Opinion: Deportations, children in detention and calls to ‘not come’ show Biden is failing on immigration

Originally Published in The Washington Post

Opinion by Julio Ricardo Varela – August 3, 2021

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks in Guatemala City on July 7. (Moises Castillo/AP)

Julio Ricardo Varela is the founder of Latino Rebels and editorial director for Futuro Media.

During his campaign, President Biden promised that he would move away from then-President Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies. But six months in, the Biden administration, despite a lot of talk of reform, has not changed course much.

There are still more than 16,000 migrant children being held by the federal government, with many of them occupying detention cells far longer than legally allowed. That number alone stands as a clear reminder of how little has changed to address the challenge of immigration.

During the Trump years, the policy of children being separated from families and held in cages was condemned as cruel and inhumane. Now, the nation stays quiet, even though there have been reports of overcrowded detention centers, contractors with no experience caring for children and shelters that feel more like jails.

In recent days, the Biden administration carried out its first fast-track deportation flights to Central America despite the great health risks during the coronavirus pandemic. Federal officials have logged more than 1.1 million apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year.

It is all quite a departure of how Biden started his first day in office — with high-profile promises for immigration reform and calls to action. The news cycle of Jan. 20 seems a distant memory.

Yes, there have been some victories for immigrant rights supporters — from removing the term “illegal alien” from the government’s lexicon and the end of the Migrant Protection Protocols program (also known as “Remain in Mexico”) to a recent decision by the Justice Department that gives immigration judges more power to delay deportation.

But with every step forward, there have been many steps backward. And so far it feels as though the Biden administration still lacks a clear direction and action plan.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is no longer valid, although current DACA recipients were still eligible. While Biden said the decision was “deeply disappointing,” it still comes across as a disconnect with what the current immigrant rights movement is trying to achieve. DACA came out of grass-roots pressure on then-President Barack Obama to protect “dreamers.” It has become the one immigration program that might actually have bipartisan support, yet instead of any bold action from the Biden administration, there is just uncertainty, doubt and resignation. Considering that states such as Arizona — with its strong tradition of immigrant rights organizing — helped deliver Biden the White House, you would think that making DACA permanent legislatively would have already happened.

Then there’s the failure to address the “root causes” of immigration. This administration has instead opted to push the condescending message: Do not come.”

As protests and instability rocked Haiti and Cuba, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, chose to deliver a warning. “Let me be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States,” Mayorkas said at a news conference.

Where is the humane reform and bold action we were promised? The administration is losing the immigration moral high ground, while Republicans continue to make the dehumanization of migrants a key tenet of their party. Talk of adding some form of immigration action in the budget reconciliation is promising, but so far nothing is finalized.

Biden needs to show that he is serious about immigration reform. What we’ve seen is all talk and little action, with the expectation that Latino voters will just go for lofty promises without noticing the policy.

Thousands of migrant children continue to be held in detention centers. Apprehensions and deportations are on the rise. Asylum seekers continue to hear that they are not welcome.

Biden promised change, but so far things are looking bleak.




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