Immigration promises to be a marquee issue during the 2024 election, harkening 2016 when political neophyte Donald Trump made a name for himself with uncouth critiques of America’s immigration policy.
During presidential campaigns, immigration is often boiled down into digestible, memorable taglines and sentiments. Build The Wall. No Human is Illegal. Et Cetera. But immigration is a complex and entrenched problem, with roots in US foreign policy, that has persisted through alternating Democratic and Republican administrations.
While often framed as a moral issue, immigration policy is expected to find some middle ground between accommodating the world’s most downtrodden and keeping Americans safe from the wolf at the door/tempering our population growth. So far, the middle ground has proven elusive.
Immigration in the 2024 election
As Trump and President Biden gear up for a rematch, we can expect each candidate to use immigration to as a cudgel with which they bludgeon their opponents over the head. Biden and the Democrats will make the case that Trump was a racist cur, who weaponized xenophobia to inspire fear in the heartland. Inversely, Trump and the Republicans will make the case that Biden has been a wet noodle who let “bad hombres” and “rapists” and MS-13 right in the front door. Both parties will use hyperbole to make their respective cases, and both parties will try to flatter their immigration performance relative to the other party.
Remember, Biden entered office with promises to reform US immigration law, the pathway to legal citizenship, and most relevantly, Trump-era immigration restrictions. To date, Biden has failed to deliver systemic reform.
“Few of those ambitions have been realized and the administration presents an image of one struggling to find its footing on immigration,” Migration Policy reported. “Despite the slim Democratic majority in both houses of Congress during the president’s first two years, lawmakers remained paralyzed on immigration and did not advance the Biden agenda. Meanwhile, Republican state officials successfully used the courts to halt many of the administration’s executive efforts.”
Yet Biden has moved aggressively on immigration, issuing 403 immigration-related executive actions. Trump, by comparison, issued just 472 immigration-related executive actions over the course of four years in office. If Biden keeps his current pace up, he’ll double Trump’s total number – amusing when you consider that Trump is the one believed to be more assertive on immigration.
Biden Might Have Created the Immigration Problem He Can’t Seem to Fix
But Biden’s executive orders haven’t exactly solved the problem. Challenges remain at the US border, “which is seeing record levels of migrant encounters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” according to Migration Policy.
“Ironically, this border surge may have been partly prompted by the [Biden] administration’s actions elsewhere to shield immigrants from deportation and provide humanitarian protections, as migrants expected a warm welcome in the United States after four years of Trump,” Migration Policy reported. “Biden’s ambitious immigration agenda, therefore, may have contributed to one of his most vexing policy challenges.”
Biden and ICE
Trump’s use of ICE drew the ire of the left, prompting calls for ICE’s disbandment. Biden opted to keep ICE intact, although he did refine the way ICE was used. Instead of using ICE super broadly, to go after anyone in the country without authorization, as Trump conceived, Biden has used ICE more narrowly. The result is that under Biden ICE has conducted 72,1000 removals in FY 2022 and 59,000 removals in FY 2021. Trump, by comparison, averaged 233,000 removals per year. And for what it’s worth, Obama averaged 344,000 removals per year.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.