Publication Date


Document Type



This presentation investigates the similarities and differences between the asylum policies and the treatment of detainees who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border during the Obama administration versus during the Trump administration. This presentation asserts that while both Obama’s and Trump’s policies toward asylum seekers were very similar in being strict and harsh, Trump’s abrasive rhetoric and more extreme stances established distinct differences between the two administrations. In particular, this presentation explores conditions inside the detention facilities under each president, Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy in relation to Obama’s policies, Trump’s use of Title 42, and each president externalizing the U.S. border. Although Obama detained families and many unaccompanied minors upon crossing the border in temporary facilities, Trump took this a step further by separating children from their parents under his Zero-Tolerance policy for deterrence. In addition, using the justification of the COVID-19 pandemic health concerns, Trump nearly dismantled any semblance of due process for asylum seekers by evoking Title 42. Title 42 provides border authorities with unilateral authority to expel migrants who do not have prior permission to enter the country without offering asylum. Both presidents had the policy of the externalized U.S. border, the practice of making it harder for asylum seekers to reach U.S. soil in the first place. Reporters touring the detention facilities, news articles demonstrating public opinion, White House website archives, government documents, political speeches, first-hand accounts of the asylum system, and analytical scholarly articles provide important insight in piecing together the asylum records of the Obama and the Trump administrations. It is critical to understand the continuities and changes between the Obama and Trump administrations’ asylum policies and treatment of detainees to make better, more humane, and more informed policy decisions in the future regarding those seeking asylum.



Download Full Text (894 KB)

Continuity and Change: Asylum Policy and Detainee Treatment During the Obama and Trump Administrations