By ANDY BARNS and ERWIN FREED
Since Biden’s inauguration, hundreds of immigrants have been deported by the United States government. ICE removal flights began the day after Biden’s “deportation moratorium” was initiated on Jan. 22. A U.S. federal judge ordered the Biden administration to not enforce the measly 100-day moratorium on deportations, but as stated in the Associated Press, there is no obligation on the part of ICE to actively schedule the deportations.
By all appearances, Biden’s so-called “moratorium” on deportations has in reality meant their acceleration. An article in The Guardian reflects the duplicity of the administration, and its refraction through the more liberal side of the bourgeois press, when it says first that the Feb. 8 deportations “breached” Biden’s orders and later on the same page that the “moratorium” would have had no effect on carrying out the forced departures.
Biden’s “moratorium” has not touched a CDC order from last March that utilizes obscure parts of the Public Health Services Act to justify deporting immigrants on the basis that their country of origin makes them a COVID-19 risk. ICE immediately used this “public health” decree as justification to deport 20,000 . According to Vice News, over 60,000 migrants and asylum seekers were expelled on the basis of the ordinance, known as Title 42, in January of this year. That is a rate almost twice as high as the monthly average for 2020. The specter of disease was a historically popular means used to demonize the marginalized, and it will remain to be used as a pretext for deportations unless immigration policy drastically changes.
In his first days as president, Biden passed a flurry of executive orders, most of which reversed some of the more unrestrained orders of Trump’s administration. This includes new guidelines issued to ICE in order to place some limitations on the types of issues (such as convictions for drug-based crimes) that had been used to exclude immigrants to this country. It also includes orders to re-unite families separated by border patrol agents . Family separation was a cruel aspect of the previous presidency and its nativist politics, so this executive order more or less returns border policy to its pre-Trumpian status-quo—i.e., not much better.
We have previously reported on the cruelty of U.S. border policy . And indeed, thousands of children are still held at border detention facilities as of this writing, separated from their families. President Biden hasn’t done very much to dismantle the systems that created the tragedy in the first place nor freed all the children from cages.
Stop the deportations!
According to the Associated Press , the deportations carried out under the first weeks of Biden’s administration include 15 to Jamaica on Jan 28, and 269 people to Guatemala and Honduras the following day. Both nations are a part of the so-called “Northern Triangle” of three countries, including Nicaragua, where the migrant flow in mid-2017 mostly stemmed from. A woman who witnessed a massacre of 23 people in an El Paso Walmart was also deported.
The Biden administration is now the defendant in lawsuits by groups, including the ACLU, that are attempting to strike down the Title 42 policies. While the CDC under Biden argued on Feb. 11 that unaccompanied children had been exempt from deportation since Jan. 30, dozens of children and babies were deported to Haiti on February 8.
The Washington Post reports that over 900 people have been deported to Haiti over the last two weeks. Among these is Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old born in St. Martin who immigrated to the United States with his parents 35 years ago. Pierrilus had never been to Haiti before Feb. 2, when he was forcibly taken there by ICE.
Democrats abandon immigrants; Republicans on the offensive
Although border arrests rose to about 850,000 in 2019 under the Trump administration, this was merely a fraction of the over 1.5 million yearly arrests during the 1990s, under Democratic Party President Bill Clinton. In all, the Clinton White House oversaw some 12.3 million total deportations. In regard to “removals,” however—that is, immigrants already living in the United States who were rounded up and deported—the administration of Barack Obama holds the modern record of 3.1 million people. Trump, in contrast, deported only about a third as many immigrants from non-border regions.
Biden has stated that the high number of deportations during the Obama administration, when he was vice president, was a “mistake.” But any confidence that he will roll back the policies of his predecessors must be cautioned against. What we are seeing is a charm offensive in action. The charm offensive is a means by which an institution makes a few declarations, executive orders, or minor alterations to policy in order to mask the fact that the modus operandi of the organization has not changed.
The Democratic Party, with Biden as its new figurehead, is posing as pro-immigrant while actually carrying out the policies of big capital. Short of a massive upsurge that threatens to permanently break from its leadership, the Democratic Party will only go as far on immigration as is convenient for the large corporations. This is shown in Biden’s fact sheet that summarizes his proposals for immigrant policy. Included in that framework is maintaining the deportation regime; increasing surveillance technologies at the borders; the FBI, DEA, and DHS “expand[ing] transnational anti-gang task forces in Central America;” and even imposing rules on Central American countries’ governments. The last two points are absurd violations of national sovereignty. Analysts in the capitalist press are confident that even those proposals will be moved right through the process of their implementation.
A recent analysis by The New York Times claims that the Biden administration will have a hard time needling through the many anti-immigrant “mines” placed by the outgoing Trump regime. In reality, Biden and the Democratic Party have the ability to immediately grant asylum to all immigrants, abolish ICE, and open the borders. Instead, on Feb. 4, eight Democrats voted against extending federal stimulus benefits to undocumented people. There are currently 5 million undocumented people working in essential jobs, composing 69% of the undocumented workforce.
The many-faced crises of the present stage of capitalism are bringing the question of immigrant rights to the center of attention. A resurgent far right, led in its mainstream flank by populists including Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, is attempting to redirect class anger towards undocumented people. As the pace of climate catastrophe quickens, the global working class and small farmers are in a situation of constant dislocation.
Causes of immigration and capitalist reaction
As reported by SR previously , many immigrants (really, refugees) leave their home countries due to gang violence, political instability, and climate catastrophe. All of these factors are fundamentally caused by imperialism and the subservient comprador capitalists in semi-colonial countries. Deporting immigrants often puts them in harm’s way without addressing the real causes of political instability. This includes people like Bakhodir Madjitov, who was deported last year to Uzbekistan, where his life is in danger because of his participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in the early 2000s.
The reason people come to any country is not to destroy that country and make the inhabitants their enemy. This reactionary fantasy, stoked heavily by Trump, is the opposite of the truth. People arrive to the U.S. to find jobs and make a good enough living to support themselves and their families at home.
The United States has always utilized immigration policy to attack workers and Indigenous peoples. During the Second World War, seasonal labor was encouraged by the U.S. government with temporary worker programs, such as the Bracero Program . The program was a means of bringing in low-wage workers from Mexico on a temporary basis with virtually no labor rights for the benefit of large agricultural capitalists. The immediate reason was the massive labor shortages due to U.S. citizens fighting in the war. After the war ended, the more positive sides of the program were abandoned and the government instituted a new policy, literally called “Operation Wetback,” that deported millions of Mexican and other migrant workers between 1954 and the mid-1960s. A decade earlier, under the guise of the Great Depression, the U.S. government deported up to 1,800,000 Chicanos, including U.S. citizens. According to former Senator Joseph Dunn, who oversaw a Senate research project into the deportations, “the Republicans decided the way they were going to create jobs was by getting rid of anyone with a Mexican-sounding name.”
With the extreme militarization of the border since 9/11, we have seen both incredible waste (the U.S. spends $4.8 billion on “border protection” and $8.4 billion on ICE ) and also politicized dehumanization of migrant labor. This includes proto-fascist paramilitaries working alongside Customs and Border Protection agents to terrorize incoming immigrants. There is no sign of the Biden administration’s dismantling this waste (ICE) or the general “othering” of immigrants. In essence, the executive orders by Biden, even if well intentioned, could not by themselves dismantle the systems that abuse immigrants. The abuse of immigrants is baked into the system of border security as a by-product of capitalism.
U.S. foreign policy responsible for refugee woes
The underlying reason for the refugee exodus from South and Central America is U.S. imperialism. As reported by SR recently , Democratic Party politicians have historically been responsible (just as much as Republican politicians) for death and misery in the global South with their imperialist policies.
Countries like Honduras , Guatemala, Nicaragua, (from which many migrant caravans have traveled), Chile, Columbia, Venezuela, and others have suffered from the paramilitaries , political-rigging , and economic sanctions (Venezuela, Cuba) that U.S. imperialism deployed to suppress national sovereignty and workers’ struggles so as to enforce the rule of capital and profitability.
The pattern should come as no surprise. As the profitability of U.S. corporations grows off the backs of labor in the neo-colonial world, social conditions in those countries deteriorate, poverty increases, and gangsterism is not far behind. It is not possible for people to secure their democratic rights when such attempts are crushed by U.S. arms and financial aid to the oppressors. Who wouldn’t voluntarily leave these conditions if they could? Against the toxic and racist lie that these people are responsible for their own suffering by a perceived inferiority of culture is the fact that plunder of these countries has been the bipartisan agenda of the U.S. capitalist class.
Biden has no intention of turning away from this bipartisan policy. Biden has not removed sanctions from Venezuela and allowed the people their self-determination. He has not condemned the plunder of the global South by corporations.
Biden is the leader of a capitalist party. His Democratic Party can only provide crumbs and lies to the workers; it can never free them from capitalism or its crimes against humanity. It is in this context that we must see Biden’s Executive Order on migrant families for what it is: An attempted rehabilitation of the image of the U.S. state in the eyes of the U.S. working class, a charm offensive.
If there are going to be any positive changes in immigration policy past what is beneficial to capital—e.g., allowing businesses to exploit migrant workers without fear of legal repercussions—they will be won through struggle. Unions have a burning responsibility to take up the fight for undocumented people unconditionally. The whole labor movement could adopt the basic points of solidarity, including opening the borders, ending imperialist intervention everywhere and especially in Latin America, and expanding citizenship and economic rights to all in the United States, regardless of country of origin or criminal status. By acting boldly in the interest of some of the most important and most exploited workers in the United States, the trade-union movement would show itself as capable of providing leadership to the developing social struggles.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics
Human Rights Watch reports on Trump’s “public health” measure.
Reporting by Forbes on Biden’s executive order on family separation.
Our report on US immigration policy last February.
Biden is still deporting many immigrants. Administration changes, capitalism does not!
The Bracero Program
Seven-minute video by the Gravel institute on the futility of a border wall, which discusses migrant labor.
Gearóid O Loingsigh discusses the suffering Democratic presidents have historically given to Colombia with their imperialist policies.
In the wake of the Honduran coup d’etat, the U.S. still decided to send $200 million dollars of military and police aid to the undemocratic government.
The Contras were bands of murderers supported by the U.S. to overthrow the revolutionary government of the Nicaraguan people.
The Nixon Administration supported the military overthrow of the democratically elected government of the Chilean people.