Crisis at the Border? What Crisis?

5 mins read
Border crossing
Inadmissible aliens, some seeking asylum, are processed by CBP officers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, November 23, 2018. Photo by Mani Albrecht. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Public Affairs, Visual Communications Division.

Words like “crisis” and “surge” make for great headlines, especially when talking about immigration at the U.S. border and searching for something scandalous to pin on a new presidential administration. 

But if the Biden administration is suffering from an influx of immigrants at the border, one reason is because Biden kept a campaign promise and ended the euphemistically named Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) that made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico. Then, of course, there are seasonal factors and the so-called “push” and “pull” factors. Let’s unpack some of this because immigration is a complex issue. 

One reason the shelters at the border have filled up fast is because the Biden administration is no longer sending asylum-seekers back over the border to wait in Mexico. This was what was known as the MMP, a Trump administration policy that simply moved the humanitarian crisis to the other side of the border, subjecting as many as 60,000 migrants to serious danger from hunger, disease, drug cartels and human traffickers. So naturally when Biden ended this policy, thousands poured into the U.S. at the border. 

Asylum-seekers celebrate

Whenever the topic of immigration comes up the experts will talk about push and pull factors, and of course, Republican senators, along with media outlets from both right and left, are blaming Biden for being a pull factor. But what they seem to conveniently forget is that immigration is also seasonal, always increasing in the warmer months. Before instating the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and despite two years of cruel practices such as child separation, the Trump administration suffered a similar influx of immigrants in March 2019. The group of Republican senators who recently went to the border feigning great concern was silent back then, even though shocking images such as this were being widely distributed in news outlets at the time.

Asylum-seekers at the U.S. border with Mexico
USA Today Network/Sipa USA

As far as push factors, there are always many but more so now as poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is made worse during the pandemic. Add two recent devastating hurricanes to the gang violence that constantly threatens many who come seeking asylum and you’ve got a perfect recipe for mass migration from these countries. Working to remedy these push factors by providing targeted aid to the Northern Triangle countries will be part of the Biden administration’s long-term plan but unfortunately they have to start back from scratch. Toward the end of 2019 the Trump administration shut down U.S.-backed humanitarian relief programs. 

After four years of cruel, inhumane policies and the quiet, constant dismantling of U.S. asylum law and the immigration system by Trump advisor Stephen Miller, it’s pretty surprising to see the press latch on to narratives that blame the new president for the problems. Fortunately not all of the coverage is one-sided, and conversations such as this between CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Catherine Shoichet really help put things in perspective. We can also thank representatives such as Veronica Escobar (D-TX) who deeply understand the complexities of the situation and explain rather than politicize when members of the press try to push the narrative.

The Biden administration is struggling with this problem right now precisely because they are following the letter of the law rather than scoffing at it or redesigning it to their purposes as was done previously. To make matters worse, the non-cooperation policy of the former administration meant that precious time that could have been used to prepare for this influx of migrants was wasted. 

We have seen how fast Biden can get his team organized to act, so while we can realistically acknowledge these grave problems, we should also have faith that the immigrants coming over the border now will be treated better and that part of the new administration’s long-term plan is badly needed: comprehensive immigration reform.

For a deeper look at Biden’s immigration bill, read this recent article by Hassan Ahmad.

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Para una versión en inglés de este artículo, lea "A Recurring Nightmare."

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