During his campaign, President Joe Biden promised to build a “fair and humane” immigration system. A little over a month after taking office, the Biden administration reopened a Trump-era facility to house unaccompanied minors crossing the US-Mexico border. On March 22, Buzzfeed published images of a facility in Donna, Texas taken by Rep. Henry Cuellar showing crowded conditions of unaccompanied immigrant children. Biden’s hypocrisy stands out — especially his failure to effectively acknowledge this situation. The Democrats’ recent history regarding immigration reform reveals complicity in the anti-immigrant policies debated across the country.
Barack Obama is, to 19% of Americans, the best president in their lifetimes. Yet, to the immigrant communities of the United States, Obama is regarded as “the deporter-in-chief.” While Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative helped over 700,000 “Dreamers,” his legacy regarding deportations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been nothing short of devastating. When we speak about the kids in cages, we recall the brutality with which Trump enforced worse-than-prison conditions in juvenile detention centers at the US-Mexico border. However, we also need to think about how Obama’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants — having deported a record number by the end of his presidency — boosted and reinforced the very systems that made many of Trump’s policies possible.
Obama significantly contributed to the anti-immigrant systems Trump inherited. Obama approved a 300% budgetary increase for immigration enforcement. He presided over a 3600% growth of a program that allowed local police to enforce immigration laws/regulations. He grew the Secure Communities Program — a program that allows ICE agents to issue detainers and to retrieve people from local jails — to all 3,181 U.S. jurisdictions. He later scrapped the Secure Communities Program in 2014 and rebranded it, without any major changes, as the Priority Enforcement Program. He expanded Bush’s border-court system and doubled the number of people prosecuted for reentry. By the end of Obama’s presidency, the Department of Homeland Security would be the largest law-enforcement agency in the country. This law-enforcement agency only worked to assist in Trump’s anti-immigrant initiatives.
From family separation to the building of a wall along the US-Mexico border, former President Donald Trump’s immigration legacy will not be forgotten. Images of hungry, crying children sitting in cage-like detention facilities haunt the collective American conscious — a more recent, ugly stain on U.S. history. During his presidency and during the 2020 campaign cycle, many Democrats stood against these policies. President Joe Biden was among these people.
Despite this, a little over two months into his presidency, Biden chose to keep Trump-era facilities. Notably, Biden kept an especially notorious Trump-era policy called Title 42. Title 42, originally intended to disallow nonessential travel to protect against COVID-19, has been used to give border officials unchecked power to expel adults, families and unaccompanied minors at the border without due process. Vice President Kamala Harris agreed it was an “unprecedented expansion of executive power” that needed addressing when Trump was still president, but has since changed her stance — stating the issue needs “some time” to be resolved. Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union, who sued the Trump administration over this policy, said “there is zero daylight between the Biden administration and Trump administration’s position.”
While Biden has made changes in some immigration policies, such as ending family separation and slowly reversing Trump’s “Stay in Mexico” policy, his inaction elsewhere suggests that Biden is unsure of where his administration will truly stand on immigration. “Securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them,” Biden wrote in an executive order. This language suggests Biden’s more centrist approach to the immigration question.
Though the future remains unclear for the new administration, one thing is evident: if he is following in the footsteps of his most esteemed predecessor, Biden will be no better for the thousands of people trying to enter this country than Obama was. His promises to the many immigrant communities will fall short, just as Obama’s did, and we will have a new “deporter-in-chief.”
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Email Srishti Bungle at [email protected]