At President Biden’s first official press conference this afternoon, we expect lots of questions about the border, asylum policy, and migration from Central America. Here is important context:
Trump weaponized a broken system
- The Trump administration cut aid to Central America, increasing migration pressures. They ended investments in Central American countries that generate refugees and migrants, dismantling programs to reduce violence, improve economic prospects and make migration decisions a choice rather than a matter of life and death.
- The Trump administration ended the program that allows minors to apply for refugee status from home countries. The Central American Minors (CAM) program enabled children fleeing forcible gang recruitment, rape, extortion and kidnapping to safely apply for rapid resettlement with family in the U.S. This left the only option for kids fleeing for their lives to make the perilous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Trump officials sat on their hands during transition despite requests for increased shelter space for unaccompanied kids: NBC News reported yesterday, “In early December, the Biden transition team and career government officials began sounding an alarm on the need to increase shelter space for the large number of migrant children expected to soon be crossing the border, but the Trump administration didn’t take action until just days before the inauguration, according to two Biden transition officials and a U.S. official with knowledge of the discussions. ‘They were sitting on their hands,’ said one of the transition officials, who does not currently work for the Biden administration and spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘It was incredibly frustrating.’”
The Biden-Harris plan promises durable solutions
The appointment of Vice President Kamala Harris to be the point person on Central American migration strategies shows the Biden administration is serious about achieving durable solutions. The plan was spelled out during the transition in an interview with Jake Sullivan and Ambassador Susan Rice in December of last year. It was spelled out in a day one executive order. It is the plan that VP Harris will be seeking to implement.
- Address root causes in Central America so that smart investments are made in the communities where the conditions of gang violence, police and government corruption, and hopelessness are driving out refugees and migrants. Yes, this will take time. And no, without sustained effort and persistence in this area, we will never reduce out-migration pressures.
- Expand legal migration pathways from the region through reopening the Central American Minors program, setting up refugee protection and resettlement processing centers in the region, and expanded work and family visas, all of which will reduce the need to take the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border and provide for a humane and orderly approach to relieving migration pressures.
- Manage the border in a safe and orderly manner. Far from the politicized and cynical claims of “open borders,” most of those attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border are stopped and removed under Title 42 public health restrictions. With few exceptions, the groups being let in are: 1) unaccompanied minors – children as young as 9 – who are fleeing for their lives and hoping to join loved ones in America; and 2) those who were sent to squalid and dangerous de facto refugee settlements in northern Mexico under MPP or Remain in Mexico. The administration is handling the MPP cases in a humane and orderly way. They need to get on top of the humane and orderly processing of children.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
As he has done with COVID, vaccinations, the economy and a host of other issues left to fester due to Trump’s cruelty, chaos and mismanagement, President Biden is following through on his plan to fix a broken immigration system. His White House is seeking durable policy solutions; the GOP is seeking cheap political advantage.
When you cut through the noise and fog of bad beltway frames and bad-faith arguments, the Biden team has a realistic plan and a workable strategy. The interlocking elements are designed to solve the challenge, stabilize a region, and establish safe, orderly and humane channels for legal immigration.
The President has also put the Vice President in a position to make these changes a reality and in so doing has made it clear that addressing immigration issues is a top priority for his administration.
This rational, high level approach fits alongside their pursuit of solutions on big priorities – from COVID to the economy – and it’s in stark contrast to the political blame game being played by the GOP.