January 29, 2023

The Biden administration’s newly announced immigration policy represents concessions to the white nationalist spinning machine and the extremist contortions of Republican politicians who are aware that claims that they have a “crisis” to manage at the US-Mexico border is their reliably heats up the base and wins the votes. In contradiction to Biden’s promise to reverse the “pointless and cruel” policies of the Trump era, these policies penalize migrants and betray the work of immigrant and civil rights organizations to elect him.

The new plan marks a crucial shift in the way the United States manipulates migrants in the interests of national security. It consolidates an immigration system that ignores the specifics of migrating from different nations, and replaces a residual Cold War cartography based on the State Department’s interpretation of international relations, with expensive, hypermilitarized borders across America and an almost total departure from the international ones based on laws that regulate the reception of refugees and asylum seekers.

The new plan includes extending the controversial Trump-era Title 42 to include migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, while excluding asylum seekers from nations like Cuba and Venezuela that the State Department has long viewed as hostile to U.S. interests . Instead, politicians prefer white, European migrants. This plan denies asylum to anyone entering between official ports of entry on the US-Mexico border, as well as anyone who has transited through another country but has not applied for asylum there. And it forces migrants who manage to enter the United States to use the CBP One app, with its potential for surveillance and misuse of personal information.

Based on the brute force of expensive border militarization, this policy consolidation responds to the xenophobia of the right-wing rotary machine, which endlessly proclaims that a continued “illegal” invasion threatens America. In essence, the Biden plan allows the white nationalist spinning machine to push immigration policy.

US immigration policy has always been an imperial policy, reflecting the global landscape of alliances and enmities between the United States and other countries. Using this map, the US government assesses the political risk and economic benefit and prioritizes the various migrants based on the location of their countries of origin on the map. This imperial cartography has always been at odds with humanitarian rhetoric and advocacy claims about migrant rights.

During the Cold War, US immigration privileges favored people fleeing communist or neighboring communist countries, labeled their migration as politically motivated, and rewarded them with refugee status. Those who left regimes considered friendly to US interests, however brutal, were labeled economic migrants and generally denied entry. This Cold War regime paid lip service to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protocols governing the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, to which the United States has signed. It was revived under Ronald Reagan and continued undead long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Under this Cold War regime, migrants fleeing regimes considered hostile to US interests, such as Cuba and Nicaragua, were often accepted as political refugees. But the same governments that supported the sending of aid, weapons and military advisers to repressive regimes in Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras waged war on migrants from those countries and allowed very few to enter as asylum seekers.

With the militarization of border protection in the 1990s and 2000s, migrants from Central America and the Caribbean increasingly encountered militarized border protection at the US-Mexico border, as well as Mexico with the Merida Initiative since 2008. As borders have become more militarized, the distinction between migrants from different nations has become less important than the explicit mandate of the Department of Homeland Security to stop the entry of poor blacks and browns.

Blockades and sanctions imposed by the US create the circumstances that lead to migration from these four nations. By definition, an economic blockade or embargo aims to make life unbearable for civilian residents of a given nation. By heating up daily life, economic sanctions seek to stoke opposition to the government targeted by the State Department. Food and medical supplies are becoming scarce, prices are rising and many may find it difficult to find work as the economy suffers from the effects of lack of access to foreign markets. The circumstances of the economic blockades lead to the difficult decision for many people to leave their homes.

For over sixty years, the United States has imposed an economic blockade on Cuba. The blockade, which stemmed from US hostility to the Cuban Revolution, banned the expansion of foreign aid to Cuba and authorized the President to impose an economic embargo on the island nation. President John F. Kennedy’s executive order opening the blockade banned the importation of Cuban goods and the export of goods to Cuba. Subsequently, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1963, the blockade was extended to travel in and out of the country.

While various governments have tightened or loosened sanctions against Cuba, the trend over the past sixty years has been to try to literally starve the Cuban regime out in hopes that the protests, fueled by the lack of food caused by the blockade, will end and other stocks revealed, it could be overthrown. Along with these hopes, a historically warm welcome was given to those attempting to leave Cuba, as these migrants read in US terms as political refugees fleeing Communism.

But this reception has changed over time. Despite ongoing official hostility towards the Cuban regime, the warm welcome from Cubans who tried to chill it after the Mariel boat lifts in the early 1980s was a hit. Historian Kristina Shull documents how the arrival of these migrants, along with Central Americans and Haitians fleeing war and despotism during the same period, provoked a new approach to dealing with migration as part of global counterinsurgency and “war on drugs” strategies.

In response to the Marielito and Haiti refugee crises, the Reagan administration viewed these migrants as criminal threats with the ability to undermine US political stability. The notion of threat, in turn, justified the increasing militarization of the US-Mexico border and immigration policy in general. For the first time in US history, Reagan’s Congress allowed the military to assist in border enforcement. The Reagan administration also instituted a policy of preventive detention and deportation of migrants.

Historian Carl Lindskoog examines how this preventive detention policy mobilized racism and xenophobia against Haitian migrants and laid the roots of the current immigrant detention-industry complex. Private companies such as GEO Group, CoreCivic, LaSalle Corrections, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) benefit greatly from these practices. These prison corporations are bipartisan political donors, which explains the expansion of immigrant incarceration under supposedly pro-immigrant, democratic governments.

The transformation in policy towards Nicaraguan migrants is indicative of the shift being cemented by the new Biden policy. In the 1980s, the United States created and funded the paramilitary organization Contra to undermine the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) regime, which came to power in 1979. In 1985, Reagan declared the Contras to be “the moral equivalent of founding.” Fathers.” In keeping with Cold War politics, in which migrants from left-wing regimes were viewed as deserving political refugees, Nicaraguans fleeing their country’s post-war devastation were disproportionately more prosperous compared to others from Central America and the Caribbean number welcomed. But since the FSLN returned to political power in 2006, Nicaraguan refugees fleeing the increasingly repressive regime have lost favor, as evidenced by their recent inclusion in Title 42 deportation provisions.

In 2013, the Obama administration imposed an economic blockade on the newly elected Nicolás Maduro government in Venezuela, which has since caused economic stagnation, food and energy shortages. When the Trump administration tightened those sanctions to bring down the Maduro government, mortality in Venezuela rose 31 percent; Some estimates put the blockade’s effects responsible for 40,000 deaths. But Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic devastation are not given a warm welcome at the US-Mexico border.

The extension of Title 42 to migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela emanates the consolidation of a lucrative regime of militarized borders, deportation and detention in what Shull calls a “detention empire.” This regime violates international refugee law; it benefits private companies more than people and the public interest. The only just response is to oppose this regime, to tear down all the borders and walls that separate us.

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