Members Only | June 22, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Biden and Harris are wrong on the border

Pandering to lies serves no one, writes Richard Sudan

Biden and Harris are wrong on the border

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After Donald Trump left office, many breathed a sigh of relief. Some dared hope that a Biden presidency would offer not just a change in rhetoric but also a change in policy towards the thousands of human beings travelling to the border seeking safety.  

After years of hearing the endless repetitive fantasy of “build the wall” and witnessing the heart-wrenching scenes of kids being caged and separated from parents by outsourced thugs in uniforms, surely the only sensible policy moving forward would be to “let them in” and take responsibility for what the US is in large part responsible for.

People don’t want to leave their ancestral homelands, making a trip that they know could cost them and their children their lives. It’s a desperate last resort. They are escaping war, poverty, corruption, disease, the grip of drug cartels and gangs, unemployment and ultimately hopelessness. The United States, after decades of forcing regime change and destabilizing countless countries and democracies in South America, has no right to turn its back on those fleeing its legacy of neocolonialism. 

Ramping up border security, creating special units to go after people-traffickers—these and others will never get to the root cause of why people migrate any more than building a border wall will, writes Editorial Board member Richard Sudan.

Much like those making the perilous crossing of the English Channel from France in rubber dinghies trying to reach Britain, such a choice is an absolute desperate final choice because conditions at home are that bad. It’s worth the risk.

So, to hear the words, “Do not come here. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders. If you come to our border, you will be turned back”—to hear them spoken recently by Vice President Kamala Harris visiting Guatemala in a message addressing potential migrants was deeply troubling.

Harris, of course, is representing the president, who himself was tasked as vice president with the same assignment by Barack Obama in dealing with the migration “problem” years ago.  It’s estimated in April alone 178,000 migrants arrived at the border, the largest one-month total in two decades, according to border officials.

The president, of course, with his eye on the congressional elections, is trying to hold together his electoral coalition. Nationalism with unfounded fears about migration continues to grow. And Harris’ words are designed to counter the false perception that with the Democrats in the White House, the US has an open-door policy for migrants.

But nothing could be further from the truth. And while Harris was able to sidestep questions about Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on the topic of corruption, one of the issues that has plagued the country, critics are skeptical as to exactly whose hands the millions of dollars the US has pledged will likely end up in.

However this plays out, the political tightrope Biden is trying to walk plays directly into the hands of right-wingers and the Republicans. And whatever Biden and Harris do will never be enough for the braying jackals of populism. In fact, despite Harris’ words telling migrants to not trek to the US-Mexico border, 56 House Republicans are demanding that Biden remove her from leading for not yet visiting the border.

But regardless, Harris’ speech remains hugely damaging. The tone of her messaging cast migrants as criminals when the reality is that it is perfectly legal to claim political asylum at the border. And human rights obligations demand that they are processed and treated fairly, instead of being cast aside as some political inconvenience.

The United States and the UK, too, are in the grip of a kind of dangerous nationalism that is reaching fever-pitch.

And actually, quite apart from the fact that the United States is a country populated by citizens descended from generations of migrants, from all over the world, the facts show that those who make it to the US, work hard and contribute boost the economy, and ultimately provide vital services which would otherwise likely struggle to function.

But some places aren’t waiting for the White House to do the right thing.

The Democratic governor of Colorado Jared Polis signed into law a number of measures aimed at giving tens of thousands of undocumented migrants in the state the chance to legally access services they need to live and work, which actually is the most obvious and simple way to end the criminalization of people who are for the large part vulnerable and need support and who in the long run will boost the economy.

Again, ramping up security at borders, creating special units to go after smugglers and people-traffickers—these will never get to the root causes of why people migrate any more than trying to build a wall will deter desperate people from crossing the border. Biden pledging to not separate families at the border is not the cause behind any purported sudden “surge” in migration. And he shouldn’t pander to those lies.

Given that the United States government cannot even admit to the decades’ long campaigns of destabilizing the countries people are fleeing from, the political will to genuinely repair the damage done to those countries, and ultimately make those countries safe and prosperous places to live, is not about to materialize any time soon.

The US and the UK, too, are in the grip of a kind of dangerous nationalism that is reaching fever-pitch. Unfounded ignorance and fear of the “other” remains firmly mainstream and sadly wins elections. Britain’s “Make America Great” and Trump moment was encapsulated by our equivalent, which was Brexit. But although both the elections of Trump and Brexit are behind us, the groundswell and conditions that produced them remain. And as long as that’s the case, they must be countered.  

Of course there’s an academic quality to those Americans with European surnames opining about a small number (comparative to the US population) of people trying to get from Mexico, to places like Texas, which was once part of Mexico. It’s indicative of a sublime willful ignorance that no politician of any party should pander to.

The passage of migrants to travel and arrive safely to the US should be made easier, not more dangerous. Countries like the US claim to be democracies that care about human rights. But this fallacy is reflected in disastrous inhumane border policies. 

Richard Sudan


Journalist Richard Sudan is based in London. His reporting and writing have appeared in The GuardianIndependent and others. His reporting has taken him across Europe and to Palestine. He focuses on racism, police brutality and human rights. Find him @richardsudan.

Published in cooperation with Alternet.

Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.

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