by Sunny Robinson
As May 2023 comes, so does the end of Covid restrictions and the end of Title 42, an alleged public health measure used to block immigration. As a result the Biden-Harris administration is about to plunge the U.S. off another cliff of unjust, inhumane, illegal, and racist immigration policies. Having promised immigration “reform” as part of their 2020 campaign commitments, this administration has done little to make it easier or smoother for immigrants fleeing desperate situations to access asylum hearings, much less achieve asylum.
Similarly, the current Congress has also done little to nothing to address immigration reform. Real and lasting reform ultimately requires that such measures be codified by the Congress. Presidents, even if they would, cannot create permanent immigration policies. But they can and should provide fair and humane interim policies.
The May 2nd, deployment of U.S. military personnel to the border is not an acceptable response. As in the Trump administration, these troops cannot carry out police actions; rather they can only assist Customs and Border Protection (CBP). That, however, does not reduce the threat or fear factor of fully armed U.S. troops patrolling the border. They are soldiers trained for war, not facilitating asylum.
As Spring turns to Summer, we can expect the Biden-Harris-Blinken-Mayorkas Administration to tighten the noose around the neck of immigration policy with proposals that mirror Trump’s Remain in Mexico and Third Country Transit Bans, while prohibiting even access to asylum applications if someone attempts to cross the U.S. border anywhere other than at an official port of entry. At the same time, migrants arriving at ports of entry are being required to request their hearings via a smart phone app. Frequently they report great difficulty or failure to access the app and great difficulty actually getting appointments. Some hearings that do get scheduled are years in the future. Those who are waiting are required to do so in crime and violence ridden Mexican border communities where employment and housing are very limited. It remains bitterly ironic that two means of potential income are working for the drug cartels or with human smugglers, often the same groups. Reports indicate there may be as many as two million asylum seekers awaiting their formal hearings.
Other new policies require that refugees apply for a visa and entry from their home country. This might be workable in some countries. But imagine, these days, going into the designated centers in Guatemala or El Salvador to apply for such a visa – situations in countries essentially at war with their own people, especially if those people, in any way, have been protesting policies in their own countries. Or imagine the gangs or smugglers monitoring such centers to identify people who might be receptive to human smugglers or black marketeers! Even in semi-protected communities in the U.S. we cannot accurately imagine the extent of violence and threat in some other countries.
To attempt to enter the U.S. without a visa or in places other than a proper port of entry can mean immediate screening by CBP staff, family separation, detention, and deportation with the caveat that applicants cannot seek to return for five years.
To be sure, there have been some programmatic gains. The Administration promised 30,000 entries a month from the countries of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. March figures reflect that this is occurring, while Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Mexicans and Haitians continue to be denied entry. Ukrainians continue to be able to enter with greater ease than many other groups. But Afghans and other TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holders have not seen their long term presence secured; and it is unclear if the current Congress will extend TPS after expiration dates, as prior congresses have. Funding and personnel for border “security” through CBP, has been increased even though CBP was already the largest, federal policing agency.
History of US Interference creates migration
At stake in this catastrophe is whether the U.S. will acknowledge and respond to the fact that it – the U.S. – through its military, political, and economic policies – has been and remains a major contributor to the conditions that are driving people from their homes and lands. These policies are indeed the Monroe Doctrine at work.
Initiated in 1823, by then President Monroe, this doctrine warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.
Similarly, U.S. Under Secretary of State Robert Olds in 1927 said “We do control the destinies of Central America and we do so for the simple reason that the national interest absolutely dictates such a course… Until now Central America has always understood that governments which we recognize and support stay in power, while those we do not recognize and support fall.”
Such statements have always been taken by the U.S. to mean the U.S. alone can intervene in any way it sees fit in the entirety of the Americas. Surely the U.S. has always done so – from usurping half of Mexico – present day Texas, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, New Mexico, – to fostering the civil wars of Central America in the 80’s, to coups, coup attempts, and current economic policies that favor the profits of U.S. corporations over the genuine development needs of Central American, South American and Caribbean peoples.
Real development assistance would go a long way to helping people be secure at home. The U.S. ought to start by talking directly to people about what they need. The community in Guatemala, with which I have been involved for 30 years, is very clear about their needs so that our partnership assistance has, as a result of their decision making, gone for example, to improving health care, teachers’ salaries, a new middle school, scholarships for high school students, and most recently a covered market building so farmers can sell their produce to each other as well as other communities; drilling a 60o ft. deep well, providing clean water to the whole community after 30 years of searching; and advancing the vision of graveled roads rather than dirt/mud paths that lead to the distant parcelas where the corn, cardamom, cocoa, other produce, and livestock are raised. These self-identified and self-planned projects are distinctly different than the Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Citi Bank, and Chobani exploits Vice President Kamala Harris encouraged on her first trip to Central America in which she also told local people “DO NOT COME!” They are also distinctly different than the current U.S. Honduran embassy efforts to avoid paying local workers, who are constructing the new embassy, the improved wages the recently elected, moderately progressive Ziomara Castro Administration has instituted.
Denying the Right to apply for Asylum.
It remains absolutely clear, under both U.S. and international law, that people fleeing persecution or violence have the right to seek asylum. It also remains true within the declarations of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. is a signature that, as stated in Article 25 “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself/herself and family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his/her control.”
If the U.S. will not assist people in their home countries to help overcome the very situations U.S. policy has helped create, then the U.S. must welcome and assist these many displaced peoples here. Justice demands nothing less!
How do we, as justice seeking advocates, convince our Congress, especially our current Congress, to spend our tax dollars on genuine assistance to foreign countries, as well as assistance to immigrants and others in need in this country, rather than on enormous military expenditures and nuclear weapons?
Added to these issues of massive migration related to violence and persecution, the acknowledged criteria for granting asylum, is the ever increasing challenge of migration. These can be the result of climate change and other issues of environmental destruction (such as massive US based agribusiness, mining, other extractive industries, and hydroelectric power projects that rob communities of their water and cause the deaths of local, often indigenous, water defenders). How do we respond to migration stemming from these issues? How is the desire of our rich-country-of-the- north for more electric vehicles balanced with the environmental destruction from lithium extraction in the deserts of Chile or its mining in Mexico? Who should receive the profits of those efforts? What should be the required and enforced environmental standards?
What is to be done?
These questions get no easier to address as xenophobia, racism, and unrestrained, international capitalism become more deeply entrenched. At the federal level, it has become even harder to advocate to secure permanent status with the right to work and a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) and also permanent status for TPS holders while also providing sufficient numbers of trained immigration judges to thoroughly and fairly consider asylum cases. (Approximately 75% of cases heard quickly on arrival, often by untrained CBP personnel, are denied, whereas 75% of cases heard by professional immigration judges are granted.) None of this will be readily accomplished in the current Congress or courts even as we all must keep pushing in those directions.
Similarly, lifting sanctions of all kinds on countries, especially Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, needs to happen as quickly as possible so these countries can advance their own, sovereign efforts to develop and sustain their own economies.
At the local level here in Massachusetts we will again this year have the opportunity to advance the Safe Communities Act to assure our local police and sheriffs’ departments are prohibited from doing the work of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as well as pass a Language Access bill that will require state agencies to provide assistance and materials in all commonly occurring languages. If we truly believe in fostering equality and diversity, these are steps we must take.
None of us can do these things alone. We all need centers of collective action. Join us in organizations like MAPA’s LA/CWG or MIRA (Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy). Contribute to border organizations like Annunciation House or Hope Border institute in El Paso and Haitian Bridge Alliance in L.A.
Join us in MAPA’s Latin America Caribbean Working Group which meets the first Monday of every month by zoom at 5:15-6:45. Contact Derek Sexton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunny Robinson is an active member of the MAPA Latin America and Caribbean Working Group, who has been involved with human rights and justice efforts for decades, much of which focused on Central America and especially Guatemala.