The brutality experienced by asylum-seekers at the border did not end with the expiration of Trump’s Title 42. Three years into Biden’s presidency, record numbers of migrants have died attempting to cross the border, and the circumstances they face when seeking asylum are getting increasingly dangerous. Texas governor Greg Abbott’s $4.5 billion border initiative – “Operation Lone Star” – has been rightfully demonized for its cruel and inhumane attempts to deter migrants. These include the recent unveiling of a “floating wall” of giant buoys along the Rio Grande containing razor-wire booby-traps, and an uptick in the years-long mistreatment of migrants by law enforcement.
The Rio Grande is already considered one of the most dangerous routes for migrants, and these extreme measures have drawn criticism even from some of the Border Patrol agents and troopers deployed to the area, citing their concerns for the difficulty of rescue caused by the infrastructure. So far, Abbott has bussed tens of thousands of migrants to northern Democrat-controlled cities like Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, as well as California. Florida governor Ron DeSantis set aside $12 million to do the same. But when these migrants arrive in allegedly progressive cities with Democratic Party mayors, they face the same message as Republicans: NYC Mayor Eric Adams echoed Vice President Kamala Harris by flat-out telling migrants, “don’t come here.”
In the 2020 presidential debate, Biden rebuked Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy and cruel statements regarding the countless number of families being separated at the border and later vowed to “not build another foot of Trump’s wall.” His campaign website boasted a promise to “modernize America’s immigration system,” but three years later, the circumstances demonstrate otherwise.
Border wall construction hasn’t slowed down at all since the earliest days of Biden’s term – in fact, he’s waived more than a dozen laws and regulations in order to expedite the building of the wall, including slipping anti-immigrant loopholes into the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act. Last year, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed their plans to construct 86 miles of barrier in the Rio Grande Valley – more than four times longer than the 21 miles built along the Texas-Mexico border by the Trump administration.
Biden’s immigration plan equates to an asylum ban, requiring migrants to first apply for asylum in another country on their way to the US. In the same 2020 debate mentioned above, Biden condemned Trump for doing exactly this. For most migrants, this legislation means applying in a neighboring country that is likely faced with the very same horrific conditions from which they’re seeking safety. Another of the president’s ideas of a “modernized” plan is the use of an app for booking appointments – an app riddled with glitches that make it virtually unusable for the few migrants that actually have access to phones and internet on their journey.
The number of undocumented migrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers has more than doubled since Biden took office. As of July, 90% of people detained in ICE custody are held in facilities owned and/or operated by private prison corporations. Two of these corporations are CoreCivic and GEO Group, who collectively raked in roughly $1.6 billion in revenue from ICE contracts alone. Despite outrage at inhumane treatment, Congress appropriated nearly $3 billion to hold 34,000 people in ICE detention each day for the fiscal year 2023. The Biden administration has also continued to operate detention facilities that have been recommended for closure due to safety risks and abusive conditions.
In 2021, the entire internet got a firsthand up-close look at the atrocities committed by CBP agents against Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. Images depicting agents on horseback attacking migrants were met with warranted harsh criticism, forcing a vague promise by Homeland Security to launch an investigation. Nearly 60% of the Haitian population live below the poverty line, and the country has endured a series of catastrophic blows, including high-magnitude earthquakes, crumbling infrastructure, and the ever-present threat of agriculture decline in the context of a rapidly accelerating climate crisis. Haitians and countless other migrants from the neocolonial world are fleeing conditions that have all been exacerbated by capitalism’s interminable pursuit of profits.
Dangers of the GOP
From day one, Trump relied heavily on bigoted rhetoric to push for more stringent immigration policy, famously stating that Mexico was going to pay for his wall and that “some” of the Mexicans immigrating to the US were “good people,” but many were “gang members, rapists, drug dealers, and other criminals.” In the second Republican presidential debate a few weeks ago, the candidates’ proposed immigration policies were almost entirely indistinguishable from one another’s; nearly every Republican running for president favors the wall.
This shared sentiment among Republican politicians has reinforced the far-right’s confidence in their own bigotry. The pandemic, with Trump’s corresponding anti-Asian comments, saw an uptick in hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. In the months following Trump’s warnings of an “immigrant invasion” at the southern border, a man drove from Dallas to the border city of El Paso and murdered 23 people inside a Walmart.
This rise in racially-motivated crimes is the most extreme example of the deepening effects of right populism on a certain layer of the working class looking for answers to their problems in all the wrong places. The Democrats have failed to offer any viable alternative to right-wing sentiments and have instead provided only a more subtle anti-immigrant message. This shows the urgent need to build a working class political alternative that can unite immigrants and non-immigrants behind a program to raise wages and keep up with inflation; to provide quality, affordable housing; Medicare for All; fully-funded public education; and to create more good jobs.
GOP Bigotry Rests On Policy Designed By Dens
The Democratic Party has demonstrated time and time again that any pro-immigrant statements they make are worth nothing. The proof is in the pudding. Between 2008-2010, even though Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, they failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would’ve granted a path to full citizenship for undocumented workers. DACA was eventually enacted by executive order to protect eligible young adults who were brought to the US as children from deportation and provide them with work authorization for temporary, renewable periods. While this was a sizable relief for the 800,000 DACA recipients, the Obama administration continued on to deport and detain (in the cages they built) more migrants than any previous administration.
Democrats have long advocated for the free trade agreements responsible for the devastation and destabilization of Central American countries and Mexico, and Biden is no exception. The countless obstacles migrants are met with on the years-long path to citizenship continue to leave the millions who’ve fled that devastation in an endless limbo.
Lessons From The 2006 Strike
In the spring of 2006, millions of immigrant workers held demonstrations all across the country to protest the Bush administration’s H.R. 4437 – a reactionary bill calling for the criminalization of all undocumented immigrants. These protests, mass boycotts, walk-outs, and strikes attested to immigrant workers’ essential place in the US working class and pointed out the hypocrisy of criminalizing immigrants whose systematic super-exploitation provides the backbone of the profits of the US capitalist class.
H.R. 4437 did fail to pass, but the overall momentum of the movement was ultimately stamped out due to both its isolation to the immigrant community (and the union leadership’s failure to mobilize US-born workers in support). Leaders in the most prominent immigrants’ rights NGOs, Latino business organizations, and unions disgracefully refused to endorse the walk-outs and strikes, exposing their fear of emboldening migrant workers to fight for radical demands that would jeopardize the profits of Latino business owners. The ruling class was able to further isolate and extinguish the movement by mass-deporting Latino workers who were unionizing. Today, migrants remain in a second-class status that benefits only the corporations that pay migrants poverty wages and exploit them as a tactic to bust unions, consequently driving down all workers’ wages and working conditions.
Rebuild Mass Struggle!
The entire working class is faced with increasingly worse conditions under Biden. The rotten capitalist system that drives migrants from their home countries in search of work is the same system that uses their second-class status in the US to further divide the entire working class. In addition to broad demands for affordable housing, Medicare for All, and fully-funded public education, native-born workers must link their struggles with those of the most marginalized and oppressed workers, demanding an end to detentions and deportations, the abolition of ICE, and immediate full citizenship for all migrant workers in the US in order to build the multinational mass movement needed to end capitalism’s exploitation, crisis, and oppression.