On June 27, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will meet in Atlanta for the first of two general election debates hosted by CNN. The debate marks the first time Biden and Trump will meet on stage since the 2020 presidential election, and it marks a departure from the traditional organization of such debates. Neither of the general election debates will involve the Commission on Presidential Debates (which has sponsored most debates since 1988), nor will they be before a live audience. The candidates’ microphones will also be muted once their allotted speaking time runs out. Another significant change since the 2020 election is the rising importance  of immigration as a key issue for voters across the United States.

Immigration policy is one of the primary issues projected to shape this year’s presidential election, with most Americans citing immigration reform as a top policy goal for the government. Biden and Trump have differed considerably regarding their outlooks on immigration, with the former emphasizing reform and increased pathways to citizenship and the latter focusing on harsher immigration enforcement and reduced legal immigration. 

Leading up to this election, Trump has doubled down on the strict border control that he touted in his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, calling for—among other things—the end of birthright citizenship and the implementation of a massive deportation operation. Meanwhile, Biden has announced a new process that provides a streamlined pathway to citizenship for qualified immigrants with citizen spouses and relief for DACA recipients. Yet, his recent executive order, which prevents migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally from seeking asylum, has raised questions over his approach to immigration enforcement. 

The divergence between Trump and Biden over immigration, combined with an increase in immigrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border and the blockage of a bipartisan immigration bill, is sure to make immigration a hot topic for both candidates, who hope to make their approaches to immigration policy resonate with key voter groups such as Latino and Black voters. 

While Biden and Trump are not the only presidential candidates, it is unlikely that independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose polling does not meet qualifying levels, will receive an invitation to the stage. Thus, the following questions–which moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash should pose to the debate participants–are aimed only at Biden and Trump.

For President Biden: How do you plan to resolve humanitarian crises in major non-border state cities where an influx of migrants and a lack of resources strain social resources?

Southern border crossings have reached all-time highs during Biden’s presidency, with U.S. Border Patrol citing over two million encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2023 fiscal year. 

Since 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s migrant relocation efforts have included an initiative to bus over 102,000 migrants to northern cities to highlight the “burdens imposed by open-border advocates.” However, lack of coordination with destination cities, unannounced drop-offs, and insufficient funding and resources in cities ill-prepared for the continued influx of migrants has led to fiscal and humanitarian crises across the country, including Denver, Salt Lake City, New York City, and Boston.

In Denver, $60 million has already been spent on aid for migrants. Budget cuts are being made to provide resources for the newcomers, and hospitals are overwhelmed by the volume of migrant patients who cannot pay for services but need and qualify for treatment. Other cities face similar problems. In New York City, new emergency shelters opened but limited the duration of stays. Emergency shelters are at capacity in Boston, and the housing crisis is projected to cost far more than the state can afford. This leaves migrants still needing support and cities with swamped social service systems.

Mounting pressure on U.S. cities makes Biden’s ability to find a lasting solution increasingly important. He should clearly articulate his plans to assuage this financial and humanitarian predicament.

For former President Trump: Why are you planning to block American students from qualifying for federal financial aid for school if their state provides in-state tuition to DACA recipients?

The Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, which outlines policy recommendations for a possible second Trump administration, proposes denying federal student aid to American students who attend universities that provide in-state tuition to DACA recipients and others the authors classify as “illegal aliens.” All 407,000 undocumented students attending higher education are ineligible for federal student aid.

States have the authority to determine eligibility for in-state tuition. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) permit DACA recipients to access in-state tuition. In comparison, twenty-three states and D.C. permit undocumented students more generally to access in-state tuition. The three states with the highest student populations — California, Texas, and New York — all grant in-state tuition to DACA recipients and undocumented students. 

This policy would disqualify up to two-thirds of American citizens studying at colleges and universities from access to federal student aid. Each year, more than 9.7 million students depend on this aid to obtain postsecondary education. 

Trump should be asked to clarify his alignment with this recommendation in Project 2025 and explain how he justifies infringing on states’ authority to determine undocumented students’ eligibility for in-state tuition according to states’ best interests.

For President Biden: What are your plans to remedy issues with the CBP One app at the border?

President Biden’s June 4 executive order bars migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border when the number of unauthorized border crossings reaches 2,500 per day. This restriction took immediate effect and will continue until two weeks after encounters decrease to a seven-day average of 1,500. Under the policy, those who attempt to cross the border are swiftly removed and face a five-year ban on re-entry. Several groups of migrants are exempted from these restrictions, including those who use the CBP One app to make an appointment with asylum officers at a port of entry. Due to the new policy, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser anticipates that more migrants will use the CBP One app to enter the U.S.

In May 2023, the Biden administration’s Circumvention of Legal Pathways Final Rule established the CBP One app as the primary legal pathway for migrants to seek asylum at the U.S. border. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security calls the app a “safe, orderly, and humane tool for border management.” Despite this claim, migrants and human rights organizations continue to report issues with technical glitches, language accessibility, and a confusing registration process. Not all migrants have the necessary technology, internet access, literacy, and digital competency to make an appointment. Some must wait at the border for five to eight months in dangerous conditions before receiving an appointment. These challenges encourage some migrants to cross the border without authorization rather than use the app, contributing to the overwhelm that motivated Biden’s executive order.

Biden’s new restrictions have been criticized for their potential lack of effectiveness and for violating migrants’ right to asylum. As such, his administration should prioritize fixing the issues with the CBP One app, which provides migrants an alternative to unauthorized border crossings. Biden should be asked to speak on how he plans to improve access to this legal pathway in a possible second term.

For former President Trump: How will you guarantee America’s small businesses are getting the labor they need to fill open jobs and ensure food security for Americans?

Immigrants are critical to the U.S. economy, and low immigration levels contribute to labor shortages. Foreign-born workers fill seasonal gaps in industries like agriculture, hospitality, forestry, and construction through the H-2 visa program. Rather than take jobs from U.S.-born workers, immigrants often work jobs that U.S.-born workers don’t want or can’t fill, including approximately 2.4 million unfilled farm jobs and 500,000 unfilled construction jobs. Employers who petition to hire a temporary foreign worker through the H-2 visa program must establish that the job cannot be filled by a U.S.-born worker and that employing a foreign worker will not impact the wages or employment conditions of U.S. workers.

Project 2025 proposes suspending annual updates to the list of countries eligible for the H-2 visa program, significantly decreasing the number of workers receiving these visas to work in critical and understaffed industries. 

Trump should be asked to explain how he will protect short-staffed industries and ensure food security for Americans if he implements this and other policies that dwindle immigration programs.

For President Biden: How do you plan to enforce new border policies without sufficient funding?

Biden’s June 4 executive order establishing new border restrictions has also created concerns over the amount of funding available to enforce these policies. Border authorities need increased deportation capacity, detention space, and personnel to comply with the order and expeditiously remove migrants who attempt unauthorized border crossings.

Earlier this year, a bill that would have provided nearly $20 billion to immigration and border authorities failed in Congress. Border officials, including acting ICE Director Patrick Lechleitner, continue to call on Congress to increase funding at the border. Though Biden’s ability to furnish this funding without Congress remains limited, he nonetheless implemented new restrictions without proper funding.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced its efforts to “optimize enforcement resources” and carry out the new restrictions within its funding limits, including by changing detention facility contracts to increase the number of available beds and closing a large but expensive facility to make more beds available at other detention centers. Migrants and border officials worry that detention facilities and processing centers will become overcrowded. Inadequate personnel may also make it challenging for agents to both remove migrants and fulfill humanitarian obligations.

Biden’s order acknowledges that the immigration system is under-resourced but fails to explain how his policies will create order at the border without funding—something he should be asked to explain at the debate.

For former President Trump: How will you ensure that involving the police, National Guard, federal troops, and funds in deportation efforts won’t place too much stress on an already strained law enforcement system?

Trump has been outspoken about his dedication to strict border policies and deportation efforts, pledging to enact a deportation operation that would leave no one “off the table” and remove more than 11 million migrants from the U.S. if he wins a second term. The former president has expressed  willingness to include local police forces, the National Guard, and–if necessary–the U.S. military in the enactment of his deportation plans both at the border and inland. 

Beyond the question of whether Trump will manage to circumvent or override the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 to deploy the military, as well as where noncitizens who appeal their removal proceedings will go while they wait to be seen before a federal judge, the dedication of so many resources to his operation to remove undocumented immigrants in the U.S. may pose other problems. 

The involvement of the police, National Guard, or federal troops in Trump’s mass deportation plans in the interior will stretch law enforcement officers far too thin for them to serve their communities well. Trump has proposed using federal funding (likely from the military budget) to continue construction of a Southern border wall, using funding incentives to encourage police to carry out his deportation operation, and directing any enforcement needed to reduce illicit border crossings and remove undocumented migrants. This is especially troubling for local and state law enforcement, which are already experiencing staffing shortages and budget cuts. Police departments in cities nationwide, including Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston, and Los Angeles, lack the staffing numbers needed to respond to the calls and cases they handle.

While immigration policy itself is a top concern for voters in the upcoming election, reducing violence and crime remain priorities, especially for Black voters, whose key role in the outcome of the election has led Trump to attempt to rally them. Trump should explain how he aims to devote enough resources to carry out his deportation operation while ensuring that public safety for U.S. citizens remains steady or improves. 

For Both: How will you engage with Mexico and other countries to reform, create, and implement cooperative immigration policies?

In April, Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador released a joint statement about their commitment to cooperating to manage migration and reduce border crossings. However, few details about the tangible components of this commitment were made public. Mr. López Obrador’s successor, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, who will be inaugurated in October, has committed herself to forming a respectful working relationship with either candidate and will likely follow the trajectory of her predecessor’s immigration policies.

The Trump and Biden administrations have taken different approaches to forging and managing relationships with Mexico and other countries. The former has emphasized unilateral nationalism, while the latter has focused more on international cooperation. Yet, given the ambitious immigration policy goals of both candidates, high levels of South American and Central American immigration to the U.S.—often through Mexico—and an increasing need for multilateral collaboration, both candidates should explain how they envision engaging with other countries to achieve their visions of migration management.

For Both: What are your plans for updating or changing the current system (including asylum and refugee policies, TPS, parole, and DED) designed to support and allow entry for migrants needing humanitarian aid?

Biden and Trump have taken radically different approaches to humanitarian pathways, reflecting their differences on immigration policy more broadly. While the Trump administration used parole minimally, the Biden administration’s use of the authority has proven far more expansive; similarly, the former president lowered the annual refugee admissions cap to 15,000 in 2021, while Biden raised it to 125,000. And Biden has expanded eligibility for TPS, while Trump has attempted to limit it

Both presidential candidates implemented significant changes to the entry system based on humanitarian needs and expressed their desire to continue pursuing more changes.  As the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide grows, due in part to the ongoing conflicts, Trump and Biden should be asked to go into more detail on how they will reform the current system to address national concerns better while also fulfilling international laws and obligations.

For Both: How do you envision artificial intelligence shaping U.S. immigration enforcement?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently embraced artificial intelligence to train immigration officers to make accurate decisions when reviewing refugee petitions. As AI improves, immigration enforcement could use it to reduce processing backlogs, automate routine tasks, and heighten the system’s efficiency. Considering USCIS’s net backlog of over 4 million cases at the end of FY2023, this new technology could smooth the process for migrants and immigration officials. 

However, human rights groups have pointed out that technologies like biometric sensors and AI can subject vulnerable migrants to surveillance, exploitation, and invasive collection and use of personal data. Trump and Biden should explain if and how they see artificial intelligence improving efficiency and accuracy in U.S. immigration enforcement while maintaining migrants’ right to privacy.


The June 27 general election debate is a chance for top candidates Biden and Trump to solidify their core voter base and sway voters on the fence. Given that immigration is projected to be one of the deciding factors in the 2024 presidential election, both parties must address voter concerns about migration. These questions are meant to highlight relevant topics in immigration policy, encourage discussion about the connection between immigration and other issue areas, prompt the candidates to provide more detail on their plans for a second term, and open the door to further questions about immigration.