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- While defining "open border" is subjective, many Republicans anchored their definition of "open border" relative to the Trump administration's policies. So, moving away from Trump's policies look like "open borders" to many Republicans.
- The border has security measures: miles of fencing, surveillance systems, and on-the-ground personnel.
In response to President Joe Biden's decision to lift a Trump-era policy that reduced the number of migrants entering the U.S., Gov. Greg Abbott recently launched new initiatives that he said would address border security.
The federal policy, Title 42, allows U.S. border agents to expel immigrants arriving at the border, including asylum seekers, to Mexico and other countries to slow the spread of coronavirus. It's set to end on May 23. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Friday to challenge the plan to end Title 42.
From March 2020 to February 2022, 1.7 million expulsions have been carried out under Title 42, with 1.2 million of them occurring under the Biden administration, according to a Migration Policy Institute report on government data.
Abbott said in an April 6 press conference that county and city officials told him, "they are angry and upset about all of the catastrophes caused by the Biden open-border policies. And they are urgently asking for action obviously from the state of Texas, but they know that it's the Biden administration that caused this open-border problem."
Abbott went on to say cities and counties expect the Biden administration to fix the "open-border problem that they caused."
But what does Abbott mean by "open border," and is the border really "open" under Biden?
While defining "open border" is subjective, many Republicans anchored their definition of "open border" relative to the Trump administration's policies, said economics and immigration expert Edward Alden at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. So, moving away from Trump's policies look like "open borders" to many Republicans.
PolitiFact previously fact-checked an Ohio Republican Senate candidate's use of "open border" describing Biden's policies and Trump's use of the term describing Hillary Clinton's policies. PolitiFact found "open border" — as a lack of enforcement measures — to be inconsistent with Biden's and Clinton's policy positions. They still supported security measures at the border.
PolitiFact Texas reached out to Abbott's office to ask what Abbott meant by "open-border policies."
Spokesperson Renae Eze wrote in an email, "President Biden made his intentions clear when he said on the Democrat presidential debate stage that his administration would have open borders."
We followed up for sources. She referred to a clip of Democratic candidates, including Biden, saying crossing the border illegally should be a civil offense, not a criminal offense. She also referred to Biden saying deportation should focus on people unlawfully in the U.S. who commit crimes.
Biden didn't say "open borders," but Abbott regards these types of policies as "open-border policies."
We reached out to the White House and Customs and Border Protection, but did not hear back immediately. A spokesperson for the Rio Grande Valley Sector of Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.
Eze also noted examples of Biden's "open-border policies," including: migrants seeking to cross the border once Biden was inaugurated, halting border wall construction, and the Del Rio encampment of an estimated 15,000 Haitian migrants.
Migrants traveled toward the border upon Biden's inauguration, but NBC News reported in January 2021 the administration's message to migrants was to not come because the situation at the border wouldn't change overnight. NBC News had also reported there have been past immigration spikes around U.S. elections and transitions of power.
PolitiFact fact-checked an open border claim in December and found most people trying to cross the border were turned away because of Title 42, although the administration exempted children who arrived alone and some families.
The Biden administration expelled 2,000 migrants in Del Rio to Haiti, while 5,000 were being processed and 8,000 had voluntarily returned to Mexico at the end of September, according to a September NPR report.
Biden halted border barrier construction projects started by Trump, though some Rio Grande Valley residents regard levee repairs as border wall construction, according to the Texas Tribune.
Terence Garrett, political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, stressed there are a lot of security measures and enforcement at the border.
That includes nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents according to Fiscal Year 2021 data. There's also surveillance systems like Tethered AeroStat Radar Systems, he said. Blimps connected to the system have a 200-mile radius aircraft detection. There are also surveillance towers and hundreds of miles of fencing.
"There's no such thing as an open border. We don't have an open border. That's absurd," Garrett said.
The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for a potential uptick in migrants when Title 42 is lifted. Eze, the governor's spokesperson, noted the Department of Homeland Security predicts as many as 18,000 apprehensions per day.
That represents an upper estimate among several official scenarios, ABC News reported. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in an April 1 press release the agency is prepared for an uptick, but Abbott and Texas Republicans remain opposed to lifting Title 42.
Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, wrote in an emailed statement that there would be an increase in migrant crossings regardless of when the pandemic-era policy was lifted.
The Biden administration's outlook on immigration is similar to the administrations of past presidents from both parties prior to Trump, Alden said. Besides some minor staff additions to process more asylum cases, Biden is mostly trying to return the system to how it was before Trump took office by rolling back Trump's policies.
Biden's perspective on interior enforcement, leading to the arrest of unauthorized migrants, is similar to that of presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. All three administrations prioritized not removing people who have been in the U.S. for long, have jobs, and often have U.S. citizen children. Instead, these administrations prioritized targeting people who have committed crimes or entered the U.S. recently, Alden said.
Previous administrations worked with Mexican authorities to address border issues and the Biden administration is working directly with officials in Central American countries, where many of the migrants originated.
"But Donald Trump had moved the bar very, very far," Alden said. "And so now the Biden administration gradually returning border management to that more normal situation is decried by conservatives as an open-borders policy. Because the Trump administration was prepared to go so far in closing down the borders, any move from that in comparison looks like an 'open-borders' policy."
The Biden administration has turned its attention to more efficient asylum hearings, Mittelstadt wrote. With an improved system for processing cases, the U.S. could determine more quickly who has a valid case to stay in the U.S. The administration seeks to have more asylum officers hear asylum cases rather than put these cases in the backlogged immigration court system, Mittelstadt wrote.
Trump implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols, which allowed U.S. authorities to send asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait for an immigration judge to review their case. The policy, implemented in January 2019, ended up limiting both legal and illegal immigration. It had 68,000 people enrolled by the end of 2020.
The Trump administration also made asylum agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that required asylum seekers in the region to first seek refuge in those countries before applying to the U.S.
"If you go back to the pre-Trump world, the difference between Republicans and Democrats tended to be in resources. Republicans would show they were tough on the border by hiring lots more border patrol agents, or hiring more ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents," Alden said. "But they never did anything that was as close to as radical as what Trump did with the safe third country agreements (with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), or the Migrant Protection Protocols, or Title 42. These were all massive changes to how the United States dealt with border crossers and asylum seekers."
Press conference led by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, April 6, 2022
Email from Sheridan Nolen the office of Gov. Greg Abbott with statement from spokesperson Renae Eze, April 6, 2022
Email from Renae Eze, spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott, April 15, 2022
Phone interview with Raymond Robertson, director of the Texas A&M University Mosbacher Institute of Trade, Economics, and Public Policy, April 14, 2022
Emails from Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications at the Migration Policy Institute, April 11 and April 13, 2022
Phone interview with Terence Garrett, political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, April 14, 2022
Phone interview with Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, April 14, 2022
Email from Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, April 14, 2022
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, "FACT SHEET: Commercial Traffic Delays Along Texas Border and the Resulting Supply Chain Disruptions", April 12, 2022
Paul Davidson, USA TODAY, "Where's the tuna melt? Worker shortages mean smaller menus, limited choices and fewer shows," Feb. 4, 2022
Paul Davidson, "Great Resignation: Job openings rose, quitting dropped modestly from record high in December, JOLTS report shows," Feb. 1, 2022
Dave Long, Dan Barrios, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "CBP's Eyes in the Sky"
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "Snapshot: A summary of CBP Facts and Figures," February 2022
Julia Jacobo and Serena Marshall, "Nearly 700 Miles of Fencing at the US-Mexico Border Already Exist," Jan. 26, 2017
Tracy Connor, NBC News, "Price Tag for 700 Miles of Border Fencing Hard to Pin Down," June 21, 2013
Julia Jacobo and Serena Marshall, ABC News, "Nearly 700 Miles of Fencing at the US-Mexico Border Already Exist," Jan. 26, 2017
Julia Ainsley, NBC News, "Incoming Biden administration to migrant caravan: Don't come, you won't get in immediately," Jan. 17, 2021
Reuters Staff, Reuters, "Biden administration suspends Trump asylum deals with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras," Feb. 6, 2021
Uriel J. Garcia, Texas Tribune, "The federal government calls it a levee. South Texas immigration advocates and environmentalists see a border wall," Sept. 3, 2021
Luke Barr, ABC News, "US bracing for influx of migrants at southern border if Title 42 revoked: DHS," March 29, 2022
Andy Nguyen, PolitiFact, Austin American-Statesman "Fact-check: Is the Biden administration giving away smartphones to migrants?" April 16, 2022
Department of Homeland Security, "Statement by Secretary Mayorkas on CDC's Title 42 Order Termination," April 1, 2022
Muzaffar Chishti and Jessica Bolter, "Controversial U.S. Title 42 Expulsions Policy Is Coming to an End, Bringing New Border Challenges," March 31, 2022
YouTube user GOP War Room, "Nearly Every Democrat on Stage Supports Decriminalizing Border Crossings," June 27, 2019
PBS NewsHour (on YouTube), "WATCH: Biden says migrants shouldn't be detained just for crossing border | 2019 Democratic Debates," June 27, 2019
Phone response and Email response from Thomas Gresback, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, April 18, 2022 and April 22, 2022
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2021, CBP..."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2020, CBP..."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2019, CBP..."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2018, CBP..."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2017, CBP..."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2016, CBP..."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, "On a Typical Day in Fiscal Year 2015, CBP..."
Department of Homeland Security, "Migrant Protection Protocols Metrics and Measures," Jan. 21, 2021