would not separate families, but his current and proposed immigration policies have separated and continue to separate families. He said he would not ban people from the country because of their faith, and while it may be true that he’s not singling out a specific community, his proposed action would make asylum harder for nearly everyone to enter the U.S., regardless of their faith. Invoking his Irish heritage, Biden alluded to the Great Famine in Ireland, but families seeking shelter today from similar hardship would have extreme difficulty getting into the country under the policies he wants to implement. 

Biden is right to call out Trump for playing politics with immigrants’ lives, but by adopting Trump’s policies and uplifting racist rhetoric he has chosen to do the same. This is a complete failure and reversal of what President Biden promised.

When he first took office, President Biden understood which policies centered humanity and our American values. He understood that punitive measures were not going to make either immigrants or U.S. citizens safer, and they were not going to make our immigration system more orderly. He understood that we need to invest in our systems to create pathways to legalization and citizenship, rather than investing in enforcement. In fact, one of the first bills the Biden Administration pushed forward was the U.S. Citizenship Act, which reflected this vision. However, as immigration has become a more polarizing topic, the administration has backed away from the humane approach it once touted. 

The United States has the capability and responsibility to support those immigrating or seeking asylum within our borders. If President Biden is sincere about finding solutions he would put forward humane policies that actually and effectively address the issues in our immigration system.