The bar was low when I voted for Joe Biden. My ultimate goal was to get Donald Trump out of the White House and bring an adult back to the top. That seems to be going as planned.
Another goal was to undo the widespread damage the Trump administration has inflicted on the basic human rights of immigrants. I had every reason to believe that Biden would do this because he directly said he would. In particular, he said his government would end “stay in Mexico” within the first 100 days, or “day one”. This is the program that forces asylum seekers to wait months in dangerous parts of northern Mexico before they can even apply for asylum.
But for some reason, the Biden transition team is stepping down to end it. Just before Christmas, new domestic policy advisor Susan Rice and new national security advisor Jake Sullivan gave EFE, a Spanish-language intelligence agency (such as the AP), an in-depth interview that contained many comments on immigration. Some of these comments are deeply disappointing. Take Sullivan’s response when the interviewer asked when “stay in Mexico” will be canceled:
MPP [the Trump administration’s Orwellian name for the program] has been a disaster from the start and has led to a humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico. However, the implementation of the new policy will take time. The current administration has reduced much of the necessary capacity to ensure the safe and orderly processing of migrants. We need time to increase processing capacity and to do so in accordance with public health requirements.
Or Rice’s answer to a similar question about the pandemic-related public health order the Trump administrator used to keep asylum seekers out. The order has so little legal (or sanitary) basis that a federal judge in November ordered the Trump administration to stop despite apparently ignoring the order:
Processing capacity at the limit is not like a light that you can just turn on and off. Migrants and asylum seekers should absolutely not believe that those in the region hold the idea that the border will suddenly be open to everyone on day one. It will not.
I admit that it will take time to rebuild the asylum system that Trump almost set fire to and adapt it to COVID-19. But “processing capacity” was also the Trump administration’s excuse for Remain in Mexico and the associated “measurement” policy, which limits the number of asylum seekers CBP will accept on any given day. It is nonsense. There is no reason why the US Customs and Border Protection, whose budget has increased almost every year since its 20th anniversary, should lack “processing capacity”. I also doubt the people who work there have lost all records of how things were done five years ago. This doesn’t have to take six months.
It shouldn’t either. It is not an exaggeration to say that lives are at stake. Parts of northern Mexico are so dangerous that the State Department is telling Americans not to go there. Most of the people who show up at the border asking for asylum are extremely poor, so they don’t wait in hotels for it. They often live in tent cities where they lack basic hygiene and sit ducks for crime and COVID-19. This (intentionally I’m sure) is an incentive for people to cross illegally, which has a good chance of killing them, and allows the government to disguise them as “criminals” and steal their children if they do to get nabbed. It is an obscene human rights violation with no legal basis.
I hate in every fiber of my being that my tax dollars have been used to create this situation. I voted for Biden because I thought this would be my best chance to end it. And – despite the joyous criticism you are now facing from the left – I still think. Dragging a center-left president to the left is clearly more possible than trying to argue with an authoritarian racist who hates facts. But this interview shows that it will take some work.
Lorelei Laird is a freelance law writer and the only person you know who still has an I Believe Anita Hill bumper sticker. Find them at wordofthelaird.com.