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Madison O’Toole Miszewski

March 3rd, 2021

Turning corners or cutting them? The Biden administration is failing forced migrants

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Madison O’Toole Miszewski

March 3rd, 2021

Turning corners or cutting them? The Biden administration is failing forced migrants

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies student, Madison O’Toole Miszewski, analyses the Biden presidency so far and issues in current US immigration policy. 

Photo credit: Meg Kinnard, Associated Press February 2021.

The Biden Administration won an election based on a set of progressive promises to ‘heal the soul’ of the American public. However, his first 100 days in the White House is showing how performative these promises may have been. On track to deport more people than the Trump Administration did in its first year, is the Biden Administration really rebuilding a unified nation?

On 21 January, 2021 it felt as though the United States turned a corner. Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as the President of the United States on a bright, crisp, Washington, D.C. high noon. The international community praised the US for a return to ‘normalcy’ and the establishment Democrats across the country welcomed President Biden’s comparatively progressive policy plans after four years of neo-fascist leadership. It was a day the media covered as overwhelmingly hopeful, a break from the horrors of the Trump Administration and a breath of clean, progressive air. As Biden’s first 100 days in office began, he began issuing executive orders to show the country his intentions. He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, reveresed the US military ban on transgender people serving, and halted deportations.

Or did he? Unable to separate himself from his political partner former President Barack Obama, the Biden administration has failed to halt deportations and reissued guidance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only weeks after ‘halting deportations’ to begin them again. The Biden Administration is now on track to deport 330,000 people in its first year, having deported 26,248 people in his first twenty-nine days . What happened to his promise of zero deportations in his first 100 days?

Biden is no stranger to this removals-focused immigration policy. When President Obama began his first term in 2008, he inherited the most ‘formidable immigration machinery’ of any United States President in history. Post 9/11, the United States immigration system became the most well funded and well resourced it had ever been. United States authorities gained the right to fingerprint those they arrested, and for those to be checked against a federal immigration database run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The number of ICE agents doubled. The Obama Administration, which promised to depart from these policies, actually increased funding for many of these bodies throughout their time in office. In 2012 immigration enforcement had 24% more funding than all other funding allocated to other law enforcement agencies combined. Obama did not depart from Bush’s post-9/11 policies as much as he shifted priorities. He increased removals by an incredible number, deporting just over one million more individuals than the Bush Administration. This is partially a result of his shift in priorities for deportation, prioritizing those with criminal offenses or recent border crossings for removals. The latter combined with the rising funds of immigration services lead to this incredible increase.

Most topically, the Obama Administration opened the immigration detention centre which sparked the ‘kids in cages’ debate. Opened in 2014, this centre began to be called ‘la perrera’ – the dog kennel, by both guards and its detainees. While the facility itself has been in operation since 2014, it was not until the Trump Administration family separation policy came into effect that images from this centre reached the American public. Even centrist democrats began to organize around reuniting families, calling for an immediate reversal of the policy. When Former President Donald Trump argued that these centres opened up under the Obama Administration – he was right. But this statement was only made to deflect from the horrors of the Trump Administration’s immigration policy.

Trump’s immigration policy sins are almost innumerable. From his crumbling wall, to family separation, to his treatment of ‘migrant caravans’, the scandals are too many to name. Though he removed fewer migrants from the United States than Obama did, his policies towards those attempting to enter the United States were some of the most violent in recent history. His consistent insistence that those coming into the United States from what he dubbed ‘shit hole countries’ were dangerous and despicable characterised his entire administration, and gave the Biden Administration a comedically low bar to jump.

Image credit: Spectrum News, July 2020. This sign went viral on social media amongst democrats during the 2020 presidential election. The line ‘no human is illegal’ is taken from the campaigns against Trump’s immigration policy. This is an example showing the addition of immigration policy changes into the centrist democratic platform.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the Biden Administration has tripped over it. Already on track to deport more individuals than the Trump Administration after promising to halt deportations and to ‘release kids from their cages’. Biden seems as though he has made a u-turn on more than just stimulus checks, but more broadly on his promises to uphold basic human rights. Cutting corners not only on progressive issues that got Biden elected, but that are issues that weigh on our shared humanity will not ‘heal the soul of our nation’.

We will never find unity if the Biden Administration continues to tear families and communities apart.


The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.

About the author

Madison O’Toole Miszewski

Madison O’Toole Miszewski is a candidate on the MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies programme and is currently consulting the UNHCR on IDP political participation. She hopes to produce further research at the nexus of forced migration, queerness, and incarceration.

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