‘On Second Thought, I Guess Trump Was Right and I Was Wrong’ on Metering

The first in a series noting instances in which the Biden administration has adopted Trump administration policies and practices that President Biden previously pilloried

By George Fishman on March 3, 2023

Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s “Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants” proclaimed that:

Trump’s disastrous policy of “metering” — limiting the number of asylum applications accepted each day [at ports-of-entry (POEs)] — forces people seeking asylum to wait on the streets in often dangerous Mexican border towns for weeks before they are permitted to apply. It has created a horrifying ecosystem of violence and exploitation, with cartels kidnapping, violently assaulting, and extorting migrants. Biden will direct the necessary resources to ensure asylum applications are processed fairly and efficiently, while treating families and children with compassion and sensitivity.

Why did DHS adopt this practice during the Trump administration? As John Wagner, the deputy executive assistant commissioner, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, explained to the House Appropriations Committee in 2017:

  • [O]ur [POEs] were at capacity to be able to take more people in. … And the building was full, and we could not humanely and safely and securely hold any more people in our space. ... The [POEs] just do not have the kind of space to hold large volumes of people during the processing and then holding them until they are picked up. So we worked a process out with the Mexican authorities to be able to limit how many people a day could come across the border into our facility to be able to be processed. But it was not a question of us not wanting to do it. It was a question of us not having the space to be able to do it safely and humanely and providing space in Mexico for them to wait until the space freed up on our side to be able to move people into it.

  • It was an issue of capacity and being able to put people into the facility without being overrun or having unsafe and unsanitary conditions. But I can tell you, we converted a lot of administrative space ... to temporarily house people for a day or so, so they could await being processed and await going through those procedures we need to do before we hand them off to ICE. ... We had people sleeping in hallways and conference rooms and building temporary showers and temporary bathing facilities for people to be able to do that.

As National Public Radio reports, it was the Obama administration that had adopted the practice of metering: “Back in 2016, thousands of Haitians arrived, most of them are in Tijuana. And they wanted to request asylum in the U.S. They were overloaded at that port of entry, so there was metering implemented then.”

In any event, in the intervening years, a federal district court in (of course) California spuriously ruled metering to be illegal. Fast forward to February 23, 2023. Biden’s DHS and DOJ now argue that:

[M]any of the land [POEs] have limited space and capacity to process an influx of migrants, including those who may seek protection from removal, and are expected to quickly reach their safe operating capacity limits given the increase in migrants they are expected to encounter following the lifting of the Title 42 public health Order. Absent a lawful, safe, and orderly means for managing the flows, the [POEs] risk massive congestion: migrants would be forced to wait in long lines for unknown periods of time while exposed to the elements in order to be processed, in conditions that could also put the migrants at risk. This is of great concern to the Government of Mexico, because these lines would extend into Mexico and could adversely impact legitimate travel and trade, or lead to individuals camping out overnight or forming makeshift encampments on Mexican territory.

Hmmm, where have I heard that argument before? I guess “Trump’s disastrous policy of ‘metering’” has ceased to seem so disastrous given the immeasurably greater border disaster unleashed by the Biden administration.

Oh, and Biden’s DHS and DOJ also note that they are pursuing an appeal of the district court’s decision because they “disagree with the ... court’s rationale” in that “metered” aliens have not even stepped foot into the United States. Thankfully for the departments, the Supreme Court has ruled that it “will uphold [an immigration] policy so long as it can reasonably be understood to result from a justification independent of unconstitutional grounds”, regardless of what a presidential candidate might have said on the campaign trail.