Throughout my fellowship it’s become increasingly clear to me that the influence that the executive branch wields over the lives of immigrants is only limited by the imagination and resourcefulness of the president and his cabinet. Most if not all of the disastrous policies for immigrants have been the result of either executive orders, priorities set within Homeland Security or the twisting of seemingly unrelated laws and statutes to further anti-immigrant goals within the current administration. As the election looms I’m reflecting on what four more years of Trump could mean and what a Joe Biden presidency could change on the ground for immigrants in very meaningful ways. I’ve decided to list out and research the specific policies and orders that have so affected many of the Heartland programs I’ve come to know. The reason I’m doing this is because one of the questions I’ve been asking myself is “What does the US Immigration system look like?” I think part of that question can be answered by looking at how and why the executive branch shapes immigration policy from the top down.
Title 42 is the United States Code that deals with public health, social welfare and civil rights. This law has been used most recently to expel people coming to the US via land borders on the grounds that they pose a public health risk because Covid-19 exists within Canada and Mexico where people would be traveling through, to get to the US. Every month since March the numbers of people expelled from the US using Title 42 has increased. In March we expelled 7,081 people and in September we expelled 48,327 people using Title 42 as grounds for the expulsions. If the number of expulsions continues as they have, we will have expelled close to 250,000 people by the end of Oct 2020. The Customs and Border Protection flatly deny that the expulsions have anything to do larger anti-immigrant strategies but instead continually cite the current pandemic as reason for the expulsions. It strikes me as quite obvious that Title 42 is being used as a smoke screen. When the president publicly plays down the risk of Covid-19 yet his policies skew to such a hard line on immigrants coming into the US its hard to draw any conclusion other than the administration wants it both ways. The pandemic is only a problem when it applies to immigrants coming into the country. Title 42 is being use to expel migrants as quickly as possible in a fast track system where migrants who are caught crossing the border are processed in the field instead of at CBP station as would normally happen. This includes asylum seekers and children, who are now denied the formal legal process they are entitled to by law despite a claim of having a credible fear of persecution in their home country. Most are returned to the country in which they transited through to get to the US (mainly Mexico) while others are being deported back to their country of origin. This use of Title 42 to expel migrants without due process does not seem to be going away until Covid-19 is no longer a public health crisis or until a new administration changes the policy.
Migrant Protection Protocols
The migrant protection protocols otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico Policy” is another policy being used to keep migrants out of the United States and deter them from trying to enter the US in the first place. Since early 2019 this immigration program has allowed the US government to release migrants with asylum claims to Mexico instead of allowing them into the United States while their asylum claims are processed. The US supreme court in March of 2020 allowed the Trump administration to continue this policy of keeping migrant in Mexico while their claims are processed. The effect of this policy as been for the first time the creation of refugee camps along the border of the United States where people could remain for years as their asylum cases slowly move through the immigration system. The Mexican government blames the US for the situation but has refused to officially designate the areas where migrants are living outdoors as official refugee camps. This refusal keeps the United Nations from helping to provide infrastructure for housing and sanitation. There is an argument that this policy violates federal “non-refoulement” obligations where the US government is not supposed to send people to a country where they would face persecution or torture. These camps along the US border have become the targets of local cartels and gangs that extort people to allow them to cross over the border or kidnap them and hold them for ransom if they find out they have relatives in the US. Near one camp in Matamoros Mexico nine bodies have washed ashore on the banks of the Rio Grande in just the last two months. This camp is right across the border from Brownsville Texas where my grandmother lives. She’s 90 years old now and a US citizen thanks to Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program but in her youth she came over from Mexico undocumented by swimming that very same river close to that very same area. If my grandmother were trying to get to US now instead of decades ago she could very well be stuck in that very same refugee camp.