During his 2020 campaign, Former President Trump highlighted immigration as one of his top priorities, particularly the need to decrease illegal immigrant crossings. His efforts to stem the flow of immigration during his years in the White House did not quite work out. From January 2017, when Trump took office, to May of 2019, apprehension of migrants attempting to cross the southern border steadily increased to 132,856 in a single month. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of immigration crossings from the border fell to lower numbers than they ever did for Obama. Although Former President Trump did not decrease the number of illegal immigrant crossings from the southern border before the pandemic, this lack of effective immigration reform is nothing new. For decades, presidents have promised to “fix” our immigration system; the proposed solutions have ranged from building a wall on the southern border to providing simple paths towards citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
A New Administration: An Increase or Decrease?
With a new administration, migrant crossings spiked up to 96,974 in February, the first whole month of the Biden administration, and reports of over 170,000 for March. The Democrats’ argument for the spike is that the recent surge in attempted immigration crossings from the southern border began during the end of the Trump administration. This explanation is partially true, but it also has to do with immigrants now seeing hope in coming to America with a new president, along with a promise of more humane conditions at border facilities. This spike has warranted significant criticism from Republicans, who generally want to limit border crossings.
The Building Blocks of Reform
These numbers, in addition to the crowded facilities, demonstrate a need to create feasible immigration reform. Biden laid out his solution to this and other immigration-related problems in his proposal, the “U.S Citizenship Act.” This bill would create an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented citizens, ensure that families are not separated at the border, and would try to prevent undocumented workers from being exploited. However, Republicans have proposed their immigration bill as an alternative to Biden’s, which creates a ten-year path to legal status and protects DREAMers while also increasing border security.
These different approaches to immigration reform likely stem from diverging perspectives on how immigrants affect the United States. At the core of this issue, the two parties agree on principles such as protecting jobs for Americans, creating a secure border, and developing a path for citizenship (for specific groups). In the coming months, we will see just how much Biden is willing to reach across the aisle and whether Republicans are willing to compromise to finally pass meaningful immigration reform. The current flow of migrants shows a compromise cannot come soon enough.