Arvanitakis on American politics: What’s happening on the border?

| July 31, 2021

When the incoming President, Joe Biden, took office in January, many had expectations that there would be significant change in the Trump Administration’s policies on the southern border. This was based on Biden had promised a ‘fair and humane’ but, as Politico noted, what he inherited was a complete mess and change on mass scale is never easy.

No one was sure how Biden would achieve this, and things seem to be getting worse before they are likely to get better.

For those wanting to cross the border, the belief that the Biden Administration would be more generous to arrivals acted as a pull factor – just as the Republicans had warned it would.

As Bloomberg reported, U.S. Border Patrol reported 178,416 apprehensions in the Southwest in June, its highest monthly total since early 2000. This is more than a 75 percent increase since February.

An additional challenge for the Biden Administration has been the challenge of reuniting families separated by Trump’s controversial separation policy. The significant delays have proved a challenge to not only the Administration, but to the devastated families looking for loved ones.

What is Biden doing?

The Biden Administration has responded to the increased volume by employing various strategies including transforming the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities into rapid processing centres and expanding of migrant childcare facilities.

The Administration is also arguing that there has been a shift in the demographics of those coming across which will make enforcement easier. What we have seen is a rise in single adults increased in April and May, while the number of families and children declined. This is important because Adults are often easier to repatriate while children pose additional challenges of care, education, housing accommodations and health care needs.

Much to the anger of his own party, Biden has also embraced has the controversial ‘Title 42’ process to send a majority of those who made illegal crossings back immediately. Critics argue that this rapid return process cuts access to humanitarian programs for asylum seekers and incentivizes families to send their children across the border alone – something that has not quite eventuated.

Another strategy has been to invest heavily in clearing the backlog of cases to be reviewed for those seeking asylum. According to researchers at Syracuse University, as of May this year, there were more than 1.3 million pending cases – a number which has steadily grown since the late ’90s.

Such an investment has had positive results with the number of minors in Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement care dropping from 23,000 to about 16,000.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Biden has also entrusted Vice President Kamala Harris to confront the ‘border problem.’ The southern border is now part of her portfolio and she recently visited Guatemala and Mexico in her first foreign trip as US Vice President.

Harris arrived with multiple messages.

The first was that the border crisis could only be solved by increasing prosperity and peace at the source. She announced $310 million in U.S. aid to support refugees and deal with food shortages. She also encouraged, and gained support, from U.S. companies and organisations who committed to investing in Central American countries.  The various commitments also included assistance for housing and entrepreneurs and a $40 million young women’s empowerment initiative.

The second message was aimed at the political classes: end corruption and enable civil society to flourish.

These first two messages where big on promises but vague on goals, timelines and deliverable

The third message was clearly aimed at those thinking about starting the migration trek to the USA border:

I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur, but we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration. And I believe, if you come to our border, you will be turned back.

The Vice President’s comments were widely criticised amongst activists as being insensitive to real asylum seekers. The result has been some tense exchanges with reporters who challenged her, and forcing her to defend her message.

The Republicans

It is a fine line that the Administration must walk. If it is seeing as being too harsh, there will be a revolt amongst its own ranks. If it is too liberal, the Republicans are ready to pounce.

Just how much the Republicans see this as a weak spot for Biden was evident in former president Trump’s repeated attacks at his recent rallies. And House Republicans have been displaying Kamala Harris on milk cartons at news conference with the title: ‘Missing at the border.’

While much of the mid-terms are likely to be fought on cultural issues with the words ‘woke’ and ‘fascism’ through around repeatedly, there remain some key policy differences amongst the two parties.

Despite both southern Democrats and Republicans supporting stronger policies, enforcement has always been questionable. This is because many organisations – who are large donors to both parties – employ undocumented labourers.

This is brutal politics and once again, the most vulnerable are caught in the middle.