Opinions

Biden and the big border debacle

Conservative claims that Biden’s border policies are ‘lax’ are quite absurd.

Belén Fernández

Al Jazeera columnist

Published On 15 Jan 202415 Jan 2024A man carries bags towards the US border fence from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on December 27, 2023 [Christian Chavez/AP]

Shortly before Christmas, an extended Venezuelan family of 10 crossed into the United States from Mexico with a large contingent of other asylum seekers – part of a December “migrant surge” that propelled the panties of US politicians and media into a massive bunch.

On December 18 alone when US Customs and Border Protection tallied a record of more than 12,600 “migrant encounters” on the southern border, Fox News wailed, “Thousands flood into Texas.”

I had made the acquaintance of the Venezuelan family in early November in the city of Tapachula in southern Mexico near the border with Guatemala and had met up with them again later in the month on the Mexican isthmus of Tehuantepec as they continued trudging north to “surge” into the United States.

After spending nearly a week navigating “La Bestia” – Mexico’s infamous “train of death” – they tried to enter the Texas border city of Eagle Pass from the Mexican city of Piedras Negras but were halted by US authorities. According to the family, a standoff ensued that lasted several days and only ended when people in the group began fainting from lack of food and water.

My friends were then taken into custody and separated. One of the women and a few of the children were sent to McAllen, nearly 500km (300 miles) away, for “processing”. Eventually, all family members ended up on buses bound for Chicago – one of the US cities right-wing Texas Governor Greg Abbott has determined should pay for President Joe Biden’s “refusal to secure the border”.

The family is now residing at a shelter in the city – one of many institutions that has had to scramble to meet the needs of passengers arriving on the “Abbott express”, if you will.

A January 5 press release from the governor’s office praised Texas’s “historic response to Biden’s border crisis”, which since August 2022 had included busing more than 29,400 “migrants” to Chicago, more than 35,600 to New York City and more than 12,500 to Washington, DC, all cities governed by Democrats. Some asylum seekers have also been flown by private plane.

Of course, Abbott’s xenophobic orientation is highly marketable in a state that prides itself on being at the vanguard of reactionary extremism. But while there is clearly a “border crisis” under way – as underscored by the unprecedented numbers of humans deeming it necessary to risk their lives to travel to the US – its dimensions do not exactly align with Abbottian fantasy.

For starters, the Biden administration is hardly presiding over an immigration free-for-all. As The Washington Post reported on December 29, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants in the 2023 fiscal year, which was nearly twice as many deportations as were carried out the previous year.

Biden has also made frequent use of his predecessor Donald Trump’s beloved policy of dumping non-Mexican asylum seekers back into Mexico and has resumed direct deportation flights from the US to Venezuela. These flights are expected to increase significantly in 2024, which means that many more Venezuelans will get to re-encounter the hardships of existence in a country under debilitating – and even lethal – US sanctions.

To be sure, what is consistently excised from the discourse on immigration and asylum is that the United States’s own relentless and flagrant violations of other nations’ sovereignty plays a fundamental role in driving people from their homes in the first place – and often in the direction of the US itself.

Meanwhile, the idea that Biden is somehow dismantling the US border is easily debunked by reality: a reality in which his administration waived a slew of federal laws and regulations in order to expand Trump’s wall, in contravention of Biden’s own promises.

As journalist Melissa del Bosque writes in a recent dispatch for The Border Chronicle on the “lucrative business of ‘border chaos’”, the past two decades have seen the US border wall economy “metastasise … into a multibillion-dollar industry supported by both political parties, an industry that enriches private contractors, military vendors, tech billionaires, and politicians”.

In other words, the real crisis is not that there is not enough border control. It is that there is too much. And the frenetic militarisation of that border is what makes getting to it and through it such a perilous and costly undertaking for those the US-led capitalist system has condemned to “illegal” migration.

In the meantime, a report from the US Chamber of Commerce reveals that “if every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have over 2 million open jobs”. Yet the fearmongering rhetoric about “the migrant flood” surges on.

Late last year, it occurred to Biden to bribe Republicans with promises of billions of dollars in border crackdown money in exchange for their support for even more billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine and Israel. This, of course, was after the Israeli military had commenced its latest assault on the Gaza Strip on October 7, which has now killed more than 24,000 Palestinians.

Anyway, genocide isn’t cheap.

Given that the US has such vast resources at its disposal, it would be nice if the country would help people rather than kill them. The fact that Biden is being vilified as a softie on immigration just renders the whole arrangement all the more nauseating, shifting as it does the narrative even further to the fanatical right.

About the same time that I rendezvoused with the Venezuelan family on the isthmus of Tehuantepec in November, I met a young asylum seeker from Mauritania who was also traversing Mexico with a number of his compatriots in the hopes of reaching the US border.

Having since made it to New York, he messaged me over the holidays in distress after spending too much time perusing xenophobic vitriol on X. In command of superb English as well as English slang – and intermittently addressing me as “bro” – he professed to be “shocked” at the online hatred emitted against folks who, like him, were simply seeking a better life.

As Americans continue to internalise the US border while the US continues to violate everyone else’s, there is a crisis afoot indeed.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.