Decline in Migrant Arrests at US-Mexico border Coincides with Biden’s New Asylum Policy

On Wednesday, June 5, 2024, President Biden’s asylum ban took effect, whose  objective is to stop migrants who cross illegally into the United States, seeking asylum. Biden introduced a comprehensive reform that largely prevents migrants who cross illegally from seeking asylum. However, the asylum ban includes exceptions for unaccompanied minors, individuals with medical conditions, and victims of trafficking. The number of migrants illegally crossing the border decreased on Friday, June 7th, indicating that a new restrictive policy by the Biden administration was discouraging some illegal immigration. Since Wednesday, over 2,000 people per day have been placed in expedited removal, more than double the previous rate. The US border patrol has been arresting around 3,100 individuals attempting to cross the border illegally in the past days, which is approximately 20 percent less than the days before the ban took effect.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Biden’s decision to close the southern border to almost all asylum-seeking migrants on Wednesday. Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU who has previously challenged multiple of Biden and Trump’s immigration policies stated “The asylum statute could not be clearer: that one must be able to seek protection regardless of where they enter the country, which is why the courts struck down Trump’s nearly-identical asylum ban and is undoubtedly why the Biden admin has acknowledged it may not be able to do this by unilateral executive fiat.” California Senator Alex Padilla also weighed in, arguing that “this asylum ban will fail to address the challenges at our border, just as it did under the Trump administration. It will lead to people with legitimate asylum claims being prevented from seeking safety and returned to harm.” The criticisms have not deterred the White House, which released a statement after the ACLU suit vowing to “continue to enforce our immigration laws and remove those without a legal basis to remain in the United States.”

While this policy might be effective in reducing illegal crossings in the short term, it raises significant concerns about its long-term implications and fairness. The expedited removal process, which has seen a dramatic increase in use, could strain US authorities’ capacity to process individuals quickly and humanely. Furthermore, the new policy’s reliance on migrants to voluntarily declare their fear of returning to their home countries without being prompted (the “shout test”) could result in many legitimate asylum seekers being denied protection. While the new policy aims to address one of Biden’s significant political vulnerabilities by reducing illegal border crossings, it also risks undermining the rights of asylum seekers and may face considerable legal and ethical challenges. A balanced approach that combines effective border management with the humane treatment of migrants is essential for long-term success.

In 2018, President Donald Trump made efforts to cut off migration in a similar way as Biden currently is, however, his attempts were blocked in federal court. When Biden took office, he vowed to roll back many of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. However, he has since adopted a tougher stance due to the record number of migrant arrests at the border. In the past few years, the number of illegal immigrants has been very high. In December 2023 alone, there were over 10,00 people illegally crossing into the United States every single day. The issues at the US-Mexico border are numerous, with a large number of people surrendering themselves to border agents, aware that they will likely be released into the US to await court appearances, which can take years. 

Immigration has emerged as one of the most important issues in the United States leading up to the November 5th election, in which President Biden will face Trump once again. Although the numbers of illegal immigrants have lowered in the past week, many questions persist about whether border crossings will remain low enough to allow for more rapid processing of individuals and whether US authorities can meet these goals. Furthermore, restrictions will only be lifted when the number of daily illegal crossings drops below 1500 people for a week straight and then remains that way for 2 more weeks.