Members Only | September 14, 2021 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Let’s be honest. The same barbarous migrant policies that characterized Trump’s tenure are operating at full speed in Biden’s

Border policies should start with safeguarding human life.

A Haitian migrant and his son are detained by Mexican security forces.
A Haitian migrant and his son are detained by Mexican security forces.

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Several hundred migrants parading through a highway in southern Mexico violently clashed with a throng of security forces, who had to respond with a show of force after they were attacked with rocks and sticks Thursday.” This was the opening line describing “clashes” between desperate migrants to the US and Mexican security forces recently published in the notoriously right-wing Daily Mail

The headline of the article describes the scene, mostly made up of Haitian families carrying small kids, as an “attack” on the Mexican security forces, which are groups of heavily cladded men, often assisted in parts of the country by United States military forces.

But the story, much like others, could not be further from the truth.

One only has to look at the numerous videos circulating on social media, and read witness accounts of these so-called clashes, to understand that vulnerable people, fleeing (as a last resort) some of the most desperate humanitarian crises on the planet, are being violently attacked by little more than thugs in uniforms.  

I’ve seen for myself the true conditions that migrants often face, having posed as a refugee myself and entering camps, crossing borders on refugee trials in places like Hungary and Serbia. 

Mexico has been under increasing pressure from the US to stem the flow of migrants from within Mexico, something that the Mexican president recently conceded was beyond the country’s capacity. 

But the result of President Biden pressuring the Mexican government to do more to quell the numbers of migrants heading to the US is clear. Families tired of waiting to be processed in camps notorious for abuse and exploitation are walking miles along highways in the hope of being processed at the border or the interior of the United States. Those families are being beaten, repelled, detained and deported.  There are reports of dawn raids at hotels of Black people, targeted because they’re presumed to be Haitians when in fact they are not. 

Every country has a right to enact immigration law and enforce it. But what’s happening in Mexico, and also with the detainment and subsequent deportation of migrants in the US, is, according to legal experts, in breach of international law as well as US law. Deporting migrants back to the perilous conditions they fled from is immoral. It also goes against the principles of freedom of movement and the right for anyone to claim asylum enshrined in the United Nations charter.

And the twisted irony is that the lives and safety of migrants are being compromised in the name of US public health law and the pandemic.  The hostile environment toward migrants has its roots in Title 42, first enacted under the Trump administration to solve the problem of Black and brown people seeking to enter the US, which continues to be maintained by the Biden administration. Under  Title 42, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is authorized to prohibit people from entering the country if “there is a serious danger to the introduction of disease into the United States.” 

This came to reality on March 20, 2020, following an emergency regulation issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services paving the way for Title 42 to be implemented. It also immediately meant customs officials and border patrol agents had the power to carry out the order issued by the CDC. The very same day that the procedure was introduced, border officials began “expelling” individuals at the border before they could be detained or have any chance to safely claim asylum. Since March 2020, hundreds of thousands of people have been deported and blocked at the border.

Haitians in particular, who have had to deal with decades of destabilization fuelled by US policy and natural disasters, are seeing more of their people deported to Haiti under Title 42, and Biden’s government, at a faster rate than even under Donald Trump’s. 

But it’s not just decent people condemning the horrendous treatment of migrants and the use of Title 42 as a means to expel en masse. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has also called on the policy to end, in a statement issued in May of this year: “Title 42 order has resulted in the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of people to Mexico or their countries of origin, denying their access to asylum procedures. Guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum-seekers are core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugee law, which governments are required to uphold to protect the rights and lives of refugees.”

In addition, as Human Rights Watch has highlighted, scores of legal experts and countless voices from around the world have also made clear their opposition to the expulsions and potential breaches of human rights committed by the United States and the ongoing mass sidelining of thousands who need to claim asylum.

But none of this is really about public health. It’s entirely political, with Black and brown migrants being used as political footballs to appease those in the US who buy into the lies about immigrants and who harbour unjust border fears. This dangerous groundwork was laid by Trump, while the persistent failure to counter the narrative through progressive policy further legitimizes it.

Biden doesn’t want to appear to be a soft touch, and so Kamala Harris, and Alejandro Mayorkas continue to play to the gallery by making statements to deter those potential migrants to the US while continuing Trump’s barbaric policy.

I’ve spoken to many families. They know full well the very real danger of death they are taking in dangerous crossings, like the English Channel. It’s simply the very best option they have compared to the situation behind them.

And it’s not only in the US where the dangerous capitulation to far-right nationalism is found. In the United Kingdom, Home Secretary Priti Patel, the daughter of parents who immigrated to the UK, is continuing policies that make life a living hell for immigrants or often anyone perceived to be one. Recently, in a move echoing US policy, Patel announced plans to turn around small migrant boats making their way through the English Channel to the English coast, sending them back to France. The English channel is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. Should such a move be enforced, it will be a death sentence for vulnerable people, including children. 

I’ve seen for myself the true conditions that migrants often face, having posed as a refugee myself and entering camps, crossing borders on refugee trials in places like Hungary and Serbia during reporting. I’ve spoken to many families. They know full well the very real danger of death they are taking in dangerous crossings, like the English Channel. It’s simply the very best option they have, compared to the situation behind them. The starting point for border policies should be grounded in the safeguarding of human life. But human life it seems and recognizing the humanity of members of our fellow species, only extends so far for certain nations. 

It’s next to impossible to imagine the same policies that we see in both the UK and the US used to justify the expulsion and blocking of immigrants of a different ethnicity. Imagine, say, that the boatloads of people trying to reach the shores of England were white immigrants from elsewhere in Europe, fleeing persecution or worse. Imagine they were English-speaking white Australians. Do we really believe that such draconian border policies would be enforced?

Similarly, if it were white Europeans desperately travelling huge distances through the South American continent, trying to access the US-Mexico border, do we really imagine that US politicians would be telling them “do not come” and deporting them or blocking them from making asylum claims altogether? Not a chance.  

In both the US and the UK, resources poured into catching, detaining and deporting Black and brown people, also part of an industry and conveyor belt of privatised profit, would be used to fund mechanisms to actively go and aid and support their safe passage.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” For these words to mean something, they need to be applied to those fleeing the result of oftentimes disastrous and deadly US policy and meddling, and who are in desperate need. Many around the world claimed to have breathed a sigh of relief when Biden was elected. But let’s be honest. While there might have been a change in rhetoric from the White House, the same cruel policies which characterized Trump’s tenure continue to be operating at full speed.

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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