And because of those, their efforts to migrate must above all be crushed through the deterrence of maximal cruelty and hardship, and migration flows must be mercilessly reduced to the lowest levels possible.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is sending early signs that the break with this worldview will be comprehensive, substituting an entirely new vision. And the rough outlines of this vision are heartening, though details will matter greatly.
First, Biden officials said their intention is to “expand legal pathways for migration,” including “allowing people to apply for refugee resettlement.”
That’s important. It means they will seek to create pathways for would-be asylum seekers to apply for refugee status from home countries. That seems to mirror a Democratic proposal that would expand the number of refugees the U.S. takes in from Central America in particular.
The principle underlying this is that it’s good policy to create ways for people to more easily seek protection here, to relieve them from having to make the arduous, dangerous trek. This would also enable us to manage migration more effectively, allowing for evaluation of cases before migrants make the trip.
It’s true that some migrants might still seek to make the trek in hopes of entering and getting a hearing even if they might not end up qualifying. But the Biden team seems to accept the principle that most migrants actually do have a plausible case to seek protection and that because of this, we should facilitate it, not make it harder.
That’s a decisive break with Miller-ism. Indeed, it would begin to restore a core commitment that the U.S. has made to international laws and ideals dictating a human right to a fair and just hearing. As David Bier and Alex Nowrasteh point out, Trump and Miller have shredded this, too.
Biden is also signaling efforts at regional solutions that are sane and humane. Biden officials say they will pursue a $4 billion plan to combat corruption and foster economic development in migrant-origin countries, another sign of recognition that migrations are driven by root causes that can be addressed through internationally negotiated solutions.
Biden officials also confirmed that they will try to move asylum officers into the job of adjudicating asylum claims, and will move toward alternative models to detention for those waiting for their hearings.
These are also critical. They suggest the Biden team sees asylum backlogs as something that can be managed successfully. And they seem to accept the assumption that asylum seekers in the main show up for their hearings and don’t merely try to disappear into the interior.
This, too, is a decisive break with Miller-ism: The claim that asylum-seeking families will inevitably vanish and not come back — that their migration was all a scam to set up this possibility — was a central feature of Trump-Miller demagoguery, justifying family separations and many other cruelties designed to make applying for asylum as brutally hard as possible.
Indeed, the Biden officials also clarified that they will stick to his vow to end the cruel remain-in-Mexico policy, though with large numbers still in this limbo, unwinding this will be challenging.
All this suggests that the Biden team does not appear spooked going in about what will surely be more relentless demagoguery about migrant families loosed into the interior if and when they try to implement these changes in earnest.
Finally, the Biden team appears to be working to resolve a serious tension among Democrats: The argument over how far to go in emphasizing their own forms of deterrence to discourage migrations.
President Barack Obama, feeling political heat from asylum crises at the border, leaned hard into deterrence (albeit not nearly as hard as Trump did), earning sharp criticism from the left.
The Biden officials say they want to send a strong message to Central America that the change in administration does not suddenly mean it’s easy to get asylum here. This is intended to discourage migrations, a form of deterrence. But this is because it really will take a long time to unwind Trump’s policies and rationalize the system, precisely because he gutted it.
And, importantly, the Biden team is packaging this with promises to widen pathways to protection here and to make processing of migrants more rational and humane. That suggests an effort to get the balance right between appropriate deterrence and openness to taking in asylum seekers. That’s hugely refreshing.
Again, the details will matter, and unwinding Trump’s horrors will be extremely hard. Politics could also intervene. Another crush at the border and the Biden administration might fear liberalizing too quickly. They may be reluctant to quickly lift Trump’s coronavirus-inspired limits on legal immigration.
But the early returns suggest solid, reality-based, humane principles are outweighing political concerns.
“It is encouraging to see the incoming administration embrace solutions that will let us be a compassionate nation while maintaining safety and security at the border,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told me. “The last four years have shown that policies of deterrence and cruelty only produce chaos, not answers.”