“The US’s latest investments aim to address economic hardship in the region in three ways: By bringing more workers into the formal economy, by setting higher wage and labor standards, and by using corporate influence to fight corruption.
That won’t happen overnight. But there is reason to hope that US companies could meaningfully improve living conditions over time and give people a reason to stay.”
“The region needs sustained investment before its residents will see any meaningful improvement in quality of life that might dissuade them from making the choice to migrate. In the past, US government aid has proved an unreliable source of that kind of investment. Former President Donald Trump decided to slash US aid to the region by a third, turning the clock back on the Obama administration’s efforts. Honduras saw homicides surge thereafter, and funding for social welfare programs ranging from job training for at-risk youths to grants for women entrepreneurs was cut.
The Biden administration hopes that because private companies are behind these latest investments, profit might motivate them to continue investing in the region, regardless of how US policy evolves, creating a more reliable stream of funding for Northern Triangle residents. The danger of this approach, of course, is that these companies could also suddenly pull their investments if they’re found to hurt the bottom line.”
“At the moment, governments in the region have so far been unable to provide a significant social safety net because they haven’t had the money to do so. In part, that’s because countries in the Northern Triangle have among the lowest effective tax rates in the world. Workers with informal jobs don’t typically pay taxes and local corporations often try to evade them.
Guatemala’s 2019 tax revenue, for instance, was just 13.1 percent of its GDP — the lowest among Latin America and Caribbean countries, which brought in nearly 23 percent of their GDP on average. For comparison, taxation brings in an average of about a third of GDP across high-income countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In Honduras, that has resulted in a sparse welfare system. There are no government-provided unemployment benefits. Though it has a social security program, only formal workers can pay into it and benefit from it. Public health care services are for the most part only available in large cities, leaving people in rural areas without access to physicians. That lack of support, coupled with pervasive violence and corruption, has left many migrants with no choice but to seek safety and opportunity elsewhere.”
“There was a time when Mexican vendors sold water jugs with a map glued to the side. The map displayed various mountain peaks, and migrants were directed to follow the promontories to highways where they would be picked up. Towers made that impossible. A 10-mile journey became a 20-mile march, and migrants increasingly relied on smugglers to guide them through arroyos, along mountainsides, weaving a path beyond sight of the towers. This is what Boyce and Chambers have termed CBP’s “corral apparatus,” an intentional strategy to funnel migrants into “a narrower corridor of movement” where they’re more likely to become isolated, confused, and where “physiological strain, suffering and mortality are likely to be greatest.” The very point of the surveillance tower placement, they contend, was to increase the difficulty of the journey.
“An initial strategy was to channel people into certain areas, to funnel them to a place where it’s easier to apprehend them,” James Lewis, who had advised on SBInet, told me. “That’s not good from a crosser perspective because they’re forced into more inhospitable areas, and the casualty rate goes up.”
This corralling has an official name, it’s called “prevention through deterrence.” The Clinton administration devised this strategy and CBP still practices it today — consciously or not. During the program’s first stages, in the mid-1990s, the U.S. raised walls near border cities with the intent to push migrants into the desert. Metrics like “a shift in flow” of migratory routes and “fee increase by smugglers” were signs of effectiveness. And deaths were an expected outcome. “Illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border,” the policy said, will “find themselves in mortal danger.” The government likely figured this would be an added deterrent, as stories of dead fathers and siblings filtered back through migrant networks. That is not what happened. Instead, as people left broken economies and rampant violence for the U.S., the death toll along the border soared and still the migrants came.”
“The memo argues that the policy, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” caused more harm than good, particularly in terms of its humanitarian impact.
“I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in the four-page memo announcing the policy shift. “But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”
That determination is in line with Biden’s campaign promises on immigration, which included reversing policies like Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in family separations. It’s at odds, however, with the administration’s continuing reluctance to completely do away with other Trump-era legacies like Title 42, the immigration order that has allowed for the deportation of migrants as a public health measure during the pandemic.
And even though Biden began rolling back the MPP soon after taking office in January, his administration has had to prepare to re-implement the program in recent weeks in order to comply with a previous court order — even as it’s actively fighting to end the policy for good.”
“A 39-page justification published along with the memo outlines in further detail the conditions migrants faced in detention in Mexico, including the risk of sexual assault and kidnapping in the encampments where they stayed, as well as unsanitary and unstable housing conditions, limited access to health care and legal counsel, and insufficient food while they waited for the US to make a decision about their asylum hearings.
The right to seek asylum is protected under international law, and has been since the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948.”
“Ultimately, the Biden administration argues the policy has far too many issues for it to be salvaged: Not only does it require significant resources that could be directed elsewhere, according to the DHS memo, but MPP also failed to achieve reduction in crimes like human trafficking and drug smuggling, put people in serious danger, and doesn’t address the root causes that lead to people seeking asylum.
Additionally, the memo says, any program fixes would require the cooperation of Mexico and further diplomatic negotiations — time and energy that could be better spent on other issues. And other strict immigration policies were enacted at the same time as MPP, making it difficult to assess any deterrent effect the policy may have achieved.”
“During his early days in office, Biden seemed on track to dismantle the Trump administration’s most restrictive immigration policies. He ended the travel ban on people from mostly Muslim-majority countries, halted most new border wall construction, and reversed the “zero-tolerance policy” that enabled family separations and the “Remain in Mexico” program that kept asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for court hearings in the US. He also released an expansive reform proposal with a path to citizenship for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the US as its centerpiece.
Then, within weeks of his inauguration, record numbers of unaccompanied migrant children began arriving from Central America, and Biden’s border policies came under scrutiny from both the left and the right.
Suddenly on the defensive, the administration’s posture shifted. It reopened temporary, jail-like facilities — the same “cages” that drew condemnation in 2019 under Trump — to house migrant children. On a June trip to Guatemala, in what would become a common refrain for US officials, Vice President Kamala Harris told migrants, “Don’t come.””
“Biden’s primary tool to manage the border has been a controversial policy that one ex-Trump official, referring to the architect of the former president’s restrictive immigration policy, called a “Stephen Miller special.”
In March 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, Trump used a special legal authority called Title 42, a section of the Public Health Service Act that allows the US government to temporarily block noncitizens from entering the US in the interest of public health. Though Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists initially opposed the policy, arguing that there was no legitimate public health rationale behind it, then-Vice President Mike Pence ordered them to implement it anyway.
Under both Trump and Biden, the policy has allowed US immigration officials at the southern border to rapidly expel migrants more than 1.1 million times, without a hearing before an immigration judge. (The exact number of people expelled is unknown because many have been caught trying to cross the border multiple times.)
Even when a federal judge recently blocked the policy from being used to expel families, the Biden administration chose to appeal the ruling, and has continued (with court permission) to enforce the policy while litigation continues.
Biden has carved out some exemptions. Unaccompanied children and people subject to the “Remain in Mexico” policy under Trump are allowed to enter the US while their cases are adjudicated. The Mexican government has also refused to take back some Haitian and Central American families, who have been allowed to enter. But everyone else, including people facing real persecution and danger in their home countries or in Mexico, can be expelled.”
“Haiti has been in a state of upheaval since at least July, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated and, amid the power vacuum, gang violence sharply escalated. When a magnitude 7.2 earthquake and tropical depression devastated Haiti in August, the country’s political crisis was compounded by a humanitarian one.
About 30,000 Haitian migrants arrived in Del Rio, Texas, last month, setting up a temporary encampment under the international bridge that connects the US and Mexico. There has also been a dramatic increase in Haitians attempting to cross the Caribbean by boat to reach the US. More than 1,500 such migrants were intercepted by the US Coast Guard over the last year, up from about 400 in the previous year.
Many of the Haitians seeking refuge in the US lived in Latin America for years after fleeing earlier crises in Haiti, including an even bigger 2010 earthquake. But the Covid-19 recession, racial discrimination in Latin America, the realization that going home was no longer an option, and the perception that the US would offer them humanitarian protection all played a role in their decision to move north.
At first, the Biden administration did offer protection. Mayorkas decided to extend Temporary Protected Status — typically used to enable citizens of countries that have experienced violent conflict or natural disasters to live and work in the US — for Haitians who arrived in the US prior to July 29. This offer was designed to cover those who fled the country in the aftermath of the political crisis stemming from Moïse’s killing.
At the time, Mayorkas said “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic” had made it dangerous for Haitians to return home.
But the administration maintained a strict stance toward those arriving by boat. Mayorkas said in July that any migrants intercepted off US shores will be turned back or, if they express fear of returning home, repatriated to a third country.”
“Most of the Haitians who were staying in the camp have since been expelled. The US has sent 7,000 back to Haiti since September 19 through the Title 42 policy, despite continued turmoil on the ground. Others voluntarily returned to Mexico to avoid being sent back to Haiti or were allowed to enter the US, at least temporarily.
It’s not clear how US authorities determined which Haitians were to be expelled and which permitted to stay. Some 12,000 Haitians are currently facing deportation proceedings in which they will be able to make their case before an immigration judge for why they should be allowed to remain in the US, via asylum or other humanitarian avenues.”
“Biden has sought to provide legal status to at least some portion of America’s more than 10 million undocumented immigrants.
He backed Democrats’ latest but so far unsuccessful attempt to include a pathway to citizenship for certain categories of immigrants — including DREAMers who came to the US as children, TPS recipients, farmworkers, and essential workers — in a budget reconciliation bill. His administration also recently published a proposed regulation seeking to codify protections for DREAMers who have been allowed to live and work in the US under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is meant to guard against ongoing legal challenges.
Biden has also attempted to expand legal aid resources for immigrants and limit the reach of immigration enforcement inside the US. The administration recently launched an initiative to provide unaccompanied children facing deportation with a government-funded lawyer in eight cities across the US, and has sought to narrow the categories of undocumented immigrants who should be prioritized for arrest, issuing new US ICE guidance meant to focus resources on those who pose public safety threats. And on Tuesday, the administration ended mass worksite raids, which the Trump administration used to arrest hundreds of undocumented immigrants at once.
Such policies, Psaki said during a September 20 briefing, show that Biden remains “absolutely committed” to “putting in place long-overdue measures to fix our immigration system — to make it more moral, humane, and workable.”
But his actions on the border have told a different story: a push to improve the lives of only certain immigrants who are already integrated into American society, while keeping others out of sight and out of mind — even if that means embracing policies designed by the Trump administration.”
“Using the word invasion as a substitute for illegal migration is both offensive to anyone who’s lived through a real one and insulting to the intelligence of everyone else. If you can’t tell the difference between 100,000 Germans arriving in Paris at the head of an army in 1940, and 100,000 Germans arriving in Paris today as tourists, it’s time to crack open a history book, not opine on immigration policy.”
“Migration across the border may involve violations of U.S. laws, but the comparison to an invasion ends there. Border crossers aren’t coming to overthrow the government or take over the Capitol (unlike a few nativists this year). Indeed, it’s the U.S. government that is attempting to assail the migrants, not the other way around. People crossing the border actively try to avoid conflict with U.S. authorities either by 1) evading detection and peacefully moving to their destinations, or 2) intentionally seeking out U.S. agents to submit to the government’s legal procedures. Reporting from the frontlines of this supposed conquest, The Wall Street Journal described how some invaders were inquiring for directions to the closest “immigration office.”
An “invasion” isn’t just an overstatement. It’s a completely unserious attempt to demand extraordinary, military-style measures to stop completely mundane actions like walking around a closed port of entry to file asylum paperwork or violating international labor market regulations in order to fill one of the 10 million job openings in this country. But the goal of this nativist language warfare is nothing less than the removal of immigrant rights. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country,” Trump tweeted in 2018. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.””
“Migration is the exact opposite of an invasion. Nearly all these so-called invaders are coming to serve Americans. This supposed invasion will contribute to the strength and prosperity of the United States, not undermine it. This isn’t Santa Anna’s soldiers crossing the Rio Grande. It’s four kids with their mom reuniting with their dad at a farm outside of Atlanta. They’re not coming to blow us up or take our stuff—they’re coming to work with us, work for us, and buy our products. They want to be us, not conquer us. And that’s the most important point: A crackdown on migration does not vindicate the rights of Americans to be free from foreign attackers. Rather, it is a violation of our rights to associate, contract, and trade with peaceful people born in other countries.”
“There is no invasion. It’s just an overheated political analogy in pursuit of a policy outcome—if only the wielders of the word would admit that. If nativists have a good argument to make against liberalized immigration, let them make that argument instead of mangling the English language.”
“In late August, Nephtalie and her husband, still waiting in Chiapas, began to hear a rumor spreading around the Haitian migrant population living across Mexico. From interviews this week with other migrants in Del Rio, and conversations with attorneys who have met with dozens more, it seems that many people had the same experience. The rumor went like this: First, information went around that, while most of the border was closed, U.S. immigration authorities were allowing people to cross and ask for asylum in Mexicali — on the border with Calexico, California — and in Acuña, the Mexican city across from Del Rio. (This was not true, but it spread like wildfire among people yearning for a glimmer of hope.) Second, the rumor said that Sept. 16 would be the best day to travel. That would be Mexico’s Independence Day, and migrants figured that the Mexican authorities, who have bowed to U.S. pressure to more stringently police immigrants in Mexico, would be preoccupied, allowing them to travel within the country unimpeded northward. Finally, the bus routes to Acuña were cheaper than to other spots along the border, like Mexicali. So, as el Día de la Independencia de México arrived, thousands of people who had heard the rumors — by word of mouth or on WhatsApp or on Haitian social media — began traveling to Acuña to cross into Del Rio.
When I asked one Haitian man at a gas station in Del Rio, “Why did you choose to cross from Acunã to Del Rio?” he replied: “Where is that?” Like many, he had probably simply followed others along what sounded like an opportunity to finally be accepted in the United States.
But the stakes of following such a rumor only to be faced with the reality of a closed border are tragic: Most of the Haitians in Del Rio today left Haiti years ago. Now, after traveling thousands of miles with the hope that they could eventually gain asylum in the U.S., many are instead being returned to the very island they fled.”
“The number of migrants apprehended at the border isn’t going down this summer, even as the heat makes the journey to the U.S. more dangerous. Instead, it has reached a 21-year high — and there’s a record number of unaccompanied children arriving, too.”
“Migrants for years have been pushed to seek refuge in the U.S. because of conditions in their home countries. But over the past 16 months, the numbers have increased as part of the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and as migrants face even more dire economic circumstances.
“The pandemic probably is a big part of it,” said Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan organization that engages in research on global issues. “You’ve got just a lot more people out of work and suffering because of the economic impact and that probably increases, surely increases, the pull factor.”
The Biden administration has continued to use the Trump-era public health order, known as Title 42, to expel migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. And experts and analysts say that this, too, is likely a major factor for the high number of apprehensions recorded each month. A large portion of migrants crossing the border are repeat crossers, who keep trying because there isn’t any real punishment when they get caught.
In June, for example, more than 188,000 migrants were apprehended at the border. Of those, 34 percent had tried to cross at least once before in the last 12 months, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. That’s compared with an average recidivism rate of 14 percent for fiscal years 2014 to 2019.
Biden continues to turn away most of the migrants encountered at the border through Title 42, including single adults and many families, but has made exceptions for unaccompanied children to stay for humanitarian reasons. It has led some parents to send their children to the U.S. alone, knowing that the administration will allow them to stay, according to immigrant advocates.
Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates and public health experts for months have been urging the Biden administration to end its use of Title 42, arguing that it is unlawful, inhumane and not justified by public health. Biden officials were planning to begin phasing out Title 42, but those plans were derailed given the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus and the increase in apprehensions.”
“Over 14,000 unaccompanied minors are now in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Detained minors in their testimonials for the case described limited time outside, sporadic showers, and being served inadequate or unsafe food, including raw chicken and foul-smelling hamburgers. A 13-year-old Honduran recounted being “locked up all day” during five days in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody. A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said that detainees at a facility in Houston had to drink expired milk when they ran out of water. “I was never allowed to make a phone call while I was there,” said a 17-year-old Honduran who was in CBP custody for 11 days. Minors reported receiving few details about how long they would be in custody and many were transferred to other facilities with little notice or explanation.
Those conditions have left detained minors despondent. “I used to be able to cope with my anxiety and breathe through it, but now I feel like I’ve given up,” said a 17-year-old from Guatemala. “I feel like I’ll never get out of here.” One child was placed on suicide watch and another described how difficult it was to get an appointment with a counselor, though many girls in detention “have thoughts of cutting themselves.” Teens have resorted to cutting themselves with their identification cards since employees at one facility banned pencils, pens, toothbrushes, and even the metal nose clips of N95 face masks over concerns of self-harm, according to testimony and worker accounts.
“There is no one here I can talk to about my case,” said a 17-year-old Honduran detainee. “There’s also no one here I can talk to when I’m feeling sad. There’s no one here; I just talk to God. It helps me and I cry. It would help if I could have a Bible.””
“Abbott has so far provided little information about how he will finance the project, which will undoubtedly carry a hefty price tag. In Texas, one section of Trump’s border wall came out to be $27 million a mile. Abbott intends to provide $250 million in state revenues as a “down payment.” Those funds will come from a disaster account, a transfer made possible because he issued a disaster declaration in order to take a number of executive actions against migration. Abbott also expects that crowdfunding will help supplement state funds. So far, that effort has collected roughly $450,000.
David Donatti, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas who specializes in border issues, has concerns about Abbott’s financial approach.
“He has declared a disaster, and by that authority, he’s moving $250 million into an account that allows him to” build a border wall, says Donatti. “For a state like Texas,” $250 million “is a lot of money…that could be used for hurricane recovery, toward recovery from something like the freeze that we experienced.” Donatti calls it “an absurd abuse of power if nothing else,” even though the result of that abuse would provide “an ineffective solution to people coming to the United States.”
According to the governor, construction would also hinge on voluntary land concessions from borderlands residents. In Texas, most land along the border with Mexico is privately owned. That gives Abbott two options: either entice landowners to donate their property or seize it from the unwilling. To build his wall, Trump chose to initiate land grabs in the borderlands through eminent domain, which is a legal doctrine that allows the government to seize private property for public use. Affected landowners nominally must receive just compensation, though practically the process is rife with abuse.”
“Regardless of the wall’s future, Abbott is already implementing policies beyond a physical barrier to keep migrants out. As Reason’s Billy Binion reported, Abbott “has directed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) to clear out the Dolph Biscoe Unit, a state prison in Dilley, Texas, so that law enforcement can arrest and detain some undocumented migrants there.” He’s made it so that migrants are subject to “aggravated trespassing” charges, a misdemeanor, giving the state the authority to arrest migrants who are otherwise governed by federal immigration frameworks. As Donatti points out, that “quite clearly tramples on the federal government’s prerogative to immigration control.” Abbott has also revoked licenses for child care services found to be looking after undocumented migrant kids, which might lead to those minors being shuttled into inadequate emergency detention facilities.”
“The US started dramatically ramping up immigration enforcement in the 1990s with bipartisan support. The line of thinking was that making it more expensive and arduous to cross the border would dissuade more people from making the journey in the first place. It became the preferred strategy for policymakers because it was easy to sell to constituents, even though it wasn’t necessarily grounded in a deep understanding of the factors driving unauthorized immigration.
But a growing body of research shows that the threat of immigration enforcement isn’t an effective deterrent for migrants in the long run. Emily Ryo, a professor of law and sociology at the USC Gould School of Law, found in a paper published earlier this month that it has no significant effect on people’s decision to migrate from Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle”: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
In cooperation with Vanderbilt University and the Latin American Public Opinion Project, she designed an experiment that was included in the 2018-’19 AmericasBarometer survey of nearly 11,000 voting-age adults across the four countries. She divided the respondents into three groups and provided them with different prompts offering information about how many migrants are apprehended by US officials when trying to cross the border, subject to detention for an indefinite period of time, and face a lack of judicial process when it comes to their deportation. They were then asked how likely it would be that they would choose to live and work in the US in the next three years.
The patterns in responses across the groups were strikingly similar, though they were provided with different information about US immigration enforcement policy. Most said they weren’t likely to go to the US, but in all three groups, about 21 percent said they were “a little likely to go,” 10 percent said they were “somewhat likely,” and roughly another 10 percent said “very likely.”
Knowledge about US deportation and detention policy didn’t have any significant effect on their intentions to migrate.”
“Another study, conducted by Vanderbilt University political science professor Jonathan Hiskey and co-authors, similarly found that knowledge of heightened US deterrence efforts didn’t influence people’s decision to migrate.”
“Another unintended effect of US immigration enforcement has been the increase in the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US from roughly 3 million in 1986 to over 11 million today. Princeton sociologist Doug Massey and his co-authors found in a 2016 paper that the rapid expansion of immigration enforcement in the years following 1986, the last time that a major immigration law was passed, actually caused more migrants to decide to settle in the US permanently.
Before then, Mexican men had moved back and forth across the border, usually looking for opportunities for temporary work and crossing in El Paso and San Diego. The US’s decision to expand immigration enforcement didn’t really alter their ability to cross the border. They weren’t much more likely to be apprehended when they attempted to cross, and even if they were discovered by US immigration officials and swiftly returned to Mexico, they could still succeed after multiple attempts.
What changed, however, was the costs and risks associated with returning to their home country and then attempting to reenter the US. Migrants had to start crossing in more dangerous regions of the border, going through the Sonoran Desert and Arizona, and came to rely more heavily on the services of paid smugglers, which became more expensive. Between 1980 and 2010, the probability that a migrant would return after their first trip to the US consequently dropped from 48 percent to zero, according to Massey’s paper.
“The combination of increasingly costly and risky trips and the near certainty of getting into the United States created a decision-making contest in which it still made economic sense to migrate but not to return home to face the high costs and risks of subsequent entry attempts,” the authors write in the paper.
In this way, immigration enforcement had the opposite of the intended effect. And the authors write that if policymakers had never increased border patrol’s funding beyond accounting for inflation, the population of undocumented immigrants living in the US likely would have “grown substantially less.””