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Remain in Mexico

Haitian migrants remain outside a migrant shelter where they await their immigration resolution, in Monterrey, Mexico, on September 26, 2021. - Almost all of the mostly Haitian migrants who had gathered on both sides of the US-Mexico border have left their makeshift camps, ending a standoff that had provoked a major border crisis for the Biden administration. (Photo by Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Is Upholding Trump's Hateful Vision for the Border

The result of continuing both 'Remain in Mexico' and Title 42 is a complete and ongoing shutdown of asylum at the southern border. The situation is unacceptable.

Oscar Chacón

The immense horrors of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program are well-documented: the murder, rape, torturing, and kidnapping of asylum seekers forced to wait for their U.S. immigration court dates in Mexico border towns that rank among the world’s most violent.

The Biden administration officially ended “Remain in Mexico” in June, but is now reinstating it under a court order. In one key area, Biden’s rebooted “Remain in Mexico” is even more cruel, expanding the number of people who can be placed into the program, including Haitians and other Caribbean nations with majority Afro-descendant populations like Jamaica.

"We are meting out punishment to those who need our compassion."

There was nothing in the court order that compelled this. This is deliberately stepping beyond what the courts are asking for, in order to subject Black and Brown asylum seekers to greater misery and supposedly “deter” them from fleeing—in the face of deep evidence that deterrence-based immigration policies don’t work.

Coupled with the administration’s recent decision to extend Title 42, the end result is that Trump’s hateful vision of U.S. immigration policy lives on under Biden: a complete and ongoing shutdown of asylum at the southern border.

The Biden administration is dragging its heels and refusing to fully and swiftly do away with Trumpian border policies, because they are terrified of the political costs of images of disorder and suffering at the border. Immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees have been a blessing to the United States. But Biden isn’t implementing policies that reflect this reality; for the sake of political expediency, instead we are meting out punishment to those who need our compassion.

Those experiencing the disproportionate impact of these policies of punishment, over the past few decades, have been nationals from Mexico, Central American, and Caribbean nations. In other words, Black and Brown people. The majority of individuals enduring the brunt of these policies are people seeking protection at our border. As Biden continues to uphold illegal Trumpian policies that shift the U.S. government’s asylum responsibilities to Mexico, the implicit intent seems to be to keep asylum seekers who are people of color out of sight and out mind. This is reprehensible.

Indeed, the resumption of “Remain in Mexico” contributes to long-lasting damage to asylum norms. At a time of mass migration throughout the Americas due to climate change disasters and the economic impact of COVID-19, the Biden administration is moving to normalize the existence of miserable refugee camps and overflowing shelters along the U.S.-Mexico border. Well-resourced countries like the U.S. should be upholding international humanitarian protection standards, not passing off asylum seekers to its neighbors.

For an administration that promised to oppose policies enacted under Trump, it is ironic to contrast the speed with which the Biden government arrested and deported thousands of Haitians who arrived recently to our southern border; with the incredibly slow pace, and seeming ineptitude with which officials have dealt with the still-unresolved cases of immigrant children who were separated from their parents.

"For an administration that promised to oppose policies enacted under Trump, it is ironic to contrast the speed with which the Biden government arrested and deported thousands of Haitians."

For those of us who advocate for the right of people to seek humanitarian protection at our borders and elsewhere, it is becoming increasingly clear that the racist and xenophobic arguments that paint today’s immigrants as a threat to the nation have found an echo in the way the Biden administration is treating people who have been forced to migrate and who are asking the most powerful nation on earth for protection and support.

It is not too late to right the wrongs. The Biden administration should vigorously contest the court ruling that ordered the reimplementation of “Remain in Mexico.” Additionally, the administration could immediately designate nationals from Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Hondurans already living in the U.S., for a new Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. That measure would protect them from being deported back to a region still reeling from the effects of last year’s hurricanes. The administration could express unequivocal support for the migration provisions in the “Build Back Better” bill, which would establish work permits, protections against deportation, and the ability to travel outside the U.S. for an estimated 7.1 million people. And it could also prioritize working with Congress on the adoption of even more changes to the obsolete, racist, and xenophobic immigration law now in effect, which among other things would enable undocumented immigrants to apply for legal permanent residency visas.

The U.S. has long benefitted from the energy, entrepreneurship, and hard work of immigrants and asylum seekers. We need policies that welcome and protect those who’ve come here seeking a fair shot at a good life. It is shameful that instead of going down this path, the Biden administration is perpetuating Trump’s hateful legacy of deterrence and xenophobia. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Oscar Chacón

Oscar Chacón

Oscar Chacón is the executive director of Alianza Americas, a transnational network of over 55 migrant-led organizations advocating for a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable way of life for communities across North, Central and South America.

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