Why we must accept migrants

Anthony Lopez, Senior Writer

No matter which presidential administration is in power, it seems that there is always a crisis at the border. 

President Trump repeatedly utilized both toxic rhetoric and a flexible system to drive away migrants desperate for asylum. One of the greatest controversies during his presidency were his policies on child separation, a cruel tactic undeniably facilitated by detention centers created under President Obama’s tenure.

However, border crises are not unique to President Trump. U.S. President Joe Biden currently faces one of the largest influx of migrants at the Southern border with the number of migrant encounters reaching a 21-year high; however, no longer are asylum-seekers journeying from Mexico or predominantly Central American countries. According to the Wall Street Journal, July and August saw the first occurrence of more migrants coming from other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean than from Mexico and the Northern Triangle.

In short, the need for migration and the desire to seek American refuge has spread southwards. This in part is the result of a plight faced by all the world: the pandemic has shown no signs of slowing down due to variants and inconsistent vaccine rollouts. Developing nations in the South are compounded with shortages of food and medicine, which are rapidly creating inhospitable environments. These are not necessarily new issues in these regions, but the COVID pandemic all but exacerbated them. 

It is a shame that with this prescient issue causing mass migrations, the United States has directly responded by denying people fleeing pandemic-stricken areas. Under Title 42, the border officials may expel, rather than apprehend, migrants that come from countries where “a quarantinable communicable disease exists”.

This public health authority was introduced in March of last year in an effort to curb the domestic spread of COVID. Yet not only have these efforts not been successful, but they have also served as the justification for mass denials of migrants at the border. In July, President Biden maintained this precedent by expelling thousands more migrants compared to Trump’s final months in office, while also apprehending tens of thousands more migrants. 

Nothing about the situation at the border is simple or easy to resolve, but there are certain key elements worth understanding. Asylum is not an illegal action distinguished from simply crossing the border into America. Yet while the number of migrants arriving at the border has steadily continued to rise over the years, the previous administration heavily restricted the number of refugees resettled in the United States, as well as asylees admitted entry. Biden’s efforts to increase those numbers are welcome, but they are offset by the administration’s moves to increasingly expel migrants. In enforcing Title 42, migrants are also quickly sent away without the opportunity for their asylum request to be processed.

We must also acknowledge that while this influx of migrants is in part the result of the pandemic, many structural issues in southern countries will not go away once COVID becomes a worry of the past, if it ever does. Despite the many problems in the United States, the country serves as a viable destination for migrants desperate to escape violence, hunger and an ever-worrisome climate crisis. 

The surge of Haitian migrants constituting over 10,000 people arriving at the Del Rio, Texas border are largely the result of both the presidential assassination in the country and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed over 1,000 people. Additionally, migrants from Cuba and Venezuela are fleeing intensified political and economic crises under the belief that American prosperity will avail them if they can manage their way across the border, illegally or otherwise. 

The United States offers these migrants no support and leaves them helpless by sending them back home without due process. The current administration has justified their actions at the border in the name of preserving domestic health, but President Biden has broadly failed to consider the well-being of those that can not afford to return to dangerous territories and regions rife with persecution. To refuse migrants seeking asylum, many with legitimate reasons for fleeing their home countries, is a temporary relief for the congested border and nothing more. 

The truth is that while there is no easy remedy that can quickly repair the situation at the border, there are steps that can and should be taken. Creating safer and more hygienic detention centers while also forming more rapid procedures for processing migrants can help alleviate the potential virus spread in these facilities. This also encourages less expulsion and instead more asylum seekers can be processed.

Relaxing enforcement of Title 42, or removing it altogether, will not only bring back some semblance of processing for asylum seekers but will also translate to fewer migrants crossing between ports rather than through them. 

When Vice President Kamala Harris journeyed to several South American countries to meet with leaders and discuss migrant issues, the current administration took a potentially important first step towards addressing the root causes of the border crisis. However, these visits will mean precious little if it amounts to nothing more than a few half-hearted speeches and meetings. 

Yet even before all of that we must first recognize that while migrants are not a monolith, most that are attempting to enter our country come with few other options. We can only uphold our exclusionary methods by denying the validity of their struggles and refusing to grant them asylum. We cannot just brand them as criminals when they are often fleeing that very criminality in their countries. 

Some might argue that it is not the United States’ responsibility to harbor so many migrants, but if we maintain that attitude then we must also accept that in denying migrants asylum we may be sending them off to more perilous circumstances. 

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