In a world fraught with escalating terrorist threats, the Biden administration should reconsider its opposition to the “Remain in México” policy. This crucial policy, currently mired in legal battles between proponents and opponents, bears profound implications for the security of the United States. The recent Hamas massacre in Israel, claiming the lives of over 1,200 Israeli civilians, serves as an agonizing reminder of the potential consequences of porous borders in the face of determined terrorists. It underscores the imperative for the Biden administration to reassess its approach and acknowledge the severe national security risks associated with its open-border policies.
Since assuming office, President Biden has presided over the entry of more than 3.9 million illegal aliens into the United States. This staggering number surpasses the population of twenty states. None of these entrants underwent thorough security checks. Syracuse University’s TRAC immigration database reveals that out of this group, 2.3 million individuals sought asylum, receiving Notices to Appear before immigration courts. Another 1.6 million are categorized as “known gotaways,” individuals observed by border patrol when clandestinely crossing the border and evading capture. It is reasonable to assume that a further significant number entered the United States unobserved.
Of even greater concern is the revelation that, in fiscal year 2023, encounters with individuals on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist at the U.S.-Mexico border surged to 169. This represents a significant increase from ninety-eight in 2022, fifteen in 2021, and merely three in 2020. During a recent Senate hearing, DHS Secretary Mayorkas could not confirm that none of these individuals entered the United States.
The Biden administration’s reversal of successful border security initiatives from the Trump era has undeniably contributed to the dangerous situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. At the conclusion of the Trump administration, this border, historically a source of illegal immigration and security threats, was effectively managed.
Central to Trump’s successful border security initiatives was the “Remain in México” policy, a pivotal component for two reasons. Firstly, it represented a departure from the longstanding catch-and-release practice employed by both Republican and Democrat administrations. Under this policy, individuals apprehended for illegal presence at the border or within the country were released in the United States, with the hope that they would appear in immigration court at some undetermined point in the future. Unfortunately, many failed to do so, choosing instead to remain illegally within the United States. Implementing “Remain in México” disrupted this cycle, compelling asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims underwent consideration.
Secondly, the policy served as an indispensable tool for reducing asylum fraud. A significant portion of those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border do not attend their court hearings. In many cases, their true goal is not asylum but entry into the United States. “Remain in México” operated as an effective deterrent, ensuring that individuals could not enter the United States until their asylum claims were validated.
Notably, other countries are pursuing similar border policies. For years, Australia has processed irregular asylum seekers on neighboring islands. In 2022, the UK government proposed sending asylum seekers arriving as stowaways or by boat to Rwanda, where their claims would be considered. Austria has also expressed interest in this concept. This year, Italy announced plans to build two asylum processing centers in Albania for those picked up at sea. In addition, Germany is exploring the relocation of some asylum seekers to various African countries during their claim evaluation period.
While the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2 in May 2023, aiming to reinstate the “Remain in México” policy, among other provisions, its future remains uncertain in the Democrat-controlled Senate. However, the Biden administration holds the power to reinstate this effective Trump-era policy on its own. Legal developments, including a Supreme Court decision in August 2021 and a federal judge’s ruling in December 2022, indicate that the Biden Administration’s attempts to terminate the policy may have violated federal law.
President Biden faces a crucial choice: Make “Remain in Mexico” the centerpiece of a responsible federal border security program or hope that no terrorists exploit our open southern border.
Dan Negrea is the senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Freedom and Prosperity Center. Between 2018 and 2021, he served in the Department of State as a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Office and as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.