The Roots of the Border Crisis Were Planted on the Campaign Trail

The number of migrants apprehended at the border and unaccompanied minors in U.S. government care has reached record levels, but was it inevitable?  What caused this crisis, how do we end it and what policies will prevent another humanitarian disaster occurring in the future. In this series of blogs, FAIR aims to tell the story and outline solutions. For more in-depth analysis and insight into immigration policy, please visit

Political candidates make promises. It is their DNA. Yet, most campaign pledges don’t encourage thousands of individuals in foreign nations to come to our borders and break our immigration laws. That is precisely what candidate Joe Biden did when he spent months on the campaign trail talking about de-prioritizing immigration enforcement, promising amnesty and expanding many government entitlements to foreign nationals illegally residing in the U.S.

The Democratic primary race set the stage with proclamations about making a hard shift away from sensible and responsible immigration policies. Then-Sen. Kamala Harris boasted about opposing the Obama-Biden deportation record and an order she issued as California’s attorney general to ignore Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests.  

Both Biden and Harris loudly and proudly proclaimed their intent, if elected, to end Trump-era enforcement policies and even some Obama-Biden administration policies, particularly on deportations and sanctuary cities.

Leading the charge to dismantle the system was candidate Biden, who embraced granting health care to illegal aliens, pausing deportations and halting construction of the southern border wall. While Biden, as a senator, voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, he made clear during an August 2020 interview his plans to ignore that past stance.

In September 2020, FAIR released a report which analyzed Biden’s campaign promises and projected that over the coming several decades as many as 52 million immigrants could be admitted if his proposals were implemented.

“Campaigns are an opportunity for candidates to present to the voters their vision on important policy matters…But policy proposals are not just words on paper. If implemented, they will have quantifiable results.” FAIR’s President Dan Stein commented at the time. “They can mean more legal and illegal immigration or less; greater costs to taxpayers, or less. It is important to get beyond rhetoric and look at the real-world implication of policy proposals if they become law, so that voters can understand the choices they are making.”

But FAIR was not alone in recognizing where these drastic policy shifts could lead:

The Bipartisan Policy Center noted in a report that Customs and Border Protection data was showing that the FY2020 border apprehension figures  were lower than those in FY2018 and FY2019, “indicating that the Trump administration’s policies limiting asylum access at the border and the COVID-19 pandemic made migrants–especially families and children–wary of traveling to the United States.”

“Former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to undo many of Trump’s hardline executive orders, raising questions about whether these trends would change significantly,” stated the Center’s analysis.

As the campaign entered the final weeks, the Biden-Harris campaign left no doubt that their mission was to undo any measures strengthening border security or interior enforcement and to normalize illegal immigration. The allure of such promises were evident in the statistics showing a crisis unfolding at the border.

“First, there’s the specter of renewed chaos at the Southern border. Last year, groups as large as 1,000 Central Americans at a time waded across the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas, to request asylum. The Border Patrol was overwhelmed and ended up detaining families in primitive, unsanitary conditions. Immigration hawks are wary that Biden would throw open the gates again,” noted a September National Public Radio article.

By mid-November – when there usually is a decline in apprehensions – CBS News reported that between November 18 and 23, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had processed 997 unaccompanied minors and more than 9,900 unaccompanied children had been taken into custody since September 8.

Not only were more migrants heading north, “smugglers are using riskier tactics to get them across” the Rio Grande river, said USA Today.

Everybody could see even before Joe Biden placed his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office that drastically changing course on immigration would lead to trouble. But not many realized how bad it would get.

Check back in tomorrow for the second blog in this series…in the lead up to Biden’s 100th day in office.

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Content written by Federation for American Immigration Reform staff.