Despite softer rhetoric, in practice the Biden administration’s immigration strategy is largely an extension of punitive Trump-era policies.
Shocking images of US border patrol agents in Texas violently rounding up Haitian migrants on horseback has stirred criticism of President Joe Biden and his administration’s harsh crackdown at the southern border.
In what is turning out to be one of America's swiftest mass expulsions in decades, more than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have already been removed from an encampment at the Texas border town of Del Rio.
The past few weeks have seen more than 14,000 migrants gather in a huge makeshift camp under a bridge in squalid conditions hoping to be granted asylum status to remain in the US.
A substantial number of Hiatian migrants coming via Mexico had originally fled to Chile or Brazil following the 2010 earthquake. A more recent group of Haitians have sought refuge after the devasting August earthquake and assassination of president Jovenel Moise in July.
I’m scared,” said Gary Monplaisir, a 26-year-old Haitian man, who traveled from Chile to the US border with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. “I don’t have a plan.”
Homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called the border crisis a “challenging and heartbreaking situation,” before he issued a warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”
Many migrants are arriving at the border in part because the pandemic has made opportunities limited in their countries of origin and are counting on a more compassionate Biden government.
But those betting on a soft-hearted Biden are likely to be disappointed, as his administration has maintained and defended some of the harshest Trump-era provisions. While the US designated Haiti for temporary protected status four months ago – and extended and expanded it only five weeks ago – 320 people have been expelled back to Haiti in the last 24 hours.
The expectation is that most of the 14,000 plus migrants at the border will be rounded up and repatriated over the coming days.
An ally or oppressor?
While the Trump administration couched their border policies in xenophobic fearmongering, Biden, despite promising a different approach during his election campaign, has so not been substantively different.
Much like former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Biden has often employed liberal language (America as a “nation of immigrants”) to provide cover for what is essentially a bipartisan anti-immigrant consensus.
In doing so, Biden has arguably created the worst of all worlds: his softer rhetoric has encouraged hope for migrants who make the long trek, only to face the same hardline policies they would have met under Trump.
“The Biden Administration doesn’t get to be both an ally of immigrant communities and an active oppressor,” the UndocuBlack Network, a community of current and former undocumnented Black advocates, said on Twitter before ending the tweet with the hashtag #BidenAlsoDeports.
The Biden Administration doesn't get to be both an ally of immigrant communities and an active oppressor. And the daughter of immigrants Kamala doesn't get to use her immigrant ties to get our support for her election but then play bystander to our plight. #BidenAlsoDeports— UndocuBlack Network (@UndocuBlack) September 16, 2021
In particular, the Biden administration has continued rapid expulsions under Title 42, a Trump-era regulation that permitted mass deportations of migrants due to Covid-19 concerns. Under that provision, migrants could be kicked out before having a chance to apply for asylum.
Under Trump, nearly half a million were removed under its purview. Since coming to power, Biden has deported nearly 700,000 under the law.
The provision itself is highly controversial – and potentially illegal. Last Thursday, a judge barred the Biden administration from using Title 42 as justification to expel migrants. However, the ruling won’t go into effect for fourteen days. In the meantime, the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) is exploiting it to execute mass deportations.
The Del Rio encampment is not only a humanitarian disaster, but a political minefield for the Biden administration.
It has also revealed bipartisan hypocrisy.
The Republicans have politicised the crisis, as conservative figures and media were quick to use the events to frame Democrats as open border advocates rather than admit any policy continuity with the previous ruling dispensation.
On the other hand, many Democrats that lambasted Trump for his malignant border policies have been largely silent, as Biden has embraced much of the same cruelty, dysfunction and “kids in cages” strategy as his predecessor.
Vice president Kamala Harris specifically pledged to eliminate Title 42 after a letter she signed to Trump’s DHS secretary, which stated: “A public health crisis does not give the executive branch a free pass to violate constitutional rights, nor does it give the executive branch permission to operate outside of the law.”
At a structural level, it’s not an accident Biden has chosen to continue some of Trump’s legacy, absent of comprehensive immigration reform.
The core of dysfunction is a court system overwhelmed with a backlog of a record-high 1.4 million cases, which means if authorities let people into the US before their asylum cases have been adjudicated, it could take years before ever getting a court date.