Victor Silverman y Miguel Tinker Salas*
Before embarking on his visit to Mexico, U.S. President Joe Biden announced his intention to extend the immigration policy imposed on Venezuelans in October 2022 and apply it to immigrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. Under this new criteria, his government would admit 30,000 migrants each month. At first glance, Biden’s action appears to be a generous gesture based on the liberal sentiments of a president who promised to safeguard our values as a nation of immigrants.
Biden’s plan is nothing more than a symbolic gesture that will ultimately end up denying asylum to the majority of immigrants who will never qualify under his bill. In practice, his administration continues to implement the policies of former President Donald Trump. His actions demonstrate the continuity that exists between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to immigration. Using Title 42 (a health measure dating back to 1944) Biden will limit the ability of immigrants to apply for asylum upon arrival at the U.S.-Mexico border. And not only does Title 42 apply to these immigrants, it also imposes another hurdle put in place by Trump. Immigrants will not be able to claim asylum if they have not first applied for, and been denied, asylum in the countries they crossed to get to the U.S.
In Biden’s new plan, migrants must apply for asylum through an app from their country of origin, have a valid passport, have an airline ticket and demonstrate that they have the economic sponsorship of a person in the US, conditions that favor people with economic resources and family members in the US. To ensure that unwanted migrants do not enter, Biden, like every Republican and Democrat president, proposes to invest more than $3.5 billion to add thousands of new immigration agents and to continue militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border. Even though U.S. and international law offers migrants the right to seek asylum, Biden’s message in January 2023 is the same as that of his vice president, Kamala Harris, in June 2021 in Guatemala: Don’t come.
Faced with the possibility that the Biden administration would terminate the use of Title 42, a group of Republican governors filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court that allowed its continuation. Although Biden publicly stated: “I don’t like Title 42,” his administration has not only used it, but it is now expanding it to include new countries. Pushed by Stephen Miller, Trump’s racist advisor, Title 42 was used as a pretext during the pandemic to prohibit an immigrant from applying for asylum. Through Title 42, Department of Homeland Security agents expelled more than 2.5 million refugees even though they had a reasonable fear considering the conditions that existed in their countries of origin.
Although Biden would like to emphasize his liberal stance and blame Republicans for opposing comprehensive immigration reform, in practice he has followed the anti-immigrant policies of Obama (the president who has deported the most people) and Trump. His advisors prefer to avoid a confrontation with both Democratic and Republican conservatives. Even more important is the fact that Biden’s proposal expresses a new vision on immigration and sanctuary in the context of a new post-neoliberal world order.
The Democrats prefer to blame the Republicans in order to avoid their responsibility for the migration crisis, a product of neoliberalism, the so-called war on drugs and war conflicts, not only on their borders, but in the entire world. Until the end of 2022, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency; however, no progress was made on immigration reform. The same happened in the first Obama administration.
Biden’s new policy highlights the hypocrisy in the creation and treatment of so-called wanted and unwanted immigrants. Which Trump at the time called immigrants from shithole countries. Under this criteria, Europeans are welcome, particularly Ukrainians, but the door is closed to Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Africans as well. Biden’s new plan will aggravate the humanitarian crisis at the border.
The disaster at the borders between the so-called northern and southern countries reflects more than a conflict between human values and political needs. The world system requires a large part of humanity to live in precarious conditions and at the same time demands the free movement of goods, unrestricted investment and rapid financial flows. Freedom, the great concern of neoliberals, is not within the reach of the vast majority of humanity who will continue to face obstacles and walls as they attempt to escape the precarious conditions in their home countries.
Liberals in the U.S. (and of course other countries) have abandoned their 20th century social democratic vision of a world of equality, mobility and general development. Today, they propose that we have to accept a world divided between those who will cross borders with passports and visas, carrying credit cards, and other privileges and those who will walk through jungles like the Darien or cross stormy seas like the Mediterranean while carrying their children and their dreams on their shoulders.
The world has been divided into two groups: those who can anticipate a cultural experience in any destination and those who face barbed wire and walls. At the foot of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, the Sephardic American poet Emma Lazarus described the ideals of immigration policy of an earlier era in the U.S.: “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Today the famous line would have to be updated: “Send me your wealthy classes, your educated sectors and your oligarchs willing to invest.”
*Professors at Pomona College
This article was published in Spanish in La Jornada on January 9th, 2023. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2023/01/09/opinion/020a2pol#texto
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.