Biden’s Strategy for Easing Border Pressure Through Streamlining Legal Migration

Migrants wait in line at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Carlos A. Moreno/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom)

In a recent New York Times article (non-paywall version here), my Cato Institute colleague David Bier—a leading expert on immigration policy—explains how President Biden can alleviate pressure on the southern border by expanding opportunities for legal migration:

A bipartisan immigration deal to restrict border crossings took a hit last week when Donald Trump pushed Congress to reject it. It’s the latest in a series of episodes over the last decade where one party blows up a deal just as the other gives in. President Biden wants to break this cycle, but to get the politics right, he must get the policy right first.

As discussed in Chapter 6 of my book Free to Move, it is indeed the case that real or imagined chaos at the border is a major factor in stoking public hostility towards immigration. This creates a vicious dynamic where restrictionism leads to increased illegal entry (as desperate migrants have no other way to escape violence, poverty, and oppression), which in turn bolsters support for more draconian restrictions, and so on.

The best way to break the cycle is by making legal migration easier. Just as the abolition of alcohol Prohibition massively reduced illegal black market sales of booze, so making legal migration easier cuts down the illegal kind, and reduces pressure at the border. It also bolsters the US economy and helps people fleeing oppression and poverty find freedom and opportunity.

In a November USA Today article, David Bier and I made the case for this approach in more detail and outlined a variety of additional measures Biden could take to make legal migration more accessible.

Relying on discretionary executive action is not ideal. Such policies could potentially be reversed by future unilateral executive action. It would be better if Congress and the executive would make these policies permanent. But executive action along these lines is authorized by existing statutes, and is far better than either doing nothing or giving in to restrictionists (thereby feeding the vicious circle rather than breaking it).