The migration crisis currently unfolding along the United States’ southern border is the Achilles heel of the Biden administration, and he can do nothing to reverse it.
Ever since his presidential campaign, Joe Biden has been committed to reversing most of the xenophobic policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump (2017-2021), and replacing them with a more humane and ordered strategy.
However, eight months after being sworn in, the president is facing criticism from both the left and right, by those who believe the border situation is a political burden for the White House.
Biden has fallen between two stools. While Republicans hold him responsible for the crisis as he halted construction on the border wall and other measures implemented during the Trump era, for the Democrats Biden has not done enough to draw a line under the disastrous rule of his predecessor.
On 21 January, the day of his inauguration, the new president signed a raft of executive orders signalling that his administration is “more humane” as regards immigration.
These measures included strengthening the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme to protect those known as “dreamers” and outlining an immigration reform that offers routes to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants.
On the day he took office, Biden revoked the travel ban aimed at majority-Muslim countries, ended the Quédate en México [Remain in Mexico] programme and overturned the policy of separating families at the border.
But the White House’s strategy is being overwhelmed by the unprecedented rise in migrants arriving at the southern border.
At the end of July, vice president Kamala Harris, entrusted by Biden with addressing the increasing migratory flow, travelled to the countries that make up the northern triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras).
She subsequently announced a comprehensive strategy to address the “root causes” of the exodus from Central America.
This strategy has eight lines of action, including establishing asylum programmes in countries in the region, improving protection in countries of origin, promoting employment programmes and improving labour protection.
However, the attitude of the Biden administration is contradictory. While on the one hand it promotes “more humane” treatment for undocumented migrants, on the other hand it drives thousands of them back over the border daily.
Despite the promises made during his presidential campaign, Biden decided not to reverse a measure implemented by Trump in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic to expel families seeking asylum, known as Title 42.
This regulation enables migration authorities to apply a procedure known as “rapid expulsion” to families and individuals that enter the United States clandestinely, with the exception of unaccompanied children.
Detentions at the border have reached the highest level in decades. In July alone, almost 210,000 immigrants were detained, many of whom were subsequently removed under Title 42.
More than 1 million arrivals have been recorded in the current financial year, since October 2020.
The number of unaccompanied children held by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service also shot up, amid reports of poor conditions in the temporary centres housing minors. On 3 August, CNN reported that 2,498 unaccompanied children were in CPB custody, in facilities similar to adult prisons, rather than those designed for children.
And a few weeks ago, Biden began flying undocumented Central American families to cities in inland Mexico.
According to experts, this is the first time that a United States administration has sent migrants to a neighbouring country by air, rather than to their country of origin. The flights are expected to continue, as stated by the Department of Homeland Security.
The decision has been widely criticised by defenders of immigrant rights, who warn of the dangers faced by those deported to northern Mexico, such as kidnapping, extorsion, robbery, assault, sexual assault and abandonment.
Some are forced to cooperate with local gangs or international criminal organizations to survive or get back across the border, according to a report by the Central American Migrant Risk Database (CAMRD).
Following the intensification of the migratory flow across the border between Mexico and the United States, the Biden administration has held talks, conducted visits and proposed initiatives to address the “root causes”.
But as Mexican journalist David Books wrote in La Jornada, the root causes are in the United States: interventionism, military support for dictatorships, training and funding for torturers, the Monroe Doctrine, the cold war against communism, and more recently, the attacks on progressive Latin American governments. (PL)