HOUSTON — As Democrats introduced two much-needed bills tackling specific immigration issues, the party continues in failing to address the much-predicted arrival of more asylum-seekers, particularly children whose parents and/or family are already in the U.S.
While pro-Biden pundits argue that because of Trump’s policies the Biden administration is struggling, they’re telling but a small part of the U.S. immigration story.
What they are not telling you is that much of the inhumanity Trump inflicted on migrants of color was made possible by the bipartisan policies of previous administrations—even the Obama administration where Biden failed as the frontman for Latin American policy.
So what then is being done to address the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are waiting to be reunited with their families in the U.S.? We know the Biden administration was sending adults and families back across the border but have since authorized border agents to begin releasing adult migrants and families. However, unaccompanied children, 80% of which have family in the U.S., are being brought into detention facilities with little space to house them humanely. Facilities that are grossly lacking protocols to protect against the spread of COVID—like the one in Midland, Texas that was converted from housing for oilfield workers to housing for children. A COVID outbreak occurred there after just four days.
On Tuesday morning, as it tries to change the narrative, the Biden administration released photos and videos from two facilities—places that the press has yet to visit. This was one of them, taken on March 17 in Donna, Texas.
So far, the Biden administration is looking at potential locations to set up tents to house migrant kids, while reports indicate migrant teens will be housed at the Dallas Convention Center. In addition, using FEMA to help with the influx of children could be beneficial. Nevertheless, the quality of care will be determined by the qualifications (or lack thereof) of those that are hired to work in such conditions. We’ve already seen what happens when people aren’t qualified.
Over and over again.
For example, a similar situation unfolded during the Trump administration with disastrous results. At several detention facilities where caregivers were less than qualified, children were living in deplorable conditions, physically and mentally abused, and denied basic hygienic necessities. By placing facilities on federal property, Trump purposely limited the jurisdiction of local and state child welfare services who typically lack oversight on federal property. Make no mistake, this also happened under previous administrations and is happening now.
Despite having years, if not decades to get it right, Democrats have again failed in preparing to tackle the predictable issues at the border. No, it’s not a “surge” and it’s only a “crisis” because America made it that way. Year after year, decade after decade, Americans complacently watched the U.S. immigration system became more torturous and inhumane for migrants of color. Meanwhile, America turns a blind eye to European (white) immigrants who overstay their visas and live under the radar without so much as a knock on their door.
So here we are again. Democrats are in control of the executive and legislative branches of government and they were all too unprepared to deal with immigration. U.S. policy at the Southern border is as inhumane as it has ever been, and it’s not all Trump’s fault. If you want to talk about immigration in the U.S., you have to address the underlying conditions that lead to mass migrations North from Central America. You have to be willing to address that U.S. policy and interventionism are major reasons migrants come to the United States.
America promises a better life, overthrows their governments, allows U.S. corporate interests to exploit their resources, and leaves them to starve after politically destroying their homeland.
What Democrats Are Doing
There is no doubt that America needs solutions providing paths to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and Democrats are addressing it. Two bills, the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, serve to address key citizenship issues for advocates of immigration reform.
The American Dream and Promise Act would establish a path to citizenship for DREAMers (immigrants brought to the U.S. as children), people who have been granted temporary protected status, and recipients of deferred enforced departure as of January 20, 2021. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will create a system for workers in the agricultural industry to obtain temporary status with an option to later become permanent residents. Both proposals are long overdue and will likely be met with applause and celebration by many.
When it comes to asylum-seekers, both Democrats and Republicans have historically shown apathy towards the plight of migrants of color. So much so that when Americans talk about immigration they immediately think of Mexicans. That’s not by accident. That’s from decades of propagandist programming Americans have been fed from bipartisan fear-mongering. From Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, they all pushed the same narrative: Mexicans: bad, White people: good. Most Latinos are also aware that they’re talking about all of us when they say Mexicans.
One of the most bipartisan agendas of all time is immigration and its policies have historically been based on the same isolationist ideology: keep non-white immigrants out by criminalizing crossing the border, by building a fence or wall to keep them out, and finally, by militarizing the border. It’s an agenda that’s cost hundreds of billions of dollars over decades and has yielded no results because it’s a fight against the natural order. People migrate to find a better life and since we make life in other countries so much harder under the guise of better living conditions, why wouldn’t its citizens come to us to fulfill our promises of something better?
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are addressing any of this because they willingly choose not to. Most politicians in Washington will get behind interventions in Latin America for various reasons that appease both sides of the aisle and their ultra-wealthy corporate donors who want access to the region’s resources. This is no secret to any American.
As journalist John Washington wrote last year: “The almost-octogenarian old-guard white male has nearly 40 years of seasoning in Washington, stewing in the Beltway’s conventional foreign policy wisdom. It’s a school of thought that overlooks corruption and human rights abuses when it’s convenient, prioritizes aid to police and militaries, relies on international development bank loans contingent upon strict austerity measures, and favors corporate-friendly policies which often include natural resource extraction. When it comes to Latin America, Biden’s campaign platform is particularly uninspiring and, indeed, downright damaging.”
Biden’s return to the status quo after Trump’s presidency is not good enough to make a difference. His policy agenda is much of the same old jargon we’ve heard before and by now, we know what it all means. The United States under Biden is positioning itself to provide aid to Latin American countries in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) that will be wholly contingent on providing U.S. corporations access to infrastructure, resources such as oil and lithium, and government officials that can be influenced by lobbyist dollars.
If aid doesn’t provide access, it disappears as we’ve seen so often before, putting the region at the mercy of the U.S.
What Republicans Are Doing
Republicans have again taken the opportunity to use the chaos they created at the Southern border as fuel for their culture wars. They quickly organized a press conference at the border to demonize not just Joe Biden, but immigrants who seek asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. As is typical for conservatives, there is never a mention of the undocumented European immigrants who got here by other means such as, you know, an airplane and a visa they overstayed. The same Republicans who were quiet after the shooting in Atlanta or Boulder keep feigning outrage over the treatment of migrants.
Republicans never discuss how the vast majority of crimes regarding America’s borders occur at ports of entry. From human smuggling to drug smuggling to the smuggling of counterfeit products, nearly all of it occurs on roadways, shipyards, and railways. However, conservative ideology isn’t so much about actually securing the borders (Americans love drugs) as it is about keeping Black and Brown people out of the country. They use talking points, keywords, and key phrases to scare White people who all share the xenophobic fear of the browning of America.
As the Republican Leader of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said recently, “The sad part of all of this is it didn’t have to happen. This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”
When Republicans headed to the border, we knew they would continue to push Donald Trump’s immigration agenda and continue fear-mongering. While it may seem comical to suggest that this is all Biden’s fault a mere 60 days in office, the reality is, conservative voters will buy it en masse. While at the border, they spread the lie that Biden opened the borders putting Americans at increased risk of contracting coronavirus from migrants coming to the U.S.
The reality is, the border remains closed under Title 42, Sec. 265 of the U.S. Code—“Suspension of entries and imports from designated places to prevent spread of communicable diseases.” As many have noted, imports haven’t stopped crossing the border. Title 42 is still being used as a tool to justify preventing asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. The implementation of the code was justified by saying it was to protect Americans from the spread of COVID but the virus was already here. Even today, Joe Biden has not lifted the implementation of Title 42.
Republicans continue to spread the same lies about asylum-seekers that have been used for more than a century. They continue to use migrants as political pawns. They continue to ‘other’ non-white people in their platform of hate. Conservatives all over the country eat it up and hate groups amplify the messaging in their recruitment efforts. This is not a game Republicans are playing and they know it. They’re serious and their goal is austerity.
There’s no better way to get there than by dividing a nation.
What Biden Is Doing
President Biden has already taken a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook in quietly pressing Mexico to increase its efforts to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. The Biden administration’s announcement to send millions of vaccine doses to Mexico comes as a concession to work with Biden in the effort to detain migrants South of the border. As we know from the last several years of working with Trump, Mexico doesn’t have the best record for detaining migrants.
One would hope that with two Latinos at the helms of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) respectively, there would be a major shift in immigration policy. But with more campaign donations in 2020 than the Trump campaign from the prison industrial complex —who profits from the detention of asylum-seekers— to the Biden campaign, it’s far too early to tell. With the COVID response being front and center, Biden’s handling of immigration is already starting to feel like more of the same and it’s not getting the attention from Americans it deserves.
If people can make the argument that it will only take someone a little smarter than Trump to be able to fully destroy democracy, as he almost did, what then can we expect of the next arrogant, totalitarian, white nationalist president if nothing fundamentally changes for asylum-seekers? Even though Americans were outraged at Trump’s handling of immigration, it seems they’re complacently willing to affirm anything less than what Trump did as acceptable despite leaving future asylum-seekers and our immigration system exposed.
Even worse, most of America thinks that a return to Obama-era immigration policies is a good thing. I cannot urge you enough to look back at everything wrong with Obama’s policies on immigration. There is no shortage of studies, think pieces, and advocacy that contradicts what you considered acceptable enough to ignore. I assure you, immigration has never been the humane process you imagined it once was. It’s always been terrifying for asylum-seekers.
So, what is Joe Biden doing? At the moment, it seems like more of the same. And just like immigration isn’t all about what’s happening at the border, Democrats need to realize that it’s not all about a pathway to citizenship for those already here. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the jail cells are made of plexiglass or chain-link, a cage is a cage and children don’t belong there. They belong with the families they came to be with.
Caging asylum-seekers who are not criminals, but running for their lives from the damage we’ve done in Central America, Africa, the Caribbean, and so many other countries around the world, is not just wrong and inhumane, but colonialist racism happening right before our eyes. The latest images of a border detention facility don’t lie.
This is how we’re treating children right now under Biden and you can’t just blame Trump. This was preexisting prior to Trump just as it exists now. Biden reaching across the aisle on immigration means negotiating with the same xenophobic Republicans who damned non-white asylum-seekers with their racist rhetoric as they echoed Donald Trump just days ago.
Negotiating with them all but ensures nothing will fundamentally change under Biden.
Arturo Domínquez is an anti-racist politics nerd, journalist, and founder of The Antagonist Magazine. He is a top writer on racism on Medium and a regular contributor to several media outlets. He is also a proud member of the Writers and Editors of Color (#WEOC) Collective. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.