Border Security, Not Immigrant Families, a Priority at the State of the Union
By Juan Carlos Gomez
Immigrants and their families and friends listened to the State of the Union address, hoping for a speech inclusive of them, but were disappointed. The State of the Union is an opportunity for a president to share priorities for the coming year, and it is clear from President Biden’s State of the Union speech that pursuing a fair and just immigration system is simply not a priority for his administration.
The Biden Administration has taken some important steps to address the needs of immigrants, such as expanding access to Temporary Protected Status; repealing the 2019 public charge rule that threatened immigrants from accessing health care, nutrition and housing supports; and establishing protections for immigrant workers who are mistreated by employers. But that’s far from enough. The administration has largely left immigrant communities to fend for themselves and in some cases expanded on harmful anti-immigrant policies established by the previous administration.
It is true that Congressional action is needed for major immigration reform. It is also true that the Biden Administration has the ability to provide substantial relief from harsh immigration enforcement right now. We have more humane and child-centered solutions that uphold the safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers and immigrant families living throughout the United States. The administration can and should shift from a punitive enforcement model of interior enforcement to a community-based approach.
The Trump Administration took advantage of the pandemic to implement the anti-immigrant, white supremacist policy of Title 42, which blocks access to asylum by expelling migrants automatically without the opportunity to screen them for asylum. Title 42 is counter to domestic and international rights of individuals seeking asylum.
President Biden has stated he wants to end Title 42, yet his administration continues to actively extend the reach of the policy. Current court proceedings limit the ability of the administration to fully end Title 42 now, but that should not be an invitation to make a racist policy even more expansive and harmful.
The Biden Administration’s announcement last month to expand Title 42’s reach jeopardizes the ability of migrants from specific countries in the Caribbean and Latin America to seek asylum, putting their lives at risk. During his speech, President Biden stated, “Since we launched our new border plan last month, unlawful migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela has come down 97 percent.” Seeking asylum is not unlawful, and it is shameful that this administration is bragging about blocking families from safety.
Meanwhile, those seeking asylum from Ukraine remain completely exempt from the harmful Title 42 policy, which begs the question of what the difference is between someone seeking asylum from Ukraine versus Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela. This is not about law and order; it is about prejudice.
During the State of the Union President Biden said, “If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border.”
President Biden could not even be bothered to give “comprehensive immigration reform” a fighting chance in his own speech—he immediately folded and asked for more immigration enforcement instead.
We don’t need more equipment and officers at our borders. Being “tough on the border” is not a policy that makes this country safer or deters immigration—it just makes it more dangerous for immigrants and asylum seekers. The human and economic costs of enhanced border enforcement far outweigh any perceived benefits. Cruelty seems to be the point, and it is costly.
Immigration enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) exacerbates the disorder and chaos it purports to address—and at the cost of human lives. We have an orderly system in place already for those seeking asylum, but we need adequate funding to ensure applications are processed in a timely fashion. Protecting the right to asylum is more humane and cost effective than expanding Trump policies.
An administration that claims to recognize the contributions of immigrants needs to reject all policies that cause them harm. If the Biden Administration truly wants to welcome immigrants and honor their contributions, it should stop pandering to white supremacists by divesting from harsh and harmful immigration enforcement policies and instead prioritize processing more immigration and asylum cases.
The immigration system is yet another system fundamentally rooted in racism and prejudice. It takes courage and character to choose a different approach, but it is absolutely necessary to create a just system that is truly inclusive and humane. Without systemic change, this country will never live up to its professed values of being welcoming to all, and families within the country will continue to feel the chilling effects caused by anti-immigrant policies.
The United States has the resources, the capacity, and the responsibility to allow immigrant families here to thrive and to allow those coming to this country seeking refuge to do so safely.