Fact check: Meme misrepresents Biden’s actions on border and schools

The claim: Photo shows ‘open borders’ in ‘Biden’s America’

The Biden administration has recently come under fire for the surge in migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border – the number of unaccompanied minors more than tripled in the first two weeks of March – and for the gradual reopening of public school classrooms, which some believe is happening too slowly. 

A recent Facebook meme juxtaposes these two issues. Posted by Libertarian activist John Brunner’s Facebook page, the meme has over 1,600 shares and 1,600 reactions. The meme reads “This is Biden’s America” and features two photos, one labeled “OPEN BORDERS” and the other “EMPTY CLASSROOMS.” “Has Biden turned America upside down?” a caption accompanying the meme asks. USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

The photo of migrants crossing the border is not from the U.S. The photos, and the phrases “open borders” and “empty classrooms” suggest that President Joe Biden’s policies have caused unregulated immigration and restrictions on in-person learning. However, data shows that neither is true; Border Patrol agents have expelled tens of thousands of migrants from the border in January and February while Biden has been president, and the majority of schools are now at least partially open for in-person learning.  

Photo shows a different border

Palestinian workers cross illegally into Israeli areas through a hole in Israel's barrier fence near the Mitar checkpoint and the village of al-Dahriya, south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, early on Aug. 17, 2020. (Photo: HAZEM BADER, AFP via Getty Images)

The photo used to portray “open borders” in the meme is being presented out of its original context: While the arid, desertlike landscape could be mistaken for a spot on the U.S.-Mexico border, the photo actually depicts Palestinian workers crossing a border that divides the West Bank from southern Israel. It was taken by Reuters photographer Ammar Awad on July 13, 2013, as part of a report titled “The West Bank – Israel Commute.” 

Its caption reads: 

Palestinian labourers from the West Bank run after illegally crossing Israel’s controversial barrier in the southern West Bank near the southern city of Beersheba July 6, 2013. There are two ways for Palestinian workers to cross into Israel every day. Those with work permits can pass through a military checkpoint. Those without have to find a way through the separation barrier, which is made up of mostly fences and some cement walls, snaking its way through the West Bank. Those caught entering illegally risk a fine or imprisonment. Both ways are time consuming but the reward for those who find a job in Israel is four times the amount of pay that they can earn in the West Bank. Picture taken July 6, 2013. 

Open borders? Not quite

The president talks about future political plans for himself and Vice President Kamala Harris, plus immigration and COVID-19. (Photo: USA TODAY)

So far in his tenure, Biden has begun reversing some of the hardline immigration policies from the Trump administration. He wound down the Migrant Protection Protocols that mandated migrants wait for their immigration court hearings in Mexico; instructed the Border Patrol to accept more unaccompanied minors into U.S. border control facilities, though he said in his first press conference that they may expel some; and repealed the freeze on green cards that Trump instituted in 2020.

The immigration bill his administration released but that has not yet made its way through Congress, the U.S. Citizenship Act, proposes to create an eight-year path to citizenship for people in the country illegally that are part of programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; eliminate per-country visa caps; and increase the number of asylum seekers the U.S. will accept, among other changes.

However, the U.S. is still far from having “open borders.” The Border Patrol has continued to expel most single people and families arriving at the border during Biden’s tenure, including expulsions of 70,200 people under Title 42 in February alone. 

Empty schools? Not exactly

In this March 18, 2021, file photo, students listen to a presentation in Health class at Windsor Locks High School in Windsor Locks, Conn. (Photo: Jessica Hill, AP)

The post shows a photo of an empty classroom to emphasize “empty schools” under the Biden administration. However, many schools are offering in-person learning.

For grades K-12, school data aggregator Burbio, which publishes a K-12 School Opening Tracker, estimates that this week only 16.3% of students attended schools that exclusively offer virtual learning, 53.1% attended schools that are fully open, and 83.7% of schools offered at least one day of in-person instruction.

Another study of a nationally representative sample of 7,000 schools in 42 states, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, estimates that 76% of elementary and middle school students attend schools that offer at least some in-person learning, while a quarter of schools still only offer virtual learning.

The Biden administration has issued an executive order for reopening schools and pledged to ensure that “a majority of schools” will be open for in-person learning five days a week by mid-April (the end of his first 100 days in office), and this data shows the administration is on track. However, it is also important to note that because public schools are run by each state, there are limited steps that the federal government can take to encourage reopening. The bulk of what the executive branch can do includes issuing guidelines – such as the recent, less restrictive CDC guidelines on safe reopening and the recommendation that teachers be prioritized for vaccinations – and distributing federal funds for reopening. 

Our rating: False

We rate this post FALSE, based on our research. The photo used to illustrate “open borders” in “Biden’s America” actually shows the border between the West Bank and Israel. In addition, the U.S. border is still heavily patrolled, with tens of thousands of expulsions each month. The phrase “empty classrooms” is also inaccurate.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Reuters, Aug. 28, 2013, “The Wider Image: The West Bank – Israel Commute”
  • Institute of Education Sciences, accessed March 31, Monthly School Survey Dashboard
  • Dennis Roche (president of school data aggregator Burbio), March 31, email interview
  • Burbio, accessed March 31, K-12 School Opening Tracker
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection, accessed March 31, “Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: Title 8 Enforcement Actions and Title 42 Expulsions for Fiscal Year 2021”
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 16, 2021, “Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas Regarding the Situation at the Southwest Border”

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