Biden is not bringing the change he promised on immigration

Biden is not bringing the change he promised on immigration
President Joe Biden signs executive orders on immigration Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Fifty-five human beings were crushed to death in the confines of a truck estimated to be carrying around two hundred souls. Of those two hundred human beings were almost certainly the ones who perished first, as the truck carrying them, likely speeding, crashed into the steel base of a pedestrian bridge. Survivors have spoken of their ordeal – as best as they can articulate such a horror scene.

Bodybags and white sheets were said to have littered the side of the road while survivors were said to have visible bones broken along with other injuries. It sounds like the set of a horror movie. Witnesses who saw the aftermath recounted how survivors hobbled away into the nearby surrounding streets, still bloodied and injured.

The 55 people who died, which happened in Chiapas Mexico, were migrants trying desperately to enter the United States. Most of them undocumented, they were likely from Guatemala. They were crammed into the truck, because, despite having the right to claim asylum at the US border, they knew the letter of the law does not apply equally.

Packing yourself into a truck container, maybe with your children, presents obvious dangers. For many migrants, though, it’s the better option. Democracies like the United States are failing the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s not right. It’s a downright disgrace.

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In recent months, we saw images of the many thousands of desperate Haitian migrants, dealing with a similar plight, amassing in Del Rio with the hope of having their cases heard. For the majority of them, which was thousands, it was not to be the case. They found themselves swiftly deported to Haiti, some of them facing imminent danger from the moment they disembarked the aircraft.

For the 55 migrants who died in Mexico, they paid a price they knew they might pay, but they were willing to take their chances. That’s how bad the situation is in the homeland they left behind. We know, too, that the US often plays a pivotal role in creating the very conditions that cause people to leave their homelands in the first place.

Despite these sad realities, myths and lies about immigration persist. Presidents, from Kennedy to Obama, might well speak of the central role that migration plays in shaping American democracy. But American history also reflects the fact that so many, despite the evidence, do not believe immigration to be a good thing.

Laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1917, plus the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 reflect a desire to limit immigration (especially from those Black and brown countries outside Europe). Similarly, Donald Trump did not become president in spite of his lies about Mexicans and Muslims, but because of them.

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This is a backward state of affairs for a country in which Lady Liberty exclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

But why let the facts get in the way of appeasing “respectable white people,” to use John Stoehr’s nomenclature, and their fear about immigration? What are the facts? Well, it’s no secret that modern American society would simply not function without immigration. Services would collapse in a day and the same can be said of the United Kingdom. Every honest economist will tell you how immigrants boost the economy as well as innovation. Migration also has a direct positive knock-on effect regarding the democratic process.

Studies have shown, as was the case with researchers at the University of Texas, which looked at a survey of more than 600 Mexican respondents, that having family and friends who have moved abroad makes individuals twice as likely to engage in politics and more likely to become involved in organized protests. It also encourages democratization back home (for all its pros and cons.) The United Nations too, suggests migration contributes to economic development and growth when supported by appropriate policies,

That’s a far cry from the likes of Tucker Carlson.

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I doubt many expected Joe Biden’s presidency to immediately make things better for migrants but at the very least there might have been the expectation that he’d try to roll back Trump’s policies as promised, not double down on them. Nothing will deter migrants from leaving in search of safety and better opportunities, not Title 42, nor the words of Kamala Harris telling would-be migrants not to come.

While this remains the case, the US therefore has an obligation to make routes safer and to prevent those who are going to make the often deadly journey from falling into the hands of human traffickers that create the tragic scenes like the one in Chiapas.

This responsibility doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of the government. Americans need to demand it! Part of that starts with recognizing the basic humanity of migrants, rather than viewing them as threats when in actual fact they are the very backbone of society.

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