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Measuring Treasury Market Depth

A commonly used measure of market liquidity is market depth, which refers to the quantity of securities market participants are willing to buy or sell…



A commonly used measure of market liquidity is market depth, which refers to the quantity of securities market participants are willing to buy or sell at particular prices. The market depth of U.S. Treasury securities, in particular, is assessed in many analyses of market functioning, including this Liberty Street Economics post on liquidity in 2023, this article on market functioning in March 2020, and this paper on liquidity after the Global Financial Crisis. In this post, we review the many measurement decisions that go into depth calculations and show that inferences about the evolution of Treasury market depth, and hence liquidity, are largely invariant with respect to these decisions. 

Where Can One Find Depth? 

The quantity of securities market participants are willing to buy and sell at various prices is not fully visible. A common way for a “buy-side” investor, such as a mutual fund, to trade a U.S. Treasury security is for it to contact several dealers (either bilaterally or via a request-for-quote platform) indicating the quantity it is hoping to trade. Each dealer will usually respond with the price at which it is willing to take the other side of the trade and the investor will then typically choose the most attractive price for execution. In this scenario, the prices at which dealers are willing to buy or sell a given quantity of a security are only revealed after the dealers are contacted, and only to that customer and at that instant of time. 

Treasury market depth for certain securities can be observed in the interdealer broker (IDB) market, in which dealers and certain other market participants trade among themselves. IDBs operate central limit order books, which collect and consolidate trading interests from platform participants. A snapshot of an IDB’s standing limit orders for a particular time and security is plotted below. It shows that platform participants stood ready to buy $35 million of the on-the-run (most recently auctioned) five-year note at the best bid price and sell $14 million of the note at the best ask (or offer) price. Additional buy (and sell) quantities were available at slightly lower (and higher) prices. 

Snapshot of Order Book Depth 

bar chart showing bid and ask prices of an IDB’s standing limit orders on 12/25/23 at 10:30 am for the five-year note; participants were ready to buy $35 million at the best bid price and sell $14 million at the best ask
Source: Authors’ calculations, based on data from BrokerTec.
Notes: The chart plots a snapshot of aggregate order-book depth for the on-the-run five-year note on December 15, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. The aggregation means that the $14 million offered at the best ask price (A1) is added to the $36 million offered at the second best ask price (A2) to get the $50 million total offered at the second best ask price or better. The price difference between adjacent price tiers, including the best bid (B1) and the best offer (A1) in this chart, is one tick, which is ¼ of 1/32 of a point for the five-year note (where a point equals 1 percent of par). Depth is measured in millions of U.S. dollars par.

What Does the Depth Data Show? 

Order book data show considerable variation in depth over time, as shown in the chart below. Depth plunged amid the COVID-related disruptions of March 2020, recovered thereafter, decreased again in late 2021 and 2022 amidst uncertainty about the expected path of interest rates, and then declined abruptly in March 2023 after the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. The chart also reveals that the evolution of depth across securities is highly correlated, but that there is some variation depending on security. Since quickly recovering from the March 2023 disruptions, for example, depth has been trending upward for most on-the-run notes and bonds (suggesting improved market liquidity), but relatively stable for the ten-year note. 

Order Book Depth Plunged in March 2020 and March 2023 

line chart plotting 5-day moving averages of daily depth for 2-, 5-, and 10-year notes from January 2019 to December 2023; declines shown during March 2020, in late 2021/2022, and March 2023
Source: Authors’ calculations, based on data from BrokerTec.
Notes: The chart plots five-day moving averages of average daily depth for the on-the-run two-, five-, and ten-year notes from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2023. Data are for order book depth at the inside tier, averaged across the bid and offer sides. As an example, depth is calculated as $24.5 million for the order book snapshot plotted above ($24.5 million = [$14 million + $35 million]/2). Depth is measured in millions of U.S. dollars par and plotted on a logarithmic scale.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions 

Many measurement decisions go into the preceding chart. Some are common to the calculations of many liquidity measures, but might have particular salience for depth, whereas others are unique to depth. In the rest of the post, we explore how these decisions affect the level of calculated order book depth and especially inferences about changes in depth and hence market liquidity over time. 

Number of Tiers 

One key decision concerns the number of price tiers over which depth is aggregated. This Staff Report and the preceding chart plot depth at the best (or inside) bid and offer prices, this report plots depth at the inside three price tiers, and this article plots depth at the inside five price tiers. Of course, depth is greater when aggregation occurs over a higher number of price levels, as shown in the table below (and the first chart above). 

Depth Increases with the Number of Price Tiers over Which It Is Aggregated 

No of Price TiersTwo-YearFive-YearTen-Year
Source: Authors’ calculations, based on data from BrokerTec.
Notes: The table reports average order book depth aggregated over one, three, five, and ten price tiers for the on-the-run two-, five-, and ten-year notes. Depth is first averaged over each trading day and across the bid and offer sides, and then over the January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2023 sample period. It is measured in millions of U.S. dollars par.

That said, the time series patterns of depth are essentially the same regardless of the number of tiers examined. The table below thus shows correlation coefficients close to one for average daily depth measured across varying numbers of price tiers for the five-year note. A similar pattern is observed for the other on-the-run notes and bonds (as shown in the appendix), although correlations are somewhat higher for longer-term securities and somewhat lower for shorter-term ones. 

Depth Evolution Is Largely Invariant to the Number of Price Tiers over Which It Is Aggregated 

Source: Authors’ calculations, based on data from BrokerTec.
Notes: The table reports correlation coefficients among average daily depth aggregated over one, three, five, and ten price tiers for the on-the-run five-year note over the January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2023 sample period. Depth is averaged across the bid and offer sides.

Bid vs. Ask Depth 

A second decision concerns whether one should look at bid depth, ask depth, or the average (or sum) of the two. Most analyses look at the average (or sum) of bid and ask depth and don’t say anything about differences between the bid and offer sides (a couple of exceptions are here and here). In practice, average bid and ask depth are quite similar (e.g., $36.4 million and $36.6 million for the five-year note from January 2019 to December 2023), even though the metrics can differ meaningfully at any given point in time (as shown in the first chart). Moreover, the time series patterns of average daily bid and offer depth are almost identical (as shown by the high correlation coefficients reported in the appendix). 

Even in March 2020, when massive customer selling overwhelmed dealers’ capacity to intermediate trades (see here and here), average daily depth in the interdealer market was virtually the same on the bid and offer sides, as shown in the next chart. This paper on liquidity and volatility in the U.S. Treasury market also notes that various depth variables (bid and ask, at the first tier and the next four tiers) exhibit similar variation over time. 

Bid and Offer Depth Evolved Similarly Around March 2020 

line chart plotting daily bid and ask depths for on-the-run 5-year notes from January 2020 to June 2020; bid and offer sides remained virtually the same, even in COVID-era March 2020
Source: Authors’ calculations, based on data from BrokerTec.
Notes: The chart plots average daily bid and ask depth for the on-the-run five-year note from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020. Data are for order book depth at the inside tier. Depth is measured in millions of U.S. dollars par.

To be sure, bid and offer depth may be separately useful inputs for trading decisions or analyses of market disruptions (such as those on October 15, 2014 or February 25, 2021) but for tracking average depth at a daily horizon or longer, there seems to be little information in one metric that is not in the other. 

New York vs. Global Trading Hours 

A third consideration when summarizing depth is the trading hours over which depth is averaged. Treasuries trade nearly round the clock during the week, as described in this Economic Policy Review article. Liquidity is appreciably better (and trading activity higher) during the more active New York trading hours, roughly 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., as shown in the next chart. It follows that average daily depth is higher if the calculations are done over New York trading hours only (as they are in this post). That said, the time series patterns of average daily depth are virtually indistinguishable whether depth is calculated over New York trading hours or the full global trading day. 

Depth Is Higher during New York Trading Hours 

Source: Authors’ calculations, based on data from BrokerTec.
Notes: The chart plots average depth by minute over the global trading day for the on-the-run two-, five-, and ten-year notes. Data are for order book depth at the inside tier, averaged across the bid and offer sides, then averaged for each minute across the trading days from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2023 when both the U.K. and the U.S. were on daylight saving time (so that time differences between Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. are constant for this analysis). Depth is measured in millions of U.S. dollars par.

Time vs. Tick-Weighting 

One other decision concerns the weighting scheme for calculating average depth. “Time-weighted” means that depth for each time interval gets equal weight. “Volume-weighted” means that depth for each time interval is weighted by volume in that interval, and “tick-weighted” (used in this post) means that depth at each change in the limit order book (which can be defined various ways) gets the same weight. Given that trading activity varies so much over the global trading day, average depth necessarily varies depending on the method of calculation. Again, however, the evolution of average daily depth is almost identical whether calculations are time-weighted or tick-weighted. 

Summing Up 

Many decisions go into the calculation of market depth from order book data. Although these decisions have meaningful effects on the average level of computed depth, they have little effect on inferences about Treasury market liquidity made from changes in daily depth over time. Whether it’s bid vs. offer side, inside tier vs. many tiers, or New York hours vs. all hours, market depth has been challenged in recent years by the pandemic, bank failures, and interest rate uncertainty generally, and bears watching (along with other liquidity measures) going forward. 

Photo: portrait of Michael Fleming

Michael J. Fleming is the head of Capital Markets Studies in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group. 

Isabel Krogh is a research analyst in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

Claire Nelson is an economics Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University.

How to cite this post:
Michael Fleming, Isabel Krogh, and Claire Nelson, “Measuring Treasury Market Depth,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics, February 12, 2024,

The views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author(s).

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President Biden Delivers The “Darkest, Most Un-American Speech Given By A President”

President Biden Delivers The "Darkest, Most Un-American Speech Given By A President"

Having successfully raged, ranted, lied, and yelled through…



President Biden Delivers The "Darkest, Most Un-American Speech Given By A President"

Having successfully raged, ranted, lied, and yelled through the State of The Union, President Biden can go back to his crypt now.

Whatever 'they' gave Biden, every American man, woman, and the other should be allowed to take it - though it seems the cocktail brings out 'dark Brandon'?

Tl;dw: Biden's Speech tonight ...

  • Fund Ukraine.

  • Trump is threat to democracy and America itself.

  • Abortion is good.

  • American Economy is stronger than ever.

  • Inflation wasn't Biden's fault.

  • Illegals are Americans too.

  • Republicans are responsible for the border crisis.

  • Trump is bad.

  • Biden stands with trans-children.

  • J6 was the worst insurrection since the Civil War.

(h/t @TCDMS99)

Tucker Carlson's response sums it all up perfectly:

"that was possibly the darkest, most un-American speech given by an American president. It wasn't a speech, it was a rant..."

Carlson continued: "The true measure of a nation's greatness lies within its capacity to control borders, yet Bid refuses to do it."

"In a fair election, Joe Biden cannot win"

And concluded:

“There was not a meaningful word for the entire duration about the things that actually matter to people who live here.”

Victor Davis Hanson added some excellent color, but this was probably the best line on Biden:

"he doesn't care... he lives in an alternative reality."

*  *  *

Watch SOTU Live here...

*   *   *

Mises' Connor O'Keeffe, warns: "Be on the Lookout for These Lies in Biden's State of the Union Address." 

On Thursday evening, President Joe Biden is set to give his third State of the Union address. The political press has been buzzing with speculation over what the president will say. That speculation, however, is focused more on how Biden will perform, and which issues he will prioritize. Much of the speech is expected to be familiar.

The story Biden will tell about what he has done as president and where the country finds itself as a result will be the same dishonest story he's been telling since at least the summer.

He'll cite government statistics to say the economy is growing, unemployment is low, and inflation is down.

Something that has been frustrating Biden, his team, and his allies in the media is that the American people do not feel as economically well off as the official data says they are. Despite what the White House and establishment-friendly journalists say, the problem lies with the data, not the American people's ability to perceive their own well-being.

As I wrote back in January, the reason for the discrepancy is the lack of distinction made between private economic activity and government spending in the most frequently cited economic indicators. There is an important difference between the two:

  • Government, unlike any other entity in the economy, can simply take money and resources from others to spend on things and hire people. Whether or not the spending brings people value is irrelevant

  • It's the private sector that's responsible for producing goods and services that actually meet people's needs and wants. So, the private components of the economy have the most significant effect on people's economic well-being.

Recently, government spending and hiring has accounted for a larger than normal share of both economic activity and employment. This means the government is propping up these traditional measures, making the economy appear better than it actually is. Also, many of the jobs Biden and his allies take credit for creating will quickly go away once it becomes clear that consumers don't actually want whatever the government encouraged these companies to produce.

On top of all that, the administration is dealing with the consequences of their chosen inflation rhetoric.

Since its peak in the summer of 2022, the president's team has talked about inflation "coming back down," which can easily give the impression that it's prices that will eventually come back down.

But that's not what that phrase means. It would be more honest to say that price increases are slowing down.

Americans are finally waking up to the fact that the cost of living will not return to prepandemic levels, and they're not happy about it.

The president has made some clumsy attempts at damage control, such as a Super Bowl Sunday video attacking food companies for "shrinkflation"—selling smaller portions at the same price instead of simply raising prices.

In his speech Thursday, Biden is expected to play up his desire to crack down on the "corporate greed" he's blaming for high prices.

In the name of "bringing down costs for Americans," the administration wants to implement targeted price ceilings - something anyone who has taken even a single economics class could tell you does more harm than good. Biden would never place the blame for the dramatic price increases we've experienced during his term where it actually belongs—on all the government spending that he and President Donald Trump oversaw during the pandemic, funded by the creation of $6 trillion out of thin air - because that kind of spending is precisely what he hopes to kick back up in a second term.

If reelected, the president wants to "revive" parts of his so-called Build Back Better agenda, which he tried and failed to pass in his first year. That would bring a significant expansion of domestic spending. And Biden remains committed to the idea that Americans must be forced to continue funding the war in Ukraine. That's another topic Biden is expected to highlight in the State of the Union, likely accompanied by the lie that Ukraine spending is good for the American economy. It isn't.

It's not possible to predict all the ways President Biden will exaggerate, mislead, and outright lie in his speech on Thursday. But we can be sure of two things. The "state of the Union" is not as strong as Biden will say it is. And his policy ambitions risk making it much worse.

*  *  *

The American people will be tuning in on their smartphones, laptops, and televisions on Thursday evening to see if 'sloppy joe' 81-year-old President Joe Biden can coherently put together more than two sentences (even with a teleprompter) as he gives his third State of the Union in front of a divided Congress. 

President Biden will speak on various topics to convince voters why he shouldn't be sent to a retirement home.

According to CNN sources, here are some of the topics Biden will discuss tonight:

  • Economic issues: Biden and his team have been drafting a speech heavy on economic populism, aides said, with calls for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy – an attempt to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans and their likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

  • Health care expenses: Biden will also push for lowering health care costs and discuss his efforts to go after drug manufacturers to lower the cost of prescription medications — all issues his advisers believe can help buoy what have been sagging economic approval ratings.

  • Israel's war with Hamas: Also looming large over Biden's primetime address is the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which has consumed much of the president's time and attention over the past few months. The president's top national security advisers have been working around the clock to try to finalize a ceasefire-hostages release deal by Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins next week.

  • An argument for reelection: Aides view Thursday's speech as a critical opportunity for the president to tout his accomplishments in office and lay out his plans for another four years in the nation's top job. Even though viewership has declined over the years, the yearly speech reliably draws tens of millions of households.

Sources provided more color on Biden's SOTU address: 

The speech is expected to be heavy on economic populism. The president will talk about raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. He'll highlight efforts to cut costs for the American people, including pushing Congress to help make prescription drugs more affordable.

Biden will talk about the need to preserve democracy and freedom, a cornerstone of his re-election bid. That includes protecting and bolstering reproductive rights, an issue Democrats believe will energize voters in November. Biden is also expected to promote his unity agenda, a key feature of each of his addresses to Congress while in office.

Biden is also expected to give remarks on border security while the invasion of illegals has become one of the most heated topics among American voters. A majority of voters are frustrated with radical progressives in the White House facilitating the illegal migrant invasion. 

It is probable that the president will attribute the failure of the Senate border bill to the Republicans, a claim many voters view as unfounded. This is because the White House has the option to issue an executive order to restore border security, yet opts not to do so

Maybe this is why? 

While Biden addresses the nation, the Biden administration will be armed with a social media team to pump propaganda to at least 100 million Americans. 

"The White House hosted about 70 creators, digital publishers, and influencers across three separate events" on Wednesday and Thursday, a White House official told CNN. 

Not a very capable social media team... 

The administration's move to ramp up social media operations comes as users on X are mostly free from government censorship with Elon Musk at the helm. This infuriates Democrats, who can no longer censor their political enemies on X. 

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers tell Axios that the president's SOTU performance will be critical as he tries to dispel voter concerns about his elderly age. The address reached as many as 27 million people in 2023. 

"We are all nervous," said one House Democrat, citing concerns about the president's "ability to speak without blowing things."

The SOTU address comes as Biden's polling data is in the dumps

BetOnline has created several money-making opportunities for gamblers tonight, such as betting on what word Biden mentions the most. 

As well as...

We will update you when Tucker Carlson's live feed of SOTU is published. 

Tyler Durden Fri, 03/08/2024 - 07:44

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What is intersectionality and why does it make feminism more effective?

The social categories that we belong to shape our understanding of the world in different ways.



Mary Long/Shutterstock

The way we talk about society and the people and structures in it is constantly changing. One term you may come across this International Women’s Day is “intersectionality”. And specifically, the concept of “intersectional feminism”.

Intersectionality refers to the fact that everyone is part of multiple social categories. These include gender, social class, sexuality, (dis)ability and racialisation (when people are divided into “racial” groups often based on skin colour or features).

These categories are not independent of each other, they intersect. This looks different for every person. For example, a black woman without a disability will have a different experience of society than a white woman without a disability – or a black woman with a disability.

An intersectional approach makes social policy more inclusive and just. Its value was evident in research during the pandemic, when it became clear that women from various groups, those who worked in caring jobs and who lived in crowded circumstances were much more likely to die from COVID.

A long-fought battle

American civil rights leader and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the term intersectionality in a 1989 paper. She argued that focusing on a single form of oppression (such as gender or race) perpetuated discrimination against black women, who are simultaneously subjected to both racism and sexism.

Crenshaw gave a name to ways of thinking and theorising that black and Latina feminists, as well as working-class and lesbian feminists, had argued for decades. The Combahee River Collective of black lesbians was groundbreaking in this work.

They called for strategic alliances with black men to oppose racism, white women to oppose sexism and lesbians to oppose homophobia. This was an example of how an intersectional understanding of identity and social power relations can create more opportunities for action.

These ideas have, through political struggle, come to be accepted in feminist thinking and women’s studies scholarship. An increasing number of feminists now use the term “intersectional feminism”.

The term has moved from academia to feminist activist and social justice circles and beyond in recent years. Its popularity and widespread use means it is subjected to much scrutiny and debate about how and when it should be employed. For example, some argue that it should always include attention to racism and racialisation.

Recognising more issues makes feminism more effective

In writing about intersectionality, Crenshaw argued that singular approaches to social categories made black women’s oppression invisible. Many black feminists have pointed out that white feminists frequently overlook how racial categories shape different women’s experiences.

One example is hair discrimination. It is only in the 2020s that many organisations in South Africa, the UK and US have recognised that it is discriminatory to regulate black women’s hairstyles in ways that render their natural hair unacceptable.

This is an intersectional approach. White women and most black men do not face the same discrimination and pressures to straighten their hair.

View from behind of a young, black woman speaking to female colleagues in an office
Intersectionality can lead to more inclusive organisations, activism and social movements.

“Abortion on demand” in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK and USA took no account of the fact that black women in these and many other countries needed to campaign against being given abortions against their will. The fight for reproductive justice does not look the same for all women.

Similarly, the experiences of working-class women have frequently been rendered invisible in white, middle class feminist campaigns and writings. Intersectionality means that these issues are recognised and fought for in an inclusive and more powerful way.

In the 35 years since Crenshaw coined the term, feminist scholars have analysed how women are positioned in society, for example, as black, working-class, lesbian or colonial subjects. Intersectionality reminds us that fruitful discussions about discrimination and justice must acknowledge how these different categories affect each other and their associated power relations.

This does not mean that research and policy cannot focus predominantly on one social category, such as race, gender or social class. But it does mean that we cannot, and should not, understand those categories in isolation of each other.

Ann Phoenix does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Biden defends immigration policy during State of the Union, blaming Republicans in Congress for refusing to act

A rising number of Americans say that immigration is the country’s biggest problem. Biden called for Congress to pass a bipartisan border and immigration…




President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address on March 7, 2024. Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

President Joe Biden delivered the annual State of the Union address on March 7, 2024, casting a wide net on a range of major themes – the economy, abortion rights, threats to democracy, the wars in Gaza and Ukraine – that are preoccupying many Americans heading into the November presidential election.

The president also addressed massive increases in immigration at the southern border and the political battle in Congress over how to manage it. “We can fight about the border, or we can fix it. I’m ready to fix it,” Biden said.

But while Biden stressed that he wants to overcome political division and take action on immigration and the border, he cautioned that he will not “demonize immigrants,” as he said his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, does.

“I will not separate families. I will not ban people from America because of their faith,” Biden said.

Biden’s speech comes as a rising number of American voters say that immigration is the country’s biggest problem.

Immigration law scholar Jean Lantz Reisz answers four questions about why immigration has become a top issue for Americans, and the limits of presidential power when it comes to immigration and border security.

President Joe Biden stands surrounded by people in formal clothing and smiles. One man holds a cell phone camera close up to his face.
President Joe Biden arrives to deliver the State of the Union address at the US Capitol on March 7, 2024. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

1. What is driving all of the attention and concern immigration is receiving?

The unprecedented number of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border right now has drawn national concern to the U.S. immigration system and the president’s enforcement policies at the border.

Border security has always been part of the immigration debate about how to stop unlawful immigration.

But in this election, the immigration debate is also fueled by images of large groups of migrants crossing a river and crawling through barbed wire fences. There is also news of standoffs between Texas law enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol agents and cities like New York and Chicago struggling to handle the influx of arriving migrants.

Republicans blame Biden for not taking action on what they say is an “invasion” at the U.S. border. Democrats blame Republicans for refusing to pass laws that would give the president the power to stop the flow of migration at the border.

2. Are Biden’s immigration policies effective?

Confusion about immigration laws may be the reason people believe that Biden is not implementing effective policies at the border.

The U.S. passed a law in 1952 that gives any person arriving at the border or inside the U.S. the right to apply for asylum and the right to legally stay in the country, even if that person crossed the border illegally. That law has not changed.

Courts struck down many of former President Donald Trump’s policies that tried to limit immigration. Trump was able to lawfully deport migrants at the border without processing their asylum claims during the COVID-19 pandemic under a public health law called Title 42. Biden continued that policy until the legal justification for Title 42 – meaning the public health emergency – ended in 2023.

Republicans falsely attribute the surge in undocumented migration to the U.S. over the past three years to something they call Biden’s “open border” policy. There is no such policy.

Multiple factors are driving increased migration to the U.S.

More people are leaving dangerous or difficult situations in their countries, and some people have waited to migrate until after the COVID-19 pandemic ended. People who smuggle migrants are also spreading misinformation to migrants about the ability to enter and stay in the U.S.

Joe Biden wears a black blazer and a black hat as he stands next to a bald white man wearing a green uniform and a white truck that says 'Border Patrol' in green
President Joe Biden walks with Jason Owens, the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, as he visits the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, on Feb. 29, 2024. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

3. How much power does the president have over immigration?

The president’s power regarding immigration is limited to enforcing existing immigration laws. But the president has broad authority over how to enforce those laws.

For example, the president can place every single immigrant unlawfully present in the U.S. in deportation proceedings. Because there is not enough money or employees at federal agencies and courts to accomplish that, the president will usually choose to prioritize the deportation of certain immigrants, like those who have committed serious and violent crimes in the U.S.

The federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants from October 2022 through September 2023, double the number of people it deported the previous fiscal year.

But under current law, the president does not have the power to summarily expel migrants who say they are afraid of returning to their country. The law requires the president to process their claims for asylum.

Biden’s ability to enforce immigration law also depends on a budget approved by Congress. Without congressional approval, the president cannot spend money to build a wall, increase immigration detention facilities’ capacity or send more Border Patrol agents to process undocumented migrants entering the country.

A large group of people are seen sitting and standing along a tall brown fence in an empty area of brown dirt.
Migrants arrive at the border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to surrender to American Border Patrol agents on March 5, 2024. Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images

4. How could Biden address the current immigration problems in this country?

In early 2024, Republicans in the Senate refused to pass a bill – developed by a bipartisan team of legislators – that would have made it harder to get asylum and given Biden the power to stop taking asylum applications when migrant crossings reached a certain number.

During his speech, Biden called this bill the “toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen in this country.”

That bill would have also provided more federal money to help immigration agencies and courts quickly review more asylum claims and expedite the asylum process, which remains backlogged with millions of cases, Biden said. Biden said the bipartisan deal would also hire 1,500 more border security agents and officers, as well as 4,300 more asylum officers.

Removing this backlog in immigration courts could mean that some undocumented migrants, who now might wait six to eight years for an asylum hearing, would instead only wait six weeks, Biden said. That means it would be “highly unlikely” migrants would pay a large amount to be smuggled into the country, only to be “kicked out quickly,” Biden said.

“My Republican friends, you owe it to the American people to get this bill done. We need to act,” Biden said.

Biden’s remarks calling for Congress to pass the bill drew jeers from some in the audience. Biden quickly responded, saying that it was a bipartisan effort: “What are you against?” he asked.

Biden is now considering using section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to get more control over immigration. This sweeping law allows the president to temporarily suspend or restrict the entry of all foreigners if their arrival is detrimental to the U.S.

This obscure law gained attention when Trump used it in January 2017 to implement a travel ban on foreigners from mainly Muslim countries. The Supreme Court upheld the travel ban in 2018.

Trump again also signed an executive order in April 2020 that blocked foreigners who were seeking lawful permanent residency from entering the country for 60 days, citing this same section of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Biden did not mention any possible use of section 212(f) during his State of the Union speech. If the president uses this, it would likely be challenged in court. It is not clear that 212(f) would apply to people already in the U.S., and it conflicts with existing asylum law that gives people within the U.S. the right to seek asylum.

Jean Lantz Reisz does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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