Prior to taking office, President Biden signaled that he would make it easier to stay in the country after an illegal entry. Despite the administration's public statements explicitly telling migrants not to enter the country, critics claimed that the president's promises encouraged a border crisis.
Avoiding the word "crisis," the administration touted its efforts on the issue.
"We've now gotten control," Biden said in April.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who previously denounced Trump's cruelty on the issue, touted in May what he indicated were successes in immigration policy.
"We are building legal pathways so individuals and parents do not feel compelled to place their children in the hands of the exploiting smuggling organizations," Mayorkas said.
But critics alleged that the administration had created strong incentives for migrants to come to the border. The message appeared not to be lost on migrants, who arrived in droves from multiple countries. One migrant appeared to reference Biden's proposal to pause deportations, saying earlier this year that the president-elect was "giving us 100 days to get to the U.S."
Among other things, the Biden transition team committed to overhauling much of President Trump's agenda and pushed legislation that would offer an 8-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Besides the 100-day deportation pause, Biden also moved to end the migrant protection protocols (MPP) – known as the "Remain in Mexico" policy – halt border wall construction, rescind fines for immigrants who don't follow deportation orders and dramatically increase the ceiling or refugee admissions.
The administration notably maintained enforcement of the public health order that allowed authorities to expel illegal immigrants during the coronavirus pandemic. And although it continued utilizing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the scope of the agency's operations was significantly narrowed.
Critics claimed that Vice President Harris had been missing in action despite Biden's decision to designate her as the point person for migration.
By March, authorities had encountered the highest number (approx. 172,000) of migrants at the border in years. That number continually rose to 178,622 in April, 180,000 in May, 190,000 in June, 214,593 in July, and 209,840 in August. Authorities saw a drop to 192,001 in September when the fiscal year ended. In total, fiscal year 2021 saw 1.7 million encounters, the highest on record.
By comparison, Trump's migrant surge saw about 144,000 encounters in May 2019 during the peak of the crisis. Authorities apprehended 851,508 migrants during the 2019 fiscal year, about half the 2021 number.
The 2021 influx was so large that the administration set up an overflow for migrant children and considered sending them to a Virginia military base. To manage the flow, Mayorkas requested a "volunteer force," and personnel were transferred away from checkpoints that were seen as critical to anti-trafficking efforts.
Throughout 2021, the administration repeatedly refused to label the border situation a crisis despite the record levels of migration, trouble housing high numbers of unaccompanied minors and huge spikes in drug trafficking.
"It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is an enormous challenge," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March. "We don’t feel the need to, you know, play games with what it’s called."
Biden's approach to the northern triangle countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – emphasized the role of "root causes." Harris in May announced that 12 businesses and organizations had committed to investing in those countries.
"We must create economic opportunities. We have companies committed to act," Harris said.
By contrast, the Trump administration had credited MPP and the border wall for its progress in countering illegal immigration.
Due to a court order, the Biden administration has also started enforcing MPP. As the administration heads into the new year, it has committed to continuing to pursue immigration reform in defiance of the Senate rejecting recent proposals.
"The president, the administration and our partners on the Hill vehemently disagree with this decision and will keep fighting to give relief and protection to the many Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers and essential workers who are living in fear," said Psaki.
Fox News' Adam Shaw contributed to this report.