United States President Joe Biden announced on January 5 a dramatic expansion of restrictions on people from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti seeking asylum at the US border with Mexico.
Biden has expanded a Donald Trump-era policy known as Title 42, under which the government expels any migrants that have crossed the US-Mexico border to apply to immigration authorities for asylum, without any hearings or other due process.
This violates internationally recognised policy on refugees applying for asylum on a country’s border, which the US had recognised, albeit poorly, before Title 42. Under international law, refugees have the right to apply for asylum by crossing a border to apply to the border authorities, which then allows the refugee into the country while their case is considered and ruled upon.
Title 42 ostensibly was used to limit the spread of COVID-19, a trumped up reason to deny refugees initially from Central America — often fleeing extreme poverty, violence and political persecution — from even applying for asylum. These conditions themselves are due to decades of US imperialist exploitation, US-created wars and coups.
Title 42 is now under review by the Supreme Court. But regardless of how the court rules, Biden is embracing another Trump policy, under which migrants who travel through a third country, such as Mexico, are denied consideration of asylum if they do not apply for asylum in that country.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on January 5 that migrants who cross the border would be barred from seeking legal entry to the US for five years.
As a supposed offset to the inhumane policy, Biden announced that up to 30,000 people a month from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti could migrate to the US if they meet the requirements of having a passport, visa from the US embassy, sponsor in the US, plane ticket and other requirements. Obviously, this would exclude the most vulnerable people and anyone the US decides against issuing a visa to.
At the same time, the US would continue deporting 30,000 migrants a year that cross the border.
Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are under US sanctions. People from those countries are fleeing conditions created by those sanctions and other policies.
The horrible conditions in Haiti under the current US-supported Ariel Henry regime are the latest example in more than 100 years of US military intervention, economic exploitation and coups. The US overthrew Haiti’s first elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004 at the request of the Haitian bourgeoisie. Aristide was working toward improving living conditions for workers and the poor.
Anti-Black racism is another factor. Haitian migrants have been herded under bridges without shelter, chased down by Border Patrol on horseback and assaulted with clubs and whips. The US government has deported thousands back to Haiti.
Under Trump and Biden, tens of thousands of migrants have been living in tents in inhumane conditions on the Mexican side of the border, hoping for the end of Title 42.
Biden’s policies are not just a continuation of Trump’s, but of all presidents’ since Ronald Reagan began the militarisation of the border in 1986.
Biden’s announcement was immediately condemned by human rights groups and migrant advocates.
Eleanor Alcer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First, called the policies a “humanitarian disgrace”.
“The Biden administration should be taking steps to restore asylum law at ports of entry,” Acer said, “not doubling down on cruel and counterproductive policies from the Trump playbook”.
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, on January 10, criticised Biden’s January 8 visit to the border town of El Paso, Texas: “Ahead of his arrival, border agents and police arrested migrants sleeping outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church shelter. State troopers have patrolled El Paso’s streets since the city issued a disaster declaration last month to address hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees needing assistance.
“During Biden’s four-hour visit to El Paso, he visited a border crossing, walked along a metal border fence, stopped by the El Paso Migrant Services Center, but did not meet with any migrants.”
Executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights Fernando Garcia told DN! that there is “a big level of disappointment in the El Paso region … not only because it was a very short trip … but also in the context where it happens”.
“There’s an announcement by the president that he’s implementing the extension of this anti-immigrant provision [Title 42] that is expelling a lot of migrants illegally.
“He did exactly the opposite of what we were expecting,” Garcia said. “We would expect him to come and meet with community organisations, with families, refugees in downtown El Paso.
“It seems [the trip] was just a photo-op.”
Asked what he would have told the president if he had met him, Garcia said, “Don’t use Title 42. Don’t expand it …. You criticised it before. And now you are expanding it. And now you are setting out to expel thousands and thousands of people to Mexico, to where there is a lot of violence.
“There are families, children who don’t have a place to go. They are suffering a very harsh policy that you, President, are embracing.”