Story by Brendon Donoho / Contributing Writer and Ashley Barrientos / Lifestyles Editor
Photo via Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Despite Campaign Promises, Biden’s Early Moves are Worrying to Immigration Advocates.
President Joe Biden has presented several sentiments appealing to immigration advocates in the past few months, promising that he would do everything in his power to reverse former President Donald Trump’s stark anti-immigration legacy.
These promises have recently come into question after recent actions under the new Biden administration and a closer examination of his history with immigration policy during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Outcry began when the Guardian reported that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had deported more than 70 people, the youngest of which was two months old and 21 of which were children, to Haiti, while the small nation remains embroiled in political upheaval.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that these deportations were carried out under Title 42, a nearly 80-year-old statute which gained notoriety when the Trump administration used it to carry out deportations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Biden did issue a 100 day moratorium on deportations upon entering office, but that moratorium was blocked by a Texas judge, leading to ICE attempting to deport a planeload of African migrants who had allegedly experienced human rights abuse at the hands of ICE agents.
Both the deportation of the Haitian migrants as well as other attempted and successful removals in the last months are in direct opposition to Biden’s public facing comments and issued guidelines.
While a charitable explanation has been offered by some in government, claiming that ICE is a “rogue agency” which the President has thus far failed to bring under control, many immigrant rights groups look to Biden’s past record as well as other actions by his administration to draw a more worrying conclusion.
Nico Gardner-Serna, former California Democratic Party Field Organizer, said, “Even before he took office, the Biden team signaled that they were really not going to focus on immigration issues during the first 100 days….Outside of some actions on DACA and deportation on moratorium, nothing has changed fundamentally.”
CNN reported at the beginning of the month that the new administration was “planning to open an overflow facility for unaccompanied minors” at the border. While this action does differ from the Trump administration’s practice of separating families at the border and using that separation as a deterrent, it is still very much a holding and detention center designed to detain children over the age of 13, which seems to conflict with the Biden campaign’s attacks on “kids in cages.”
Beyond the optics, the New York Times reported in 2019 that “the federal government received more than 4,500 complaints in four years about the sexual abuse of immigrant children who were being held at government-funded detention facilities.”
On Feb. 1, immigrant rights watchdog Detention Watch Network announced the first death in ICE custody under the new administration, as Felix Montes de Oca died of COVID-19 complications.
Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director of Detention Watch Network, said, “Lives are in jeopardy in ICE custody, and the tragic passing of Felix Montes de Oca underscores why the immigration detention system must be abolished. The Biden administration must act urgently by shutting down facilities and releasing people from detention back to their families, communities and support networks until no one is in detention.”
The President’s record, and that of the Democratic party on the whole, has been rather spotty on the issue of immigration.
Barrack Obama was famously referred to as the “Deporter in Chief” by then President of the National Council of La Raza (NLCR), Janet Murguia, and his administration ballooned spending on ICE and border enforcement to $18 billion, significantly more than FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and ATF combined.
While Obama did sign DACA, which provides relief to some younger undocumented immigrants, this is a limited program, and it is often forgotten that DACA’s success was heavily effected by Marco Rubio and the Republicans offering a counter-proposal which, politically speaking, put President Obama “in a box” where he could no longer hold out.
Joe Biden, as a candidate, received several rounds of backlash over his role in the worsening of the human rights crisis at our borders.
He refused to apologize for the record number of deportations under the Obama/Biden administration, and he refused to promise an immigrant rights protester at a speech that he would end deportations.
Some activists, like Erika Andiola of Raices, have harshly criticized President Biden, saying “that’s exactly what Obama did. It was a lot of talking and narrative and rhetoric that they were going to pass immigration reform, but there wasn’t necessarily a real strategy to get it through.”
Still, the administration claims that they remain committed to a more humane immigration system.
A senior Biden official told CNN that reversing Trump’s actions on immigration “will take time and require a full government approach, but President Biden has been very clear about restoring compassion and order to our immigration system.”
The activist community, however, is calling on the President to take bold steps.
As Gardner-Serna said, “Immigrant communities and their allies turned out to vote against Trump’s draconian policies….but immigration pre-Trump was still incredibly violent. It still separated families, tore apart communities, and held kids in detention. We’ve got to move past a carceral system to a compassionate one. That looks like freedom of movement, abolishing ICE and DHS, and significant investment in migrant communities”
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