By Barry Sheppard
On January 5 President Biden “announced a far-reaching crackdown on people who seek refuge at the border with Mexico, dramatically expanding restrictions on asylum in the most aggressive effort of his administration to discourage migrants from crossing into the United States,” reported the New York Times.
He expanded a Trump-era policy known as Title 42 under which agents on the Mexican border expel any immigrants who cross the border to apply to immigration authorities for asylum, without any hearings or other due process.
This violates internationally recognized policy on refugees applying for asylum on a country’s border, which the U.S. had recognized (however poorly) before Title 42.
That process says that a refugee has the right to apply for asylum by crossing the border to apply to the border authorities, which then allows the refugee into the country while their case is considered and ruled upon.
Title 42 ostensibly was to limit the spread of the Covid virus, a trumped-up reason to deny people initially from Central America fleeing extreme poverty, violence and political persecution from even applying for asylum. These conditions themselves are due to decades of U.S. imperialist exploitation, U.S. created wars and coups.
It was expanded to include Haitians, other South Americans and Caribbeans, Africans, and Arabs – rarely whites from Europe.
Title 42 is now under review by the Supreme Court, but no matter how the Court rules, Biden is embracing another Trump policy, under which immigrants who travel through a third country to get to the border are denied consideration of asylum if they haven’t applied for asylum in that country. So, all non-Mexicans who reach the Mexican border with the U.S. are denied asylum.
Also on January 5, the Department of Homeland Security said that migrants who violated that rule and crossed the border would be barred from seeking legal entry to the U.S. for five years.
Biden has now singled out people from four countries, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. To enter the U.S., they will have to have passports from their country, get a visa from the U.S. Embassy there, “have the means to afford a plane ticket, get a sponsor in the U.S., download an app, pass a background check and meet other requirements,” according to the Times.
The U.S. would let in a total of 30,000 people a year from those countries – if they met all these requirements. Obviously, this would exclude the most vulnerable and anyone the U.S. decided against issuing a visa to.
At the same time, the U.S. would continue deporting 30,000 immigrants a year who had crossed the border.
Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are under U.S. sanctions (Cuba since the early years of the Revolution has been under an embargo). People from those countries who flee are leaving conditions created by those U.S. sanctions and other U.S. policies.
In the case of Cuba, the new rule is actually an improvement over the previous rule which was in place since the start of the Cuban Revolution of automatically accepting into the U.S. any Cuban who stepped on U.S. soil. Now Cubans will have to apply to the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana for a visa, and meet the other requirements.
[Previous US policies on immigration from Cuba have been an anomaly to within broader US immigration policy. The US gave special treatment to Cubans, sometimes especially favouring boat arrivals, to encourage and publicise migration for political reasons – Ed.]
The horrible conditions in Haiti under the current U.S.-supported government are the latest example of over 100 years of U.S. military interventions, economic exploitation, and coups. In recent times, the U.S. overthrew Haiti’s first elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, at the request of the Haitian bourgeoisie.
Aristide was working toward improvement of the living conditions for workers and the poor.
Anti-Black racism is another factor. We have seen scenes on TV of Haitian immigrants herded under bridges without shelter, chased down by Border Patrol on horseback and assaulted with clubs and whips. Many thousands have been deported back to Haiti.
Under Trump and Biden tens of thousands of immigrants have been living in tents under terrible conditions on the Mexican side of the border, hoping for the end of Title 42.
Biden is not just a continuation of Trump, but of all presidents since Reagan began the militarization of the border in 1986. Under George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden there has been the growth of that militarization.
Biden’s January 5 speech was immediately condemned by human rights groups and immigrant advocates.
“Eleanor Acer, the director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First called the new policies ‘a humanitarian disgrace’ and said the president should not be adding restrictions on people who seek refuge in the United States,” said the New York Times.
“‘The Biden administration should be taking steps to restore asylum law at ports of entry,’ Ms. Acer said, ‘not doubling down on cruel and counterproductive policies from the Trump playbook.’’’
On January 8 Biden made a quick trip of less than four hours to the border town of El Paso, Texas, before visiting Mexico.
On January 10, Democracy Now host Amy Goodman said that before he went to Mexico for a state visit, “Biden visited El Paso, which is one of the country’s busiest border crossings, in his first visit to the border since taking office two years ago.
“Ahead of his arrival, border agents and police arrested migrants sleeping outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church shelter. State troopers have patrolled El Paso’s streets since the city issued a disaster declaration last month to address hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees needing assistance.
“During Biden’s four-hour visit to El Paso, he visited a border crossing, walked along a metal border fence, stopped by the El Paso Migrant Services Center, but did not meet with any migrants.”
Goodman also interviewed Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights.
“I think there’s a big level of disappointment in the El Paso region … not only because it was a very short trip … but also in the context where it happened…. There’s an announcement by the president that he’s implementing the extension of this anti-immigrant provision, called Title 42, that is expelling a lot of migrants illegally” Garcia said.
Asked if he met with Biden, Garcia said “No we did not … not many stakeholders actually got to meet with the president.
“He did exactly the opposite of what we were expecting from him to come to El Paso… We would expect him to come and meet with community organizations, with families, refugees in downtown El Paso, that are living in a very harsh environment. They are very visible, especially this church called Sacred Heart…
“The president should have just ridden by that street, along that church, and he would have seen all these situations that actually tells the humanitarian crisis at the border. I think they wanted to ignore it or they didn’t care about those families.
“It seems [the trip] was just a photo-op…”
Asked what he would have told the president if he had met him, Garcia said, “Don’t use Title 42. Don’t expand it…. You criticized it before. And now you are expanding it. And now you are setting out to expel thousands and thousands of people to Mexico, where there is a lot of violence… There are families, children who don’t have a place to go. They are suffering a very harsh policy that you, President, are embracing.”