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Joe Biden was always going to look like water in the Sahara after four years of stumbling amid the dunes, and the remit for people tasked with monitoring the current administration is to make sure it's not all a mirage. The political press has tried to establish its Unbiased Nonpartisan credentials by hunting in packs on a couple of issues, particularly Afghanistan, which everyone ignored for the better part of two decades as horrors similar to those of these last months played out on a routine basis.
But there are real areas where Biden is benefiting from the fact the bar was recently set somewhere in the Earth's core. Like the southern border. The issue is not that Biden has thrown open the doors through policy, putting up a gigantic VACANCY sign and creating chaos through bleeding-heart naïveté. His administration has cut down on deportations, but like the last Democratic president—who was known as the Deporter-in-Chief among some immigrant-rights activists—he is hardly particularly left-wing on immigration. One of the single worst elements of Donald Trump's border policies, beyond the "zero-tolerance" approach that led inevitably to family separations, was his push to restrict legal immigration. This was proof positive that much of the right-wing's issue has never been with illegal immigration or following the rules, but with certain people coming here, full stop. Part of this Trumpian approach was slashing the number of slots available for refugees and others, and part of it was stripping people, on a de facto basis, of their right under the law to apply for asylum
Unfortunately, it took a massive public pressure campaign to get Biden to open up more spots for some refugees. And he has continued, to this day, to allow the erosion of asylum rights. The most potent example at the moment is the large-scale deportation of Haitians seeking refuge in the United States:
After being denied their legal right to make an asylum claim, hundreds of Haitians are deported to Port-au-Prince where they find their un-labeled belongings scattered on the ground by ICE. pic.twitter.com/bQ6kbYHEPj
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) September 22, 2021
Daniel Foote, the State Department's special envoy for Haiti, has just announced his resignation with a scathing letter going after the Biden administration's "inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees." It's not just that we're sending thousands of migrants to a country that is already on the brink of collapse after a catastrophic earthquake, a presidential assassination, and a cratering economy, all of which have led to gang control over many areas and perilous conditions for ordinary people and families. Foote's letter also slams the U.S. and other Western powers for once again trying to meddle in Haiti's political affairs, backing the "unelected, de facto prime minister Dr. Ariel Henry." You may recognize all this from the stories of other countries from which people are fleeing to the U.S., like Honduras or El Salvador, all the way down to the decades of U.S. meddling in their affairs.
But perhaps the most pressing issue is the denial of asylum rights. The Biden administration is continuing to use Title 42—a piece of the immigration code that allows the Executive Branch to unilaterally ban people from certain countries if they are deemed to be hotbeds of communicable diseases—to swiftly deport people seeking refuge here. The Trump administration seized on the pandemic to use Title 42 at the southern border. It was not an unjustified approach, particularly in the sea of unknowns that was March 2020, though the New York Times also reported that Santa Monica Gargamel Stephen Miller sought to use a 2019 mumps outbreak for the same purpose. Anyway, at this point, the justification for the policy is wearing thin, but the Biden administration has gone to court to defend its use—and, by extension, the rapid deportation of migrants, some of whom surely have legitimate claims for asylum in the United States, without due process. Some Haitians now being put on planes are telling the Times and other outlets that they never got to meet with an immigration official of any kind.
The Biden folks look good next to the barbarism of the previous administration, even with the images of white agents of the state on horseback menacing Black men with whips. But we'll need to strive, all of us, to demand more. This country has lost its way in the 21st century, lost its identity as a refuge for the world's weary strivers, lost the notion that the American experiment is about a citizenship of values and ideas rather than where you were born. That doesn't mean there are no borders, but the Biden policy is nowhere close to that. He has jettisoned some of the worst of his predecessor, kept some of the rest, and generally failed to take an adequate stand for America's immigrant tradition. It's not just about offering safe harbor in the way that, say, Biden's Irish ancestors found it here. It's about building America's image of itself so that it may someday dole out justice in practice. Non-citizens still have human rights. People should have a chance to get their asylum claims heard before they are sent away.
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