Today is a momentous day for U.S. immigration policy – Title 42, the measure first imposed over three years ago that has become a centerpiece of border policy, is expiring. Title 42 constituted a near blanket ban, ostensibly for public health reasons, on people entering the United States to seek asylum. However, the Biden administration is rolling out a range of new repressive measures to take its place in yet another broken promise to the immigrant rights movement.
The administration announced that it would be deploying an additional 1,500 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing the total number of soldiers in the area to 4,000. Border Patrol and ICE are upping their capacity to hold thousands more migrants in their network of detention centers notorious the world over for inhumane conditions. Border Patrol opened two new holding facilities this week, and ICE is upping its capacity so it can jail 5,000 additional people.
In addition to militarization, the Biden administration is implementing a change to U.S. asylum policy that could make the system almost as restrictive as it was under Title 42. Under the new rule, no one who travels through a country other than their home nation before reaching the United States would be eligible to apply for asylum. A person from Guatemala, for instance, who travels through Mexico and then arrives at the Texas border, would be immediately deported. If it was an entire family that arrived, then they will be allowed to stay in the United States for a few weeks while wearing an ankle monitor until a perfunctory court hearing – a new practice called Family Expedited Removal Management.
Effectively the same policy was implemented under Trump in a move that was condemned by then-candidate Joe Biden and ultimately ruled illegal in court. The Immigration and Nationality Act guarantees the right of nearly anyone who reaches the United States to apply for asylum, and Biden’s policy is likely to be challenged on the same basis as Trump’s.
Biden’s broken promises
About 2.8 million people have been expelled from the country under Title 42. The policy quickly became a prime example of the blanket hostility to all immigrants and refugees that characterized the Trump administration, and which Biden pledged on the campaign trail to reverse. Biden’s official platform ironically read, “Offering hope and safe haven to refugees is part of who we are as a country.” The platform promised, “We will also eliminate unfair barriers to naturalization, reduce application backlogs, and make our immigration processes faster, more efficient, and less costly.”
But these were all lies – the type of lies that Democratic Party politicians always tell around election time to voters who care about immigrant rights. The administration finally got around to announcing its intention to end Title 42 expulsions last year, but this was put on hold after a judge’s ruling blocked the move from going forward. But when the administration’s luck in court turned around and a different judge ordered that Title 42 be discontinued, the government’s lawyers appealed the ruling!
While the Biden administration unveiled an immigration reform bill shortly after taking office, they knew full well that it would have no chance of passing unless the anti-democratic “filibuster” rule in the Senate was eliminated. It was purely a show to help Biden keep up the pretense of being a supporter of immigrant rights. Meanwhile, brutal violence escalated on the border, breaking out into public view when photos of Border Patrol officers on horseback with whips chasing down Haitian refugees caused outrage around the world in 2021.
Biden, a life-long politician, cynically views this issue in terms of how it will affect his electoral prospects. Clearly, his team views immigration as a liability – something that is a “winning issue” for Republicans on the campaign trail that he should try to avoid and deemphasize whenever possible. But to the extent this is true it is because he and the Democratic Party refuse to articulate a case for solidarity between U.S.-born and immigrant workers.
Immigrants arriving at the southern border are leaving situations where it is impossible for them to live a life with dignity, and often where their lives are in imminent danger. These situations exist in their home countries because of the actions of the same elites who also seek to deny a decent life to workers inside the United States. The vast wealth of American millionaires and billionaires is rooted not only in the exploitation of workers at home, but abroad as well. To facilitate the looting of countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, the U.S. government orchestrates coups and carries out military interventions that sow chaos and instability.
The role of sanctions is especially critical at this moment. Many of those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are from Venezuela or Cuba, both of which are the target of all-out economic warfare that has only gotten worse in recent years. During the Trump administration, comprehensive sanctions were imposed on Venezuela targeting all of the most important aspects of the country’s economy, especially the oil industry. At the same time, the decades-long blockade of Cuba was intensified with 243 new measures and the outrageously false designation of the country as a “state sponsor of terrorism”. Biden has gladly kept these cruel policies in place, despite opposition from some members of Congress who point out that the economic devastation caused by U.S. sanctions is a major driver of migration.
No matter what side of the border you were born on, all workers want the same thing: a decent life where you are safe and your needs are met. And all workers have a common enemy that wants to make this impossible: the corporate executives and politicians who grow rich off of their suffering. Rather than fearing or hating immigrants, people born in the United States should lock arms with their fellow workers in struggle. The Democrats are unable to make this argument because it would require them to go after the bankers and CEOs who finance their campaigns, and to whom they are ultimately loyal.
A socialist approach to immigration
In the face of the racist demagogues who want to divide us, workers can unite around a program on immigration that both respects the rights of migrants and addresses the root causes that force them to flee their homes. Instead of the militarization, detention and brutality that the Biden administration is unleashing, socialists would approach the issue by:
- Respecting the legal and human rights of asylum seekers and allowing them to enter the United States to pursue their claim
- Ending sanctions and all other forms of intervention against Cuba, Venezuela, and all targeted countries, including the corporate pillaging of nations’ wealth
- Granting legal status and full rights to all immigrants currently in the United States
The right wing will undoubtedly seek to turn the situation at the border into a central election-year issue – and their rhetoric will be echoed by many Democrats as well. There is no need to back down in the face of this fear-mongering that seeks to counterpose the well-being of one group of workers with the well-being of another. No matter where you were born, we can come together and demand full rights for all immigrants and asylum-seekers; and demand that jobs, housing, healthcare and all the other necessities of life are guaranteed to all.