How can the US address the roots of migration in the region, when it itself sows the seeds for instability, violence, poverty and inequality?
For months, the Biden administration has been putting a thick, sugary spin on its Mexico-Central America policy of “addressing the root causes” of migration.
This facade came crashing down on Monday however, when Vice President Kamala Harris told desperate refugees, “Do not come” during visits to Guatemala and Mexico on Monday and Tuesday.
“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making the dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: do not come...We…will discourage illegal migration. And I believe, if you come to our border you will be turned back,” she said.
No Safe Entry
While Harris was blunt and cold, she was bizarrely inaccurate in her statements on illegal migration. Both international and US laws state that migrants have the right to apply for asylum, no matter how they arrive. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is legally required to conduct non refoulement screenings to avoid deporting people who need protection.
However, the US administration has not been carrying out these legal obligations.
Employing the pandemic excuse, the US-Mexico border has been closed and all migrants and refugees have been turned away within a few hours of arrival. Between February and April this year, the CBP expelled almost 290,000 migrants under Title 42, the public health order, without performing the required screenings.
From mid-May, Biden said 250 vulnerable asylum seekers would be allowed to enter the US per day. But people are still being turned around, and the criteria for determining who is “vulnerable” is unclear.
Meanwhile, it can take a decade or more for US citizens to sponsor family members for visas, while other visa paths are limited to migrants with at least a college degree.
The closed border has meant that refugees have been forced to take even more dangerous routes, walking through the desert and travelling on overcrowded boats. In two months, at least 16 migrants have been killed in accidents near the border.
Migrants don’t risk kidnapping, torture, death and rape for fun. Harris’ “Do not come,” rings particularly naive and condescending, given that refugees are fleeing because they have no choice.
Inhumane Migrant Policy
In February, Biden issued an Executive Order with his plan to address “the root causes” of migration. It argued that “violence, instability, and lack of opportunity” should be rectified to prevent people fleeing their country.
At face value, it sounds okay. However, Harris’ wording this week made it clear the US doesn’t have any empathy for migrants. Rather, the US’ migration policy is a tool for deepening its economic abuse of and control over the region.
Biden’s Central America policy involves $4 billion to reduce “barriers to private sector investment” and “ensuring labour practices do not disadvantage competition”. Harris has also used the “root causes” discourse to strike deals with the regions’ governments so that companies such as Microsoft, Mastercard and Nespresso can exploit Central American labour under the guise of “promoting economic opportunity.”
The move is a continuation of the US’ economic colonisation of the region, which only deepens poverty and inequality.
There are thousands of US-owned transnationals in Mexico and Central America that take advantage of and foster lower labour costs, degrading working conditions, few taxes and cheap leases and utilities to then send the products and profits to the US. Honduran workers are paid 8 cents, for example, to make football shirts that sell for $25.
The US prioritises maximising the profits of its business empire, not human rights. The US is not capable of addressing the root causes of migration, because it is one of them.
Throughout history, the US has supported repressive, conservative regimes in Latin America because they are the ones that protect its business interests. It has violently opposed movements and governments that have sided with the poor and could have actually decreased inequality and prevented migration.
It has supplied military dictatorships with arms and training. It supported the 2009 coup in Honduras against a left-leaning president, and it has perpetuated economic sabotage, environmental desecration and cultural carnage through trade agreements like NAFTA, UMSCA, and CAFTA which give US companies the best possible conditions.
US transnationals turned Honduras into a one-crop economy, and by the 1980s, US political and military control of Honduras was so strong that the country was often called “USS Honduras”. The US’ arms industry is worth $175.08 and 70 percent of Mexico’s guns come from that.
US militarisation of Mexico in the name of the “War on Drugs” led to a 900 percent increase in drug cartels between 2006 and 2012.
Now, the US is trading on a farce of vaccine diplomacy, by first hogging 2.6 billion vaccines, then playing the hero when Harris told the Guatemalan and Mexican presidents the US would be sending them 500,000 doses and 1 million doses, respectively. Mexico’s population is 128 million.
The US’ foreign policy is to systematically and violently safeguard its accumulated wealth and power. It has manufactured a climate of hell in the region, then on Monday and Tuesday, it closed the door in the face of those fleeing the fire.
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