Despite promises made during his election campaign, United States President Joe Biden continues former president Donald Trump’s inhumane policies towards refugees fleeing horrific conditions south of the border.
Human rights and refugee advocacy groups admonished the Biden administration for failing to reopen the southern border and continuing Title 42, a Trump-era policy that allows the US to deport asylum seekers on the pretext of health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates demand Biden do more to reunite unaccompanied children and improve immigration detention facilities.
Amnesty International reported in June that Biden’s administration had not delivered promised changes since its election and cannot continue to evade its human rights obligations.
Biden’s policy was summed up by Vice President Kamala Harris in a recent visit to Guatemala — ostensibly to find out why people were fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for the US.
“Don’t come!” she scolded would-be refugees.
On that trip, Harris notably did not visit the US southern border. Facing criticism, she then visited the border city of El Paso, Texas, including the Customs and Border Protection’s processing centre, where she praised its officers — and those of the notorious Border Patrol.
She met with young girls detained at the point of entry, expressing sympathy with their plight, but failed to visit a tent complex at the nearby Fort Bliss military base that houses detained children.
More than 14,000 child refugees are currently detained by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in 15 emergency sites — like the one at Fort Bliss — to get them out of the overcrowded Border Patrol holding jails.
Fernando García, founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights, told Democracy Now! conditions at the Fort Bliss detention centre are horrific. García said children experience abuse, lack of food, healthcare and basic services and some have self-harmed.
García said there is no accountability or transparency at Fort Bliss, as media and human right organisations have limited access.
After Harris’ trip to El Paso, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra — part of Biden’s cabinet — visited the tent city and said: “I will agree with anyone who says that’s not where you are going to do long-term care for a child … But it’s far better than the deserts they were in. It is far better than an adult detention facility.
“And it is absolutely providing them … with everything you would expect a child to get to provide for their basic needs and attention that they require.”
Not surprisingly, Becerra was met with protests demanding the children be released and the facility closed. Protesters also demand that all immigration detention centres be closed, children be reunited with their family members and Title 42 repealed.
García echoed statements by human rights groups, telling Democracy Now! that although a different, more humane, narrative was coming from the Biden administration, this had “not yet been translated to the ground”.
García said Title 42 has led to mass deportations, particularly targeting those from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Physicians for Human Rights pointed out that the US continues to allow millions of Mexicans to cross the border weekly but, under Title 42, refugees from the three Central American countries are immediately deported without judicial review.
“Title 42 is what I consider an illegal program that is expelling refugees, families and children, without due process.”
Biden has so far refused to rescind Title 42, referring it to the Centers for Disease Control to decide when it will end, tacitly endorsing Trump’s fake excuse.
The Supreme Court ruled on June 29 that previously deported asylum seekers who re-enter the country can be detained indefinitely, even though many are fleeing violent persecution, torture and death in their home countries.
The ruling also allows the government to deprive them of the right to appear before a judge or have a bond hearing while their cases are resolved.
Harris’s trip to Guatemala was ostensibly to find out how to eliminate the causes of the refugee surge. However, since her return, there has been no statement from the Biden administration about the “causes” of the refugee crisis.
It seems likely that Harris met with the Guatemalan government to discuss its cooperation with Washington in trying to stop refugees from El Salvador and Honduras getting to the US.
Refugees, including children, are risking assault, robbery, rape and harsh conditions in the long trek to the border because these three countries are rife with poverty, corruption, gang violence, government repression and more.
The conditions are exacerbated by the impact of climate change in the region. Drought has devastated family farming. Families, facing possible starvation, with no help from their governments, are fleeing north.
Their governments are all aligned with the US and are the results of decades of US imperialist-backed wars and military coups against “communism”.
In Guatemala, the revolution against a US-backed military government in 1944 ushered in a period of a progressive government and free elections. Jacobo Arbenz was elected president in 1951.
Arbenz legalised the Communist Party and attempted to redistribute land to the impoverished peasantry. This threatened the US’ United Fruit Company and local landlords.
Washington soon began plotting to overthrow the government. This was accomplished by a CIA-led coup in 1954, which led to a harsh military dictatorship.
Resistance began to grow, leading to a civil war that lasted from 1960–96. The US supported successive dictatorial regimes in defending the landlords and capitalists against working-class resistance. Guatemala was devastated, and hasn’t recovered to this day.
The current government — supposedly a democracy — is known as a serious violator of human rights. Human Rights Watch has reported extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, harsh restrictions on the press, all intertwined with powerful criminal drug organisations and violence.
A US-backed military coup in El Salvador in 1979 led to a 12-year civil war between the dictatorship and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front — a coalition of left groups.
The regime was marked by terror and mass murder of civilians by US-trained death squads. This included indigenous peoples, labour and peasant leaders and members of the Catholic clergy, including Archbishop Romero — and US nuns, who were raped and killed.
The military also recruited child soldiers and committed other human rights violations.
The US sent US$1–2 million a day to the El Salvadoran military. By May 1983, US military officers had taken over top positions in the army and were running the war.
About 75,000 people were killed by the time a United Nations-sponsored peace agreement was struck in 1992.
However, El Salvadoran “democracy” degenerated — just like Guatemala’s — with powerful drug gangs killing young people who refused to join them. Today, the current president is building an increasingly authoritarian regime.
After suffering a long series of military dictatorships, Honduras became the US’ staging ground for a counter-revolutionary war against the Sandinista-led revolutionary government in Nicaragua, which had overthrown the US-backed puppet dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, and formed a workers’ and peasants’ government.
US President Ronald Reagan sent a large contingent of troops to Honduras and the country became a huge US Army base.
The 2006 presidential election in Honduras was won by progressive candidate, Manuel Zelaya. Although not a socialist, Zelaya attempted structural changes that would benefit the lower classes.
When Zelaya sought to establish formal relations with Venezuela, and socialist president Hugo Chavez, the Barack Obama administration decided to remove him. Obama’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton was the point person for the operation.
Clinton went to Honduras and made arrangements in June 2009 for the military to stage the coup that ousted Zelaya. Not knowing quite what to do with him, the military took him to the main US army base. The US told them not to kill him — for fear of how that would look — and instead to send him into exile.
Military-supervised elections were held and established a regime under its control. The current president, Juan Hernandez, presides over a government completely tied to the drug cartels.
His brother Tony —previously part of the government — was arrested in 2019 in Miami for importing drugs and given a life sentence.
Honduras outstrips Guatemala and El Salvador in terms of corruption, violence and poverty. This explains why so many refugees from there try to reach the US.
There is no chance the US government will address the causes of the surge in refugees from these three countries, since the source of the problem is US imperialist policy.
The millions of dollars of US funding that will flow to these regimes to “address the immigration issue” will not go to impoverished farmers and workers, but will line the regimes’ pockets and exacerbate existing problems.