Detentions soar and the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors saturates the reception capacity and challenges the president’s project
Vaccination is proceeding at a rate that exceeds its own promises. The president of the United States travels the country, with the vice president and their respective spouses, selling the bonanzas of the great package of aid to the economy that he has managed to move forward. Opinion polls are smiling at you. Only one subject seems capable of embittering Joe Biden on his honeymoon: the crisis on the border with Mexico. Thousands of people, many of them minors, attracted by the change towards a more humane discourse, saturate the reception structures, despite the Administration’s calls against these arrivals.
The situation affects the orbit of all political groups that gravitate towards Biden like the dishes of a juggler. The most progressive sectors warn about the way in which migrant children are treated. Centrist Democrats fear criticism from voters wary of illegal immigration. And Republicans, in their search for a north after Trump, are beginning to see in the attacks focused on immigration their winning weapon in the crucial legislative elections of 2022, in which the majorities in Congress and the field will be decided again. the maneuver of the second half of Biden’s term.
Arrests for illegally trying to cross the border, already at their highest figures in a decade during the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, have skyrocketed since Biden’s arrival at the White House on Jan.20. There were 100,000 arrests in February, a 28% increase over the previous month. And in March, at a rate of 4,000 arrests a day, the total figure may be even higher. Many of these migrants are also unaccompanied minors fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.
The number of migrant children in US custody at the border tripled to 3,250 in the last week of February and the first week of March, according to federal documents consulted by The New York Times. The minors must be transferred to shelters, but these had occupancy restrictions due to the pandemic and, even after being lifted, are close to saturation. Meanwhile, many children are sheltered in facilities unsuitable for them, whereby law they could only stay for three days.
The Biden Administration is reluctant, however, to speak of a crisis. “The situation we now face on the southwestern border is difficult. We are addressing it. We are keeping our borders secure, enforcing laws, and being faithful to our values and principles, ” Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of National Security, explains in a statement.
Mayorkas acknowledges that the country “is on the way to finding more individuals on the southwestern border than it has found in the last 20 years.” “We are expelling most of the single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied minors ”, he adds.
Biden’s team stresses that Trump’s policies, such as the dismantling of legal immigration channels and the abandonment of financing and investment in the region, contributed to creating this situation and condition the response that can be given in the short term. “The previous Administration completely dismantled the asylum system. The system was destroyed, the facilities were closed and children were cruelly expelled into the hands of human traffickers. We had to rebuild the entire system, ”explains Mayorkas. “The previous Administration broke the legal channels that had been developed so that children can come to the United States in a safe, efficient and orderly manner, and also cut off international aid to the northern triangle of Central America.”
But, for critics, it is clear that the new Administration was not prepared for the consequences of the change in tone at the border, at a time when the situation in Central American countries that leads their citizens to flee has only worsened with the pandemic. Now, Biden’s responses focus on the very short term – as a problem that can be solved by expanding the capacity of the reception facilities – and on the very long term – with aid to the countries of origin that allow for an improvement in conditions. of life that discourages citizens from migrating. But the concern of many Democrats is in the medium term. There are the 2022 legislatures, in which Republicans can reap the fruits of the discourse of fear, especially in States with white populations and depressed economies, in which Trump seduced in 2016 with a nationalist message.
Losing the fragile majorities in both houses of Congress that Democrats now have in 2022 would disrupt, among many other things, Biden’s immigration policy project. Even with the control of the two chambers, the party is verifying these days the sensitivity of carrying out any legislation on the subject. While working on a very ambitious bill that would allow undocumented migrants to obtain nationality in eight years, Democratic congressmen are preparing this week to pass legislation that protects Dreamers, those who were brought into the country illegally by their parents as minors. But in a Senate divided into 50 senators from each party, even with Vice President Harris’s tiebreaker vote, that they can pull it off is not guaranteed.