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More Humane Cages? Prospects for Immigration Justice Under Biden Appear Dim

In stacking not just his DHS team but all of his transition teams with neoliberals and hawks, Biden has sent the world a clear signal that despite the cage-free fantasies of liberal Democrats, his immigration policy will be more of the same.

Biden’s DHS transition team members range from billionaire-funded think tank pundits to corporate lawyers, with a smattering of left-liberal ACLU types, none of whom fundamentally question the overarching logic of border security. (Photo: Mani Albrecht/U.S. Border Patrol/Flickr)

Biden’s DHS transition team members range from billionaire-funded think tank pundits to corporate lawyers, with a smattering of left-liberal ACLU types, none of whom fundamentally question the overarching logic of border security. (Photo: Mani Albrecht/U.S. Border Patrol/Flickr)

Countless variants of the theme of caged children were used to try to shame leftists into voting for Biden in the recent presidential elections, despite the fact that--as President Trump repeatedly and correctly noted in a twisted defense of his own family separation policy--the Obama/Biden White House started the program. Now that we are getting a glimpse of Biden’s transition team, it is clear that his opponents on the left were right to curb their enthusiasm and (in many cases) cast their votes elsewhere. Instead of a reprieve from policies that fall squarely within the definition of genocide, Biden appears poised to dig in his heels. Take, for example, his appointment of Obama’s former top immigration adviser Cecilia Muñoz to his transition team, who brushed off NPR interviewer Maria Hinojosa’s question about family separation, responding that “Some of these things are going to happen.”

While much has been made of the gendered diversity of Biden’s transition team (including Muñoz) and potential cabinet picks, it will be little comfort to the women of Central America, or any other region subject to U.S. interference, to know that the new U.S. #GirlBosses may include Susan Rice as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton as UN ambassador, or Michele Flournoy as Secretary of Defense.

The intertwined success and violence of the U.S. asylum/deportation industry hinges on its profitability.

Many of Biden’s DHS transition team selections show his platform will differ (if at all) only in form, not in substance, from that of Trump. None of his team members hail from the ranks of BIPOC organizers who delivered him his victories in key states like Arizona, and for whom immigration is a major issue.

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Instead, Biden’s picks further the logic of his Latino campaign strategy, which pandered to right-wing Miami Cubans and Venezuelans, ignoring the vast, diverse majority of Latinx communities for whom immigration justice, access to quality healthcare and education, and protection from police violence are far more important than fighting communism. While numerous analysts on the left have pointed out that Biden’s approach didn’t even win him Florida, he’s sticking to it.

Biden’s DHS transition team members range from billionaire-funded think tank pundits to corporate lawyers, with a smattering of left-liberal ACLU types, none of whom fundamentally question the overarching logic of border security. Take Blas Nuñez-Neto, for example, DHS transition team member and RAND analyst who accuses migrants of “taking advantage of incentives created by the U.S. asylum process” and has advocated that asylum seekers be made to seek asylum from U.S. embassies while still living in their countries (a non-starter for people fleeing deadly violence) and building more private prisons to detain entire families indefinitely, as humane alternatives to family separation. 

Beyond the more egregious stances taken by some of Biden’s DHS transition committee members, they appear to be in agreement on some fundamental--and fundamentally flawed--points, all of which prioritize profit over human lives. For Biden’s DHS team:

  • Border “security” (i.e. preventing “terrorists” and/or people without “legitimate” asylum claims from entering the United States) is at least as important as ensuring that the militarized security apparatus doesn’t kill mostly BIPOC people on either side of the U.S. border.
  • Privatized border security expenditures of public funds should continue at least at their current levels, shifting focus from Trump’s extension of Obama/Biden’s physical border walls toward ever-increasing spending on (equally harmful) technologies of surveillance.
  • Migration deterrence measures should follow the logic of the “Biden Plan” for Central America, investing hundreds of millions of dollars into repressive state security apparatuses and mega-development projects (despite the Plan having dramatically increased impoverishment, state violence and migration since its implementation in response to the 2014 “unaccompanied minor” crisis). 
  • Climate change, which is dramatically increasing migration and should be taken into account in immigration policy, is not a result of capitalism and thus should not be addressed by curbing or (God forbid) ending it.

To understand the dangers to immigrants of the upcoming Biden administration, it’s also important to look beyond the DHS transition team to his other transition team picks. U.S. capitalist-military imperialism in partnership with client governments--and in regime-change efforts against non-client states--is the primary “push” factor for immigration to this country. Journalists Sarah Lazare, Alan MacLeod and Kevin Gosztola have shown in recent days how Biden has already handed the reins over to the same war hawks and authors of neoliberal trade deals responsible for impoverishment, violence and environmental devastation abroad, and (consequently) immigration to the United States. The defense contractors so heavily represented in Biden’s transition team will profit as much from border security initiatives as they do from foreign wars.

The intertwined success and violence of the U.S. asylum/deportation industry hinges on its profitability. In stacking not just his DHS team but all of his transition teams with neoliberals and hawks, Biden has sent the world a clear signal that despite the cage-free fantasies of liberal Democrats, his immigration policy will be more of the same.

Adrienne Pine

Adrienne Pine

Adrienne Pine is associate professor of anthropology at American University, Washington, D.C., and co-editor of "Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry" (2020). Twitter: @AdriennePine



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