Washington DC – A few thousand migrants, most fleeing poverty and violence in Central America and the Caribbean, left southern Mexico last month in hopes of reaching the United States.
There is a strong possibility that Mexican authorities will prevent the group – which travels on foot – from approaching the US-Mexico border, under the terms of an agreement between the two countries to stem irregular migration to the United States.
But if the migrants arrive at the border, the United States is likely to deport most of them under Title 42, a Trump-era policy that allows for immediate deportations and which rights groups of the United States, progressive leaders and the United Nations blasted it as a violation of international law.
President Joe Biden has kept the measure in place despite criticism, as his administration struggles to meet the 20-year record for the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving at the southern border of the United States.
This is not the first time the country has faced border challenges, and it is unlikely to be the last, as immigration advocates say crises in Central American countries and South will continue to push thousands of people to seek protection in the United States.
These advocates are now calling on US lawmakers, bitterly divided along partisan lines on the issue, to pass legislation in Congress to reform the country’s immigration system, arguing that this is the only way to respond in an effective and humane manner.
“Immigration to this country is a matter of politics, not politics,” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS, a US refugee resettlement agency. “This is an intensely politicized issue, which makes it almost impossible to develop good policy.
“The laws must change,” she told Al Jazeera. “Congress must act; everything the president does is temporary without Congress, ”adding that Congress must be a partner in the goal of protecting those in need.
Immigration advocates say the last time Congress passed sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system was in 1986 under former President Ronald Reagan.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act, which has been hailed as a landmark immigration bill, made it a criminal offense for employers to hire undocumented migrants and offered status legal to nearly three million undocumented migrants who were in the United States before 1982.
The bill also provided for critical changes in policing services on the southern border of the United States, increasing funding for additional security technologies and increasing the number of border patrol officers. The measures, according to lawmakers at the time, would deter people from crossing without a permit.
“It was the first time in recent history that the United States adopted the idea that if we employed military force on our border, we would deter people from even trying to cross the US border,” Oscar said. Chacon, co-founder and executive director of Alianza. Americas, a network of immigrant organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Obviously it didn’t work because it completely ignores why people are fleeing and because of it it has been an outright failure and a terrible waste of public resources,” Chacon told Al Jazeera.
In that fiscal year, U.S. authorities arrested 1.7 million migrants attempting to cross the border – a historic record – while the population of undocumented migrants living in the United States increased to around 11 million.
Trump’s enduring legacy
In the absence of congressional action, successive US administrations have adopted an immigration policy through orders and memoranda from the Department of Homeland Security. Most of the measures, experts say, have focused on increasing law enforcement.
Congressional inaction proved critical when former President Donald Trump, a Republican who made restricting immigration to the United States one of his main goals, took office.
Beginning in 2016, Trump signed executive orders barring citizens from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. immigration hearings, and increasing deportations. undocumented migrants, among other measures. He also made the building of a wall with Mexico a feature of his immigration policy.
Amid the continuing impasse over immigration in Congress, Biden overturned several of Trump’s policies by issuing his own executive orders after taking office in January.
But Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration has become entrenched in the Republican Party, political analysts say – and with Congress currently split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the prospect of enacting meaningful immigration reform seems slim.
Experts say the last time Congress voted on comprehensive immigration reform legislation was in 2013, when the Senate passed a bill backed by former President Barack Obama with 68 votes in favor. – including 14 Republicans – and 32 against. House Republicans, however, refused to consider the bill, which would have allowed many undocumented immigrants to embark on the path of citizenship.
Since then, Senate Republicans have increasingly opposed Democrats’ efforts to push through revisions to U.S. immigration laws.
Recent surveys also show that Americans are divided along party lines when it comes to immigration. Seventy-five percent of Democrats versus 41 percent of Republicans said they supported the admission of Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty to the United States, according to an NPR / Ipsos poll released in September.
“You cannot get the leader of a party to make restricting immigration or expanding immigration his main problem without there being a partisan backlash against it from the other party, “said David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
“This [immigration] was at the center of his concerns [Trump’s] campaign and while in power he simply carried out his anti-immigrant agenda everywhere, ”Bier told Al Jazeera.
Push to action
Ongoing efforts by members of Biden’s Democratic Party to include a path to citizenship for the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States as part of an ambitious $ 1.85 trillion spending plan 10-year dollars have stalled due to Republican opposition. The proposal is unlikely to survive Senate rules governing budget measures.
Instead, the bill is expected to include $ 100 billion in funding to reduce “backlogs, expand legal representation, and make the asylum system and border processing more efficient and humane,” according to the White House. .
Immigrant advocates say that’s not enough, however.
They want Democrats in Congress to push for legislation that, in addition to legalizing undocumented migrants, would grant pathways to citizenship for DACA recipients – migrants who were brought to the United States while ‘they were children – as well as holders of temporary protection status and farm workers.
They also called on the United States to restore its asylum system, which they say is not working due to restrictive border policies, such as Title 42. Lawyers say their requests are long overdue and would keep the promises that the Biden administration campaign to.
” Let’s be clear. Democrats in Congress have not kept their promises to the immigrant community for decades! RAICES, a pro-immigration nonprofit from Texas, wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Meanwhile, as Biden’s overall approval rating falls, 68% of Americans said they disapprove of his handling of immigration and the situation along the US-Mexico border, ABC poll shows News / Ipsos published on October 31.
“There are people moving around the world, fleeing global economic and climate crises and our asylum system is not working as it was intended because the world has changed in the past 35 years,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans, an immigrant advocacy organization.
She told Al Jazeera that the United States should consider passing legislation that would address current migratory flows, such as designating new categories of migrants and asylum seekers to include climate refugees and people fleeing the country. economic collapse.
“The world is changing before our eyes and we don’t have the mechanism to handle this change in real time,” Melaku said.
Let’s make this clear. Democrats in Congress have not kept their promises to the immigrant community for decades! It is time that they #Keep the promise and pass the #BuildBackBetterAct today with the protections that the undocumented community deserves.
– RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) November 5, 2021