While Biden did back legislations that supported immigration laws, from the mid-1990s he started backing harsher immigration policies.
During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump claimed that Biden has repeatedly supported mass amnesty for illegal immigrants. However, Trump's claim is misleading because it implies that Biden has consistently supported mass amnesty for illegal immigrants. However, this is not true. While analyzing Biden's record on immigration policy, we find that all through the 1980s, he supported immigration laws and voted for many bills in favor of immigrants. After the mid-1990s, he repeatedly helped pass legislation that weakened immigrants' rights, both legal and undocumented, while giving increased power and resources to authorities for finding and deporting undocumented people. And as vice president, he championed policies that funded border militarization and deportation to respond to a growing migration crisis.
In 1983, Biden voted against an amendment put forward by Jesse Helms, which would have allowed states to defy the Supreme Court and deny benefits like free public education to undocumented immigrants. Three years later, in 1986, he voted for Ronald Reagan's amnesty bill that gave millions of undocumented people the right to live in the US and get legal residency. The bill legalized the status of 1.7 million people.
Another three years after that, Biden voted for Ted Kennedy's Immigration Act of 1990, which restructured US immigration law into a more skills-based system, and an amendment to halt deportations for family members of those allowed to stay under Reagan's amnesty law. He also voted against giving preference to English-speaking immigrants, and to enable the Census to keep counting undocumented residents to apportion House seats.
The year 1989 also saw Biden vote for and approve ultimately unsuccessful bills that allowed Chinese students to stay and seek US residency amid China's anti-democratic crackdown, and that suspended the deportation of undocumented Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. The former bill was vetoed by Bush, while the latter was stalled to death by Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson.
However, in 1996 there was a shift in immigration policy, and the Democratic Party platform reflected a harsher focus on undocumented immigration. This shift was due to public opinion polls showing that most Americans wanted immigration levels to decrease.
The Senate approved tough immigration measures by large bipartisan majorities as Bill Clinton was running for re-election. As a senator, Biden voted in favor of two key bills: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA). Both bills passed by overwhelming margins with bipartisan support. According to Princeton immigration experts Douglas Massey and Karen Pren, before the mid-1990s, the annual number of deportations had not exceeded 50,000 for decades. However, with the passage of IIRAIRA, the number of deportations skyrocketed. By the turn of the century, deportations were running at just under 200,000 annually.
The antiterrorism bill, which passed about one year after the Oklahoma City bombing, gave the federal government more tools to combat terrorism, limit death-row appeals, and make it easier to deport immigrants who had committed crimes. The law, for the first time, put into action fast-track deportations and mandatory detention of immigrants convicted of even minor drug crimes, and it expanded the use of indefinite detention for some noncitizens.
Biden had also joined the rest of the Senate in a near-unanimous vote to advance the Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act (ICFRA). This was the bill Biden had split up to focus on undocumented immigration. ICFRA beefed up the number of investigators and more than doubled the number of border patrol agents, required developing a system to verify employment eligibility, and sought to deny welfare and other benefits to the undocumented. The Congressional Record shows Biden voting to keep a requirement for a new employment verification system in place and a requirement for anyone benefiting from entitlements to obtain a new copy of their birth certificate. He also voted against giving even documented immigrants access to Medicaid. ICFRA was one of the bills that eventually became the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). Among other things, IIRIRA made it harder for undocumented immigrants to get legal status, broadened the crimes for which even legal residents could be deported, and made deportations easier. It called for mandatory detention and deportation of immigrants who were subject to deportation due to a criminal conviction, even if the offense happened years ago. Together with AEDPA, the passage of IIRIRA led the number of immigrants in detention to nearly double to 16,000 by 1998. Between 1994 and 2009, immigrant detention centers' capacity jumped to 33,400, even as the rate of undocumented immigration barely changed.
When the Senate debated the 2006 immigration reform bill, Biden voted on several proposed amendments. He voted against making English the official language. He voted to give states grants for providing noncitizens with health care and education, for instance. At the same time, he also voted to increase fencing and improve vehicle barriers along the southwest border, to bar immigrants who had their statuses adjusted from accessing Social Security based on work they did when they were undocumented, against enhancing labor protection enforcements for both US workers and guest workers.
Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security data shows that under the Obama-Biden administration, the agency removed more than 3 million immigrants in the United States illegally from 2009 to 2016. That's an average of 383,307 per year. In comparison, the Trump administration has deported fewer overall people than were deported under former President Obama. According to the Washington Post, while the Obama administration deported 1.18 million people in his first three years, the number of deportations has been under 800,000 until 2019 under Trump. The Obama-Biden administration conducted widespread family raids, prioritizing Central American parents and children for removal. They also pushed billions in economic aid to the region to help stem an influx in unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. They introduced 'Plan Frontera Sur,' a surge of security assistance intended to effectively move the border south to Guatemala.
We conclude that from the 1980s until the mid-1990s, Biden did support legislation giving citizenship to immigrants and opened for avenues for them in the United States. However, from the mid-1990s up to his Vice Presidency, he supported bills, which led to a crackdown on immigration and took a harsher stance on migrants. Therefore, it is misleading for Trump to suggest that Biden has repeatedly given amnesty to illegal migrants.