Racism still core to immigration policy

March 11, 2021

From the March-April 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Buddy Bell

President Biden spent much of his first days and weeks in office issuing executive orders with significant impact on people’s lives, particularly in the area of immigration. To list some of the most consequential is to illuminate a compounding level of damage wreaked by the former president.

There will be a new taskforce on reunification of separated migrant children with their families (but no permanent residency or recompense of any kind for this inflicted trauma).


The Muslim Ban is denounced and cancelled. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will function as created in 2012. Notwithstanding over-policing and deeply problematic criminal court systems, deportation will also be deferred for undocumented people who do not have a felony arrest record. Biden did order a 100-day moratorium on all deportations, but it was blocked in a national injunction issued by a federal judge in Texas who was appointed by Trump.

The declaration of a border “emergency” is called off. (Trump used it to build border fencing by moving money from other parts of the budget.) The definition of “public charge” is reset. (Trump tried to make immigrants who so much as received a healthcare subsidy under the Affordable Care Act ineligible for citizenship.) The Census Bureau will no longer try to estimate the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. (Trump attempted to leave them out of the apportionment process for the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.)

During the worst global refugee crisis in recent memory, the cap on refugee visas will be increased from 15,000 to 125,000, which is higher than all eight years under Obama but only about half of the peak level in 1980. The so-called “safe third country agreement” with Guatemala has been cancelled. It required Honduran refugees in flight from a U.S.-backed, corrupt drug-state to first apply for asylum in Guatemala, a country ill-equipped to offer safe haven given its own poverty and routine human rights violations.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy is no longer in effect for newly arrived asylum-seekers. However, people stranded in Mexico because their cases are part of a backlog of over 25,000 are required to somehow procure an internet connection to register online (on a website that crashes) and only 300 people from this backlog are admitted each day.

Biden’s draft for the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 includes a legalization plan for any undocumented person who entered the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2021. Current language increases annual caps on family visas, unskilled worker visas, and diversity visas (a program which mainly boosts the number of immigrants from Africa), and the per-country cap is repealed for skilled worker visas. Also repealed would be the three- and ten-year bars to visa issuance when someone is deported.

The executive orders and the citizenship draft bill are flowered with language like: “new Americans and their children fuel our economy, working in every industry… They open and successfully run businesses…” In other words, capitalists and their Congressional lapdogs are reminded they can squeeze some value out of these new Americans. Biden also wants to “address the underlying causes of migration [and] confront the instability, violence, and economic insecurity that currently drives migrants from their homes.” His bill proposes a $4 billion line item for that purpose.

Oscar Chacón of the Chicago-based organization Alianza Américas said: “I am happy to see the Biden-Harris administration talking about root causes of migration, but if we were really serious as a nation about changing what makes people come to the hard decision of leaving their countries, we would have to at least tackle two major obstacles. First is the prevailing economic policy paradigm, which in these countries is all about profit making, just like it is in the U.S. The second thing we would need to completely rethink is how to truly create healthy democratic societies that allow people to have a say in what they are facing on a day-to-day basis.”


With executive orders imminent and with no love lost for either justice or democracy, rogue officers within ICE and the rest of the customs agencies loaded up immigrants and especially Black immigrants on hurried deportation flights. Such frenzied malice occurred not only on the night of Jan. 19 but also Feb. 1, right after the Biden 100-day deportation moratorium was blocked in the Texas courtroom. A group of Cameroonian asylum seekers were tackled to the ground in an attempt to mark their fingerprints on deportation waivers. A man who is not Haitian was pulled off a Jan. 19 flight to Haiti only after the intervention of Congressman Mondaire Jones. The same man was deported to Haiti on Feb. 2 when officers decided to ignore the freshman Black Congressman.

Black immigrant Allen Orr is now an immigration lawyer and incoming president of American Immigration Lawyers Association. He said, “Biden has a heavy lift. He has to fight two battles. One is the immigration battle as a whole, but the other one is the long history of racism in this country… Some people are just racist, and a lot of those people are in our immigration enforcement system and hold high positions… they have to be removed. Part of that is removing the policies and part of that is watching discretion [of government personnel]… Deporting kids to Haiti that are two months old doesn’t make sense and it’s not American policy… that just shouldn’t happen.”

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