The Immigration Mess
Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 8, 2021
If you feel as baffled as me about how the Joe Biden administration is responding to immigration build-ups at the border, it’s because the answers are all confusing.
Whether one tries to apply measures that are practical or humanitarian, that seem planned or totally improvisational, that increase safety for migrants or those living on the border, or that effectively process constantly growing numbers at the border, it feels like a mess.
This week, largely as the result of adverse court rulings to overturn the Mexico Protection Protocols known as MPP, Homeland Security agencies restarted the contentious Donald Trump rule that forces asylum seekers to wait in homeless camps in Mexico for U.S. immigration hearings that still may be months or years away.
The Biden administration is actively using the public health order known as Title 42 that allows border police to rapidly expel migrants from an increasing number of countries without providing a chance to claim asylum.
The administration has sent a ton of money to Central American governments towards addressing root causes of rising migrant appeals at the U.S. border, with little to show in the way of results. Migrant arrests reached a record yearly 1.7 million in September. Jail cells and holding areas have been reopened on the border, evoking the images of cages and inhuman treatment with inadequate oversight, and Homeland Security openly talks about the need to rebuild an immigration system from scratch after four years of Trump.
Biden and Trump
This is the Biden who still talks of restoring rights to Dreamers and has included provisions towards that end in the Build Back Better bill still pending in the Senate — a move that increasingly looks to be futile. Biden consistently has tried to position himself generally as actively more humanitarian about immigration matters than Trump — a low bar.
We’re seeing conservatives and Republicans daily attacking Biden over “open” borders, and progressives hammering away at him for failing to reform the excesses of the last administration.
Bottom line: Immigration ticks as one of the most contentious election issues and a soft political underbelly for Democrats.
You could score this one as troublesome by effectiveness in creating policy or in implementing it, and for sure in clarity of communication to migrants and voters alike. Nothing is happening as things seem to be turning worse on every front, and fixes feel increasingly impossible.
As soon as Biden, who had renounced Trump policies as particularly harsh, all should have been able to anticipate that pent-up frustration in Central American countries with the combined effects of covid, joblessness and gang violence would send new masses towards the U.S. border and that those penned inside migrant camps just over the border would try again.
Despite giving Vice President Kamala Harris the brief to work with other countries, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the job of making the border process work, we’ve seen a series of damaging and apparently unanticipated surges, including from overseas Haitians and Venezuelans, and any number of images that continue to depict the border as both relatively porous and the country as uncaring.
Where Are We?
The truth now is that Biden is enforcing Trump’s policies as new migrants arrive, arrests deportations spiral, more families and migrant juveniles are admitted to the country’s holding cells, and no legislation to change it all will advance in a split Congress. States like Texas are starting to move on their own towards border enforcement.
Nearly two-thirds of migrants caught crossing the border are expelled under the Title 42 order, and others will be returned to Mexico with an MPP court date or released or detained in the United States.
Biden proposed humane immigration reforms but continued harsh, Trump-era enforcement policies at the border, argues Vox News. He has moved to increase legal immigration visas and to recognize that understandable immigration is a necessary component to a growing U.S. economy.
In other words, little has changed. The United States will take steps to address Mexico’s humanitarian concerns about the program, the U.S. and Mexican officials are saying, including covid vaccines and access to lawyers. But staying in Mexico is dangerous, those who work with migrants say.
So, we have Biden’s team arguing that they remain committed to ending MPP even as they expand it to include migrants from more countries.
The new promise from the administration is to complete all cases in the program within six months of a migrant’s return to Mexico, though that had been the same promise by Team Trump — and seemingly oblivious both to the huge backlog that has built up in asylum claim cases and the constant arrival of new court challenges to abandoning the program.
A Texas court found and was upheld at the Supreme Court that a memo terminating MPP in June did not provide sufficient justification for the decision. A second memo arrived more than four months later. Meanwhile, aid to Central America has not slowed migration, and politicians on both sides of the aisle are expressing impatience with the current reality.