Biden's Time is Now
Bishop Seitz joins the Hope Border Institute in welcoming asylum seekers at the El Paso - Ciudad Juárez border
We took far too long to get it right. I think it was a big mistake. Took too long to get it right.’
Joe Biden, Jr. spoke these words during his run for president in 2020, apologizing for the Obama administration’s inaction on immigration.
In recent days and weeks some have irresponsibly used the word ‘crisis’ to describe the situation at the border. Major media outlets have since taken the bait.
The crisis narrative flattens the nuance of border life. It spurs inadequate short-term thinking. It overlooks the heroic efforts and creativity of border communities -- volunteers, shelters, churches, local governments, faith-based organizations like HOPE and migrants themselves -- in welcoming and protecting people on the move. It breeds a deadly nativism.
So where is the rub?
The number of those arriving at the border, including unaccompanied minors, is on the increase, but the numbers really don’t justify the ‘crisis’ label. And the Trump/Biden Title 42 policy, which summarily expels the majority of those coming to the border, is inflating arrival numbers by encouraging repeat border crossing. It’s also true that the outgoing administration deliberately reduced preparedness and capacity at the border and it will take time to rebuild.
But it’s not just Republicans, the media and higher numbers that have fed the crisis narrative. The Biden administration’s words and actions over the past few weeks have enabled the trope.
While DHS Secretary Mayorkas has strenuously avoided using the word ‘crisis’, over the weekend, he took to the airwaves to startlingly justify the forced return of asylum seekers to Mexico, like the hundreds of mothers and children deported to Ciudad Juárez in recent days.
Over and over again, Mayorkas repeated that ‘the border is closed’, as if the hurricanes, political insecurity, violence and lack of opportunity driving forced migration from Central America were primarily an issue of messaging. A progressive administration should not be focusing on why we can’t honor our legal obligations to protect asylum seekers but should be laying out a vision for how we will.
Asylum seekers forcibly returned by the Biden administration last week to Ciudad Juárez, over 800 miles from where they crossed the border in south Texas
When the Trump administration implemented the Title 42 policy, those actions were rightly seen as illegal and immoral and widely condemned. These same actions now taken by the Biden administration should make us shudder. Biden is expelling more than 70% of everyone who approaches the border, including asylum seeking families and vulnerable individuals.
The preferential option for the poor asks us to center the voices of those impacted by broken policy. The federal government, working in partnership with border communities, has the ability to prevent the emergence of a crisis at the border and put in systems to offer protection to the most vulnerable. But for the single asylum seeking moms with children I met last week, being deported to Ciudad Juarez, over 800 miles from where they crossed the border, really is a crisis. And a completely preventable one.
The Biden administration has taken many good steps on immigration to reverse the damage of the past four years, including landmark legislation proposals, the suspension of Remain in Mexico, and steps to address the pandemic-related lack of space hindering the reception of unaccompanied youth and children at the border.
But if the Biden administration does not take bolder actions soon to offer protection to the vulnerable at the border and change the narrative about migration, a good start will be eclipsed by a growing perception of crisis and the ongoing violation of the rights of asylum seekers.
A lack of political courage like that on display in the last couple weeks will enable the embrace of the horrible logic of deterrence at the border. And the Biden administration will be boxed in, not by Republicans or a soundbite-driven media, but by their own inaction and failure of imagination. They will, in Biden’s words, have taken ‘far too long to get it right’’.