Despite unlawful economic immigration dropping by 90% between 2000 and 2016, Biden’s presidency is faced with an unprecedented surge of people crossing the border. As of February 2021, the number of border apprehensions was already 33% higher than the numbers reported for February 2019. Nancy Pelosi has labelled the Mexican border situation as a “humanitarian crisis”. Republican lawmakers have gone further and labelled it “Biden’s Border Crisis”. Proposed and enacting a series of immigration proposals, Biden has placed the Mexican-Humanitarian crisis at the forefront of his presidency. However, his proposals and promises are worth nothing in light of an inability to address the crisis at the border, the retainment of draconian Trump policies, plus the worsening treatment of unaccompanied children and families. Facing criticism from both sides of the political spectrum over his immigration policy, Biden’s approach to the Mexican-humanitarian crisis is becoming an alarmingly telling moment for his presidency and western politics.
Biden introduced a slew of proposals concerning his immigration policy. On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order to immediately stop the construction of the wall along the border. He further promised to reunite more than 500 children who were separated from their families at the border. Moreover, he stated his commitment to increase refugee admissions to 125,000, a cap which was decreased from 85,000 to 12,000 by the Trump administration. Beyond managing the immediate crisis at the border, Biden has pledged $4 billion over 4 years towards addressing the root causes of immigration in Central America (where most immigrants now come from). Biden has further stated that he is committed to rolling back the Migrant Protection Protocols that were introduced by Trump’s administration in January 2019. The initiative entailed that asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico whilst awaiting hearings. About 65,000 asylum seekers had been sent back to Northern Mexican cities across the border, returning them to perilous conditions they were hoping to escape.
The series of policies proposed and enacted by Biden is impressive. Though in actuality, his approach to the Mexican-Humanitarian crisis is less than impressive and alarming. Crucially, Biden has chosen to retain the invocation of Title 42, which was introduced by Trump in response to the pandemic. Title 42 entitles the U.S to immediately expel asylum seekers and families found across the border. Since the enactment of Title 42, more than 514,000 immigrants have been expelled, including 13,000 children. The International Rescue Committee has consequently called on Biden to end his use of Title 42, arguing that public health experts have made it clear that asylum-seeking can be safely done even during the pandemic. Although Biden has made an exception for unaccompanied children, this has only led to an increase in the number of children housed in border control stations. As of 24th March 2021, an average of 466 unaccompanied children are arriving daily. These children are kept in the infamous “cages”, in inhumane conditions: sleeping on gym mats with only mylar blanket, not being allowed outside and not being allowed to take showers for days. Moreover, a record 5,100 children were in US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, often being retained for longer than the three-day legal limit.
Meanwhile, Biden has failed to address the misinformation being spread about his immigration policies amongst prospective asylum seekers. Smuggling networks have been utilising social media to spread claims that the U.S border is open, reassuring prospective immigrants that the dangerous trek is worthwhile. Biden has attempted to use radio adverts in Spanish and indigenous languages to tell people that the border is close. However, Gil Kerliljowsle, former CBP commissioner, stated that Biden’s heavy reliance on messaging is a “big mistake”. Having futilely attempted similar messaging schemes over the past 25 years, Biden’s radio campaign in Central America seemed like an inevitable failure. With these measures proving ineffective, Biden resorted to firmer and harsher mechanisms. A majority of families from Ciudad Juarez, who crossed into Texas, are flown to El Paso as Mexican authorities refuse to accept these migrants back; without asking why they came, where they were going and who could receive them in the U.S.
From the left, there has been criticism about the administration’s treatment of unaccompanied children, arguing that they should be released quicker. From the right, Biden’s immigration policies have been blamed for increasing illegal immigration and sending mixed messages. With neither political side satisfied and a worsening humanitarian crisis at the Mexican border, Biden’s immigration policy seems increasingly fruitless, being presented as a characterisation of his presidency.
Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Biden has attempted to distinguish himself from Trump by advocating for a more humane approach to immigration policy. It seems an innate step, considering Trump’s derogatory labelling of Mexicans as “drug-dealers, criminals and rapists”, as well as the heated controversy stirred by his insistence on a Mexican Wall. Biden specifically targeted Trump’s immigration policy, pointing to the “moral failings” of the administration’s approach and proclaiming that “Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants”. Thus, it is clear that Biden’s immigration policy ought to be singled-out as the defining narrative of his presidency and a consequent gauge of his success.
However, a potential failure to make well on his promises is not just an indicator of Biden’s political success. It has broader implications for people’s faith in the political system and the type of political personalities that may emerge. Trump appealed to citizens for a variety of reasons. What unites these reasons is a broader belief that Donald Trump was different. Tired of being consistently betrayed by corrupt politicians who were only in it for themselves and of the worsening rather than improving economic situation, many wanted change that they could not find under the current system. People turned to Trump as the embodiment of change, an individual who was so brazen to the status-quo and as a businessman different from the ‘professional politician’. The 2016 U.S election followed a global trend of disillusionment with a western style of politics, witnessed in events like the Brexit result and the rise of Marie Le Pen.
The election of Biden did not signify a restoration of faith in the political system. The election of Biden was largely treated as a necessary alternative to another Trump presidency; the lesser of two evils. Biden is the ‘cookie-cutter’ model of the modern-day politician; having developed a long career in politics, serving as a member of the senate from 1973 to 2009 and the Vice President from 2009 to 2017. Therefore, a failure to enact his immigration policies and the continued use of immigration control measures that he specifically attacked, is not just a presidential failure: it reaffirms people’s disillusionment in the system. With another “professional politician” being unable to fulfil his promises to the people, citizens will feel inclined to favor more extreme figures who seem genuinely committed to their cause. Biden’s immigration policies and approach to the Mexican-humanitarian crisis is not simply a telling-moment for his presidency: it is a telling moment for the future of both U.S and western politics.
Image Credit: Blacky’s Burrow