Trump’s immigration policies are arguably the darkest part of his presidential legacy. The “Zero Tolerance” program was created to destroy migrants through any measure outside direct extermination, from forced sterilization in ICE facilities to handing undocumented children over to sex traffickers (Sherman, 2020, Huetteman, 2016).
It’s a good thing that Democrats protested against Trump’s rabid cruelty; if anything, they should have pressed him harder. Unfortunately, the norms of mainstream discourse in this country forbid liberals from sounding “soft on immigration”. Any Democrat who wants the backing of the party should ignore the fact that “tough” policies often crash local economies by scaring off the workforces of vital industries, as happened with Georgia’s agricultural sector in 2011 (Kline, 2019, pg.35), and pity the career of the national politician who points out that undocumented immigrants are actually much less likely to use public services than citizens (Kline, 2019). Even more unacceptable would be a Democrat blaming the surge migration on the US corporations who use immigrant workers to avoid paying benefits (or even worse, blames the CIA for destabilizing Latin America through its funding of right-wing terror).
Those truths stay under the surface in Democratic politics. They’d rather keep up their platitudes about social justice while they substitute brutish walls for sophisticated tech like drones and facial recognition software. Biden’s policies center on this technocratic enforcement, creating possibilities for mass surveillance which are more troubling in the long term than Trump’s police state thuggery. The Border Patrol snatch and grabs in Portland this summer could easily be a preview of what’s to come with Biden in the White House, since he seems so keen to give them fancy new toys (De la Hoz, 2021).
We can’t depict America’s brutalizing of immigrants as solely a Republican issue; they’re just the more publicly bloodthirsty of our political leaders. Let’s not forget that Obama was quite found of mass deportations himself, or that the border patrol’s most murderous policy pre-Trump was instituted under Clinton: “Prevention Through Deterrence”, in which the agency purposefully funneled migrants into the most isolated sections of the Sonoran desert to avoid the embarrassing spectacle of people crossing near cities. PTD was designed to demoralize or destroy migrants; in the Border Patrol’s own words, “violence will increase as the effects of the strategy are felt” (De León, 2015, pg.33). Since the program was put into place hundreds of crossers have been found dead from heat stroke or murdered by criminals. Many more just disappeared into the desert forever (De León, 2015).
Biden has made a lot of promises on immigration, some of which are vitally needed, like his path to citizenship for up to elven million undocumented people which would ensure some base level security in the lives of the most vulnerable populations of the US (Fox and Alvarez, 2021). But his administration has continued the Democrats’ pattern of ignoring the workplace abuses undocumented immigrants are constantly exposed to. This issue is even more pressing during a global pandemic and yet Biden has not pushed for regulations to ensure corporations keep their workers, undocumented or not, safe. Without this, his immigration plans are just a blueprint for the exploitation of migrant labor to operate more smoothly. No wonder so much of the corporate elite backed Biden over Trump’s disruptive isolationism.
Allowing the immigration debate to be stuck between the neoliberal and white nationalist extremes is unacceptable. The people who have been forced to migrate here by the forces of global capitalism, climate change, and US imperialism deserve better than earning pitiful wages in precarious jobs while staying out of the sight so that the white people don’t feel bad. Biden’s humanitarian rhetoric is not enough to gloss over a deadly and dehumanizing immigration system. Only a truly progressive platform, one based on human rights over the needs of capital, will move this country twoards justice. Anything else would mean accepting what is comfortable for the majority over what is right.
References: Pathogenic Policing: Immigration Enforcement and Health in the U.S. South, Nolan Klein, 2019, Rutgers University Press.
The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail, Jason De Léon, Mike Wells, 2015, University of California Press.
Sherman, Carter, “Staggering Number of Hysterectomies Happening at ICE Facility, Whistleblower Says”, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en/article/93578d/staggering-number-of-hysterectomies-happening-at-ice-facility-whistleblower-say
Huetteman, Emmarie, “US Placed Immigrant Children With Traffickers, Report Says”, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/29/us/politics/us-placed-immigrant-children-with-traffickers-report-says.html
De la Hoz, Felipe, “Why Biden’s ‘Virtual’ Border Could Be Worse Than Trump’s Wall” 2021, https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/biden-immigration-surveillance/
Fox, Lauren, and Alvarez, Priscilla, “Democrats and Biden prepare to unveil bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants”, 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/16/politics/biden-immigration-legislation-pathway-to-citizenship/index.html?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Early+Arrival%3A+Why+I+Lead+a+Hunger+Strike+Against+ICE+in+New+Jersey&utm_campaign=Newsletter+2%2F17%2F21