On the 7th of November 2020, Joe Biden won the US presidential election against Donald Trump with many celebrating his victory as a return to a more ‘progressive’ era in American politics. As thousands continue to celebrate Biden’s victory, with many branding the Democratic party as an inherently positive force for change, it’s also important that we assess the past, present and future of the party. The policies of prior democratic administrations have had profound impacts on migrants, who continue to suffer due to the immigration policy implemented by the Democratic party.
With immigration policy, in particular, Trump and Biden have both exhibited a blatant disregard for the livelihoods and rights of migrants, with Biden’s immigration pledges indicating what the US can expect under his administration with Vice President Kamala Harris.
During Biden’s campaign, he acknowledged the criticism he faced for his immigration record as Vice President, branding it a ‘mistake’ due to the Obama/Biden administration’s failures to achieve significant reform during their time in office. Under their administration, the highest number of people ever recorded were deported from the US. The administration was also responsible for the use of cages to hold immigration detainees, including children, which still continues today.
During his 2020 election campaign, Biden pledged to reform multiple aspects of US immigration policy. He has pledged to enforce laws ‘without targeting communities, violating due processes or tearing apart families’ however, when these laws were designed with the intention to marginalize specific races and ethnicities, many have been left wondering how Biden will be able to commit to such a pledge. He also promises to end Donald Trump’s practices of keeping detainees in long-term detention as well as ending some of Trump’s toughest immigration rules including “the public charge” which makes it difficult for low-income migrants to enter and settle in America. Perhaps most notably, Biden has promised that within the first 100 days of his presidency he will ensure that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) personnel will be ‘held accountable for inhumane treatment’ whilst simultaneously increasing resources for training. However, Biden has also made it clear that he has no intention of decriminalizing border crossing in the US – unfortunately, for as long as these crossings continue to be criminalized, practices such as people smuggling and trafficking remain prevalent, putting the lives and wellbeing of thousands of people at risk.
Donald Trump’s presidency has been turbulent and often rooted in inflammatory anti-immigration rhetoric. As he weaponized immigration from the start of his 2016 campaign, divisive rhetoric continued to dominate his presidency and influence the immigration policies he implemented. In 2017, Trump signed an executive order which banned individuals from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. This order demonized some of the most vulnerable including those fleeing dictators and torturers. As his mission to make immigration to the US as difficult as possible continued, he proceeded to implement his ‘public-charge rule’ which gave officials the power to deny green cards to migrants. His treatment of asylum seekers during his presidency has been equally alarming, and he proposed a drastic overhaul of the rules that govern the intake of asylum seekers in the US, causing a devastating impact on LGBTQ communities as well as female victims of domestic abuse and central Americans escaping gang violence.
Although a Biden/Harris presidency will undeniably improve the current state of immigration policy in the US, there is reason to doubt that any proposed overhaul will be drastic enough to benefit those impacted the most by Trump’s policies. When we assess the policies and reforms undertaken by the Obama/Biden administration, it’s clear that the Democratic party failed to implement any meaningful change to protect marginalized groups of Americans. If anything, the administration helped sow the seeds for the damage inflicted during Trump’s time in office. Under Obama/Biden, cages were authorized to hold detainees in immigration detention, a practice that caused the separation and trauma of thousands of families. Although such practices continued under Trump without reform, a future Biden/Harris administration has not committed to the sort of radical overhaul required to be significantly beneficial to those who have suffered the most.
While it’s clear that Trump’s 2020 presidential loss will benefit the US immigration system and move the country towards the change it needs, we must also recognize that the party many hope will deliver this reform will need to make pledges that stretch far beyond the ones in their presidential campaign to deliver this.
Bethany Morris is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organization of immigration lawyers based in the US and UK.