Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has complained that on immigration, the United States has “the worst laws of any country in the world,” which constrain his anti-immigrant agenda at the border with Mexico. He hasn’t been able to convince Congress to change those laws, or even to pay for a wall along the southern border, even after instigating the longest government shutdown in history just to pressure Congress.
Trump’s administration has instead sought to chip away at immigration statutes and bend them almost to their breaking point, in order to make it harder for all immigrants, but primarily asylum-seekers, to enter the United States. This campaign, led by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, has included controversial measures like “Remain in Mexico,” which forces 60,000 non-Mexican asylum-seekers to await their U.S. asylum hearings in Mexican border towns. Last summer, the administration banned asylum for anyone who traveled through another country and didn’t seek it there first. As a result of these policies, the rights of most individuals to seek asylum at the U.S. border have been effectively abrogated, pending the outcome of legal challenges that are slowly winding their way through the appeals system.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which the administration has seized on as a pretext to enact more of its immigration restrictions, without regard to Congress, the courts or public opinion. COVID-19 has effectively shown what the administration’s vision for the U.S. border would look like if it were given free rein.