How America’s migrant policies have changed in the Trump and Biden eras

Carrizo Springs, Texas, shelter for migrant children (Photo: The Texas Tribune)

Dozens of children on floor mats, covered with Mylar blankets and crowded side-by-side in a holding facility. Families huddled under a bridge as they await processing at the U.S.-Mexico line. And lawmakers standing outside a border facility, spouting their outrage over the conditions.

These scenes, common under the Trump administration, continue to play out as thousands of migrant families, children and adults head to the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes to come to the United States – even as border laws keep changing.

America’s policies toward migrants at the southern border kept shifting over the past four years as the U.S. pivoted from former President Donald Trump’s rigid immigration views to President Joe Biden’s less-restrictive positions. Add to that the increasing numbers of migrants and unaccompanied children coming to the border and the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Trump implemented several hardline immigration policies, including a “zero-tolerance” policy that separated children from parents who crossed illegally through the U.S.-Mexico border. While many of those policies have changed under Biden, the images of families and children at the border continue to be reminiscent of the previous administration and showcase issues the U.S. faces when dealing with immigration policy.

The Biden administration is currently accepting unaccompanied migrant children into the United States, while turning away most adults under a Trump-era policy called Title 42, which allows Customs and Border Protection to expel undocumented migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in holding facilities. But now Mexico isn’t accepting some families back, leading the Biden administration to begin accepting some families with small children.

Here’s how policies on immigration have changed from the last administration to now:

Increase in migrants before Trump inauguration

Increase in migrants before Trump inauguration

Trump made immigration a prominent part of his agenda throughout his four years in office. During his 2016 presidential campaign, he often criticized migrants and promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. After winning the election, an increase in migrants tried to come to the United States ahead of his inauguration.

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