“He’s no different from Trump.”
Such is the sentiment that erupted among U.S. allies, including South Korea and the EU, in the wake of the Inflation Reduction Act’s section on electric vehicle subsidies. They say that in essence, President Joe Biden’s “Made in America” initiative has not changed from former President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies.
Similar criticism has been raised in the U.S. over Biden’s immigration policy, sparked by his decision to expand Title 42 announced on Jan. 5. The measure, introduced by Trump, allowed those who crossed the border without permission to be immediately expelled as a means to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The following are some of the responses of major human rights groups: “[The administration is] on a dangerous path to replicate some of the worst aspects of the Trump administration’s assaults on the right to asylum” (National Immigrant Justice Center), “The plan … further ties his administration to the poisonous anti-immigrant policies of the Trump era” (American Civil Liberties Union), and “humanitarian disgrace” (Human Rights First).
How could Biden, who emphasized immigrant rights throughout his half-century-long political career, be “the same” as Trump, who pursued blatant anti-immigration policies? It may sound excessive at first, but looking back on the past two years, there are parts of the argument that make sense. On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to correct Trump’s hardline immigration policy along with his return to the Paris Agreement. It included withdrawing the Muslim entry ban, suspending of the construction of border walls and maintaining DACA, which has a high proportion of Koreans among Asian beneficiaries.
But that was the end. While his pledge of comprehensive immigration reform was thwarted, measures put into place by Trump were extended. When the Supreme Court blocked the abolition of Title 42, more countries became subject to it. It is also unclear whether the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which may violate the U.N. Refugee Convention, of returning asylum seekers to Mexico will be ended. From the perspective of human rights groups, it is not unreasonable to feel betrayed by Biden.
Of course, strengthening border control is an inevitable choice for Biden. The U.S. southern border is suffering from an unprecedented surge in unauthorized arrivals. The situation is escalating into an administrative power crisis and social conflict, with the governor of Texas, a Republican, sending migrants to New York and Washington on buses. Dangerous migration routes also threaten the lives of migrants. The White House has dismissed criticism, stating that the president “understands that safe and legal immigration into this country is a key cornerstone of our own security” and that he takes a “different view [from Trump]” (John Kirby, Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications). However, the specifics of the program raise doubts. It accommodates 30,000 people who were immediately subject to deportation from four countries, including Venezuela and Nicaragua, but only those who had financial guarantors in the U.S. and applied through mobile apps. Many who risk their lives to cross the U.S. border are threatened by widespread violence, organized crime, sexual violence and economic crisis. They will not be able to meet requirements created for the sake of administrative expediency.
In a statement, the American Immigration Lawyers Association said that “AILA supports efforts to manage border migration efficiently and in an orderly manner, but speed can never be allowed to overtake fairness or humane treatment.” It sounds like a warning to Biden not to rush ahead with policies that neglect universal values as his re-election campaign approaches.