Biden bets that he can change how America thinks about migration

Speaking to House lawmakers this week, Biden administration officials repeatedly stressed that they inherited a disaster from the Trump administration and said the solutions would not be painless or quick. In a separate appeal with Democratic communications assistants on the hill, White House officials reiterated that the “real crisis lies in Central America,” according to several people. Biden and his team highlight the “root causes” of migration spurts and their renewed diplomatic efforts with Central American countries that fell under the Trump administration.

The White House has been holding talks with high profile Democrats outside the hill with outside groups and staff to coordinate messaging as well, with the aim of ensuring everyone is rowing in the same direction.

This coordination, as well as the recognition of the scale of the situation, was welcomed by many Democrats. After Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) Attended a private virtual meeting with the House Democrats with Minister of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Minister of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, he scribbled “Hallelujah” among his other notes a sheet of paper.

“Because they said, ‘Look, that’s not HHS or DHS’s problem, it’s that every federal agency is going to be involved in this project now,” said Cleaver. “It was important to hear that the government doesn’t believe they are which has already reached nirvana. We have a long and persistent problem on our southern border. “

The administration’s revised approach is a tacit confirmation that their initial stance – in which they downplayed the problem and steadfastly refused to call it a crisis – at least politically did not work. But when it comes to regulating the conditions under which migrants must flee their home countries, the White House is ready to do its job.

It is not so easy for the president to pick up where he left off during the Obama administration when he pointed out diplomatic efforts with the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This includes overhauling an immigration system that has been dramatically changed by Trump and expanding capacity to cope with a surge in migrants at the border, many of whom will be expelled immediately.

The number of unaccompanied children The arrival at the border reached a monthly high in March, surpassing the last record high in May 2019. In total, around 170,000 people were arrested by border patrols last month. Approximately 100,000 of these migrants were single adults who were routinely removed from the United States by the Biden administration under a Trump-era public health agency.

Despite the problems, there is virtually no prospect of immigration reform in a Congress with such tight margins. Biden’s comprehensive immigration plan is stuck in the house, where, according to several democratic sources, there are still no votes to be passed within his own party. The Senate Republicans, who sat at the table in 2013 to discuss reforms, are instead making trips to the border to arm the problem before halftime next November.

Some border democrats appreciate Biden’s efforts to address the long-term causes of the rise in migration. However, they argue that the administration needs a plan to address the immediate influx of migrants now.

“We already know what the causes are. We can send researchers there, but we already know the answers, ”said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, one of the few Democrats to publicly raise concerns about Biden’s treatment of the problem. “The question is how do you approach this problem. Private investment will be key. Foreign aid and private investments take time. That is not done today and tomorrow. “

The taxed immigration system remains a major challenge for Biden in the early months of his presidency. The president enjoys relatively high marks on issues such as the pandemic and the economy. But only 34 percent of Americans said they agree with the president’s handling of immigration An NPR / Marist poll was conducted late last month.

Some immigration advocates say this is partly because Biden and his administration grew more slowly behind a clear strategy during the first few weeks of his tenure, with much of the focus being on the coronavirus pandemic and the aid package to resolve this issue.

“The White House had to or should have been more proactive in crafting and telling the story three weeks before it actually started,” said Lorella Praeli, executive director of Community Change Action, a progressive grassroots group. “If you don’t define the narrative, give your opponents the power to do so.”

There’s also simmering Democratic and activist frustration that Biden continues to use Trump-era authority – known as Title 42 – to evict the majority of people encountered on the border. Publicly and privately, the White House has told Hill reporters and staff that they have no schedule to cease using the agency.

In recent weeks the administration has tried to take quick action by sending delegations to the border. They are also increasingly being coordinated with Democrats in border districts after some of those members originally said they were left out.

Last week, Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris as the new coordinator for the Northern Triangle and Mexico, and on Thursday reversed a Trump-era policy that allowed immigration authorities to turn down asylum applications when space was available. Conservatives claim that reversing Trump’s politics and Biden’s language creates the situation on the border, but immigration experts say few migrants make the dangerous journey based solely on who is in the White House.

The government also ended Trump’s policy of staying in Mexico, which forced migrants to wait for their claims on the Mexican side of the border in tent camps, and reinstated the Central American Minor Program, which allowed children to submit asylum applications from their home countries. Still, DHS Secretary Mayorkas said the US was well on the way to meeting more people at the border than in “the last 20 years”.

As Biden faces an increase in migrants fleeing violence, poverty and hurricane devastation, he and his officials have emphasized to Democrats and the general public the cyclical nature of migration spurts that also emerged during the Obama and Trump years.

As Vice President, some of Biden’s most prominent visits to Central America at the time coincided with an increase in young unaccompanied migrants crossing the US-Mexico border and he took on the role of spokesman for the administration.

In the spring of 2014, when migrant crossings hit the headlines, Biden stopped in Guatemala. He told reporters that the situation at the border was “untenable and unsustainable”. But even then, Biden spoke about the problem of humanity and said he could not imagine the desperation that would lead a family to send their child into the arms of criminal traffickers on the dangerous journey

Years earlier, when Biden first traveled to Central America as Vice President, he was trying to change the US approach to the relationship, aides and officials recalled. Obama and Biden made it a point to deepen partnerships with governments and bring more money to depressed parts of the region.

The process of approving funding took some time. By mid-2015, Congress dedicated more than $ 1 billion to the Northern Triangle for a period of two years. Obama and Biden have made a more focused effort to encourage people fleeing violence, especially children, to seek asylum abroad rather than trying to get to the US from Mexico.

There has been some progress. Studies found that the number of U.S. border attacks on migrants from 50 communities in El Salvador fell sharply between 2014 and 2018, said Mark Schneider, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former director of Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID. In the same communities, murders fell 40 percent in three years.

Despite the relative successes in El Salvador, the number of migrants coming to the US from Guatemala and Honduras has increased.

“Did it solve the problem? No, obviously not, ”said Francisco González, a Mexican scholar and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “Have you allocated enough resources? No, it was nowhere near enough. And did the then Vice President Biden finally know more about the southern border of the USA and Central America? The answer is: yes, he did. “

“He came in with this portfolio. He did what he could. But it’s a spot in an ocean. “

Fast forward to Biden’s turn in the Oval Office, and he’s again urging Congress to send aid to Central America and Mexico. His government is also looking to expand capacity to accommodate growing numbers of migrant children in emergency rooms – such as stadiums, church facilities and summer camps – rather than keeping them in crowded border guards.

When calling to give the media access to the facilities, the administration only allowed a small number of reporters to enter any of the areas Border guards this week. Overwhelmed government agencies also release some migrants at the border without paperwork.

“We can’t just deal with the symptoms,” said Cleaver, the House Democrat. “That’s all we’ve been looking at for the past two, maybe three decades, is the symptoms. That won’t work anymore. “

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