The administration of President Joe Biden is facing a moral dilemma, and also a political one, when it comes to demands to eliminate the disastrous Title 42. The situation is relevant due to the very nature of this policy, established by Donald Trump who, in the name of COVID, kept migrants from seeking asylum in the United States and, in many cases, repatriated them to the nations they fled. To do it or not seems to be the question.
And in the back and forth swinging of the pendulum of national values and political interests, thousands of migrant families have suffered unspeakably at the doors of a nation that, in its discourse, invites the world’s downtrodden and persecuted to see the United States as a safe haven, but contradicts itself when it comes down to it, locking the doors of welcome.
On the one hand, doctors, experts, and activists say that it’s time to revoke the policy that has lead thousands of immigrants who have arrived at our southern border to seek asylum to be returned to Mexico to face violence, prejudice, and all types of troubles in the border region, controlled by drug dealers and gang members. The numbers, in this sense, don’t lie: border officials have used Title 42 to expel migrants more than 1.7 million times, according to their own data.
But now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the treatment of Ukrainian refugees, it’s become clearer than ever that this is a discriminatory policy that has no reason to exist. A few days ago, a Ukrainian family, rightfully, was exempted from Title 42 upon arriving at the southern border, according to the new DHS directive to not apply Title 42 to Ukrainians and instead process them, case by case, with a one year grant of humanitarian parole and the right to temporarily live and work in the United States legally.
However, Haitian families and those from other countries are rejected and, in many cases, deported to nations that cannot absorb them, plagued by violence and misery as they are. In that way, the contrast is all the more cruel and discriminatory, leaving a wide disadvantage for those who not only requested asylum earlier, but also due to the same reasons of extreme violence in their countries of origin. For those fleeing other countries, the conditions they face are wars not officially declared but still systematic, fueled by organized crime and local authorities steeped in corruption, not to mention the harmful influence of gangs.
On the other hand there is the political pressure, with its possible consequences on the midterm elections. In one camp, progressive and pro-immigrant groups remind Biden that he won thanks to support from communities of color who, to this day, have not seen progress on the issues they advocate and do not look kindly upon a public policy they view as racist, according to various sectors. Some are already trying to mobilize voters of color, particularly Latinos, who realize that there has not been any immigration reform and that the main news stories are about discrimination against migrants from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions, especially those seeking asylum.
This indecision or lack of political courage to accomplish what they promised is a potential breeding ground for future arguments over immigration, which could even be interpreted as the typical “divide and conquer” strategy, but in this case help absolutely no one: not a single party, not migrant communities, and especially not U.S. society.
At the same time there is a third factor, more specifically at the border, as reports abound that the Biden administration fears that upon rescinding Title 42, thousands of migrants will arrive at the southern border, fueling Republican attacks that the border is “out of control” and that Democrats are “to blame.”
There is no doubt that Republican strategists have already begun to design future campaigns with the same anti-immigrant song and dance about “border security,” something that has worked well for them with some social groups while undermining their credibility with many others. Not seeing the border issue with 21st century clarity, conservatives are trying to defend the border—as if it were the only one—at gunpoint and with the attitudes of an arrogant action-movie “hero.”
However, there are several problems with this premise about the arrival of thousands of immigrants. One is that it’s time for Democrats to stop fearing Republicans’ anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s time for them to confront the matter, demonstrating that they can do what’s right from a moral and humanitarian view. Another is that they should show they are capable of dealing with situations that arise along the border.
This nation has the capacity and the resources to deal with asylum seekers. Nations like Poland, Romania, and others, who are not world powers, have absorbed more than three million Ukrainian refugees in one month. On its own Poland, the country to which a majority of refugees have been directed, is now home to more than one million Ukrainian immigrants in a nation of 38 million people. Yet the United States fears a few thousand at its border. As a country, the United States cannot demand that other nations do what is morally correct and open their arms to refugees, when at home the story is totally different.
You can’t be all things to all people. It’s time for the Biden administration to make a decision.
Read the Spanish version of this column here.