Mass deportations. Border agents on horseback threatening Haitian migrants with their reins.
Expulsions from the United States using the Covid excuse; blocking asylum applications from inside U.S. territory; forcing refugees to wait months in Mexico for an answer to their pleas for protection; pressing Mexico to become a new border wall; an immigration system based on physical force and containment, and a legalization process totally jammed up.
That's not what Joe Biden promised.
A document from the campaign of the then-presidential candidate declared his “commitment to a fair and humane immigration system.” But that's not what we have seen during Biden's early months in the White House.
If the Trump administration was marked by its cruelty for immigrants, the separation of families and images of children in cages, Biden's also has its weak points. The videos of Border Patrol agents using their reins to threaten and throwing their horses at Haitian immigrants are shameful. It is incredible that in 2021 such actions by government agents are allowed. (The case is under investigation.) But there's more.
Biden, like Trump, is still using Title 42 to deport migrants for public health reasons. From this February to August he deported more than 690,000 people under the Covid excuse. And during the same period the Border Patrol detained nearly half a million undocumented migrants – known as “inadmissibles” under Title 8 – who also may be deported. That does not seem to be a “fair and humane policy.”
Biden does not want to be compared with former President Barack Obama, who expelled more than 5 million people during his eight years in the White House. In fact, then-candidate Biden told me during an interview in February 2020 that those massive deportations by Obama were a “big mistake.” That's why it's so surprising that Biden, continuing the Obama tactics, is still deporting thousands of people who may have legitimate reasons to stay.
That reality – deportations, arrests and obstacles to applying for legal entry – clashes with the declarations and documents of the Biden administration, which wants to portray itself in public as humanistic and understanding. The White House published a document in July claiming that in its first six months it “made considerable progress to build a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system while continuing to call on Congress to make long overdue reforms to U.S. immigration laws.” But none of that was actually achieved.
What we're seeing is a government reacting, sometimes chaotically, to the crises as they erupt on the border with Mexico. For example, they were totally surprised when 15,000 migrants, most of them from Haiti, turned up under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, in U.S. territory. And undocumented migrants are arriving everywhere, in the absence of an orderly, consistent and just policy for dealing with them.
The message reaching Central America is clear: Donald Trump is not in the White House any more, and the border is full of holes. It opens and closes. That's why so many are risking the trek north. Of course, that is not the official message of the U.S. government. As Vice President Kamala Harris and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insist, the border is closed.
In the end, hunger and fear win out. It is less risky to cross the Mexican border with the United States than to face hunger in Guatemala, violence in Honduras and gangs in El Salvador. And the plans by Mexico and the United States to invest billions in Central America – to deal with the root causes of the migrations – could take years or decades to have any measurable impact. The future is many months of hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to cross the southern U.S. border in any way they can. And officials are just trying to plug holes and put out fires. The Biden immigration policy, so far, has been reactive.
Just as the president has failed in his well intentioned effort toward a “fair, orderly, and humane immigration system,” his drive to get Congress to approve an immigration reform that would legalize the majority of the 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States has collapsed. The Senate does not have the 60 votes needed to approve an immigration reform or the political will to end the filibuster, which would allow passage of a new immigration law with just 50 votes.
Also failed was the plan to legalize millions of Dreamers and farm and essential workers through the complicated process of budget reconciliation in Congress. The Senate's parliamentarian has twice said “No.” And Democrats do not dare say no to the parliamentarian.
That leaves Biden in a precarious situation. None of his campaign promises on immigration – with the exception of Temporary Protective Status for Venezuelans – have been met.
Democrats, who today control the White House and both chambers of Congress, have been famous for promising much and delivering little. We have been hearing their promises since 1986, and millions of undocumented are still waiting. If this continues, and Biden and the Democrats don't do something dramatic and effective, Hispanic voters could revolt in the 2022 and 2024 elections.
I understand that it's the Republicans who are responsible for blocking nearly all of the immigration reforms before Congress, but it's the Democrats who made most of the promises. And the time has come to deliver or suffer the consequences.
This panorama is not the one that Biden painted when he said he wanted to be president. It seems that the system – deportations, physical power along the border and open resistance to the integration of the new immigrants – is winning.
The bad old habits – like those border agents on horseback – have not given way to more sympathetic and humanitarian practices. That anti-immigration stream, so Trumpist, has proven to be more powerful than the new president until now. For the migrants, unfortunately, there's not a lot of difference between Biden and Trump.