Connecting Global Dots

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo looks at the big picture

It’s interesting to step back sometimes and consider … our times. Today we have our ongoing battle over democracy and authoritarianism in the U.S. The UK is in its latest stage of its ongoing national self-immolation. Italy has just elected its first far-right government since Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in the early 1920s. Russia, which has made itself into the international clarion of rightist nationalism, is stumbling through a succession of largely self-inflicted catastrophes in its war of choice in Ukraine.

Let’s go back to the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring unsettles or topples governments across the Arab Middle East. But it triggers long-running civil wars in Syria and Libya. The first especially, but also the second, are the main drivers of the European Union migrant crisis of 2015, in which some 1.3 million refugees/migrants requested asylum in the EU, the most in any single year since World War II. Given the closeness of the vote and the great focus on the migrant crisis in 2015 and 2016, it’s very hard to imagine the UK leaves the European Union without this chain of events … beginning in December 2010.

Less obvious is that you can make a looser but I think still fairly persuasive argument that these events play a key role in the rise of [MAGA-ism] in the United States….The rise of [MAGA-ism] is part of a long progression within the United States. [However, their leader’s] particular platform — to the extent you can call it that — focused on “the wall” and immigrants from Mexico and Central America….

But there’s a somewhat different commonality I am focusing on.

The [reactionary] right is, paradoxically, highly internationalized if not internationalist. There’s a deep confluence and sharing of ideas, imagery and programs between the U.S. and Europe. The narratives of “our out of control migration” and white Christian cultures under threat was a common, interwoven and reinforcing pattern on both sides of the Atlantic….

These are of course only the barest thumbnail outlines of recent history and its relationship to the present…. Why this interests me is that migration flows and their intensity are going to increase over time. The most basic reason is climate. Our potential climate futures range from really bad to truly catastrophic. But anywhere on that spectrum you have lots of people trying to move from places that are less habitable than they used to be or are in the throes of political and economic instability for those same reasons. Telecommunications and transport technology greatly accelerate that process.

A century ago a poor peasant in India or Ecuador may have known in a general way that there were vastly richer societies in Europe and North America. But they couldn’t really know the details and it was close to impossible to get there anyway. Today, almost everyone in the world can see through electronic media how people live in Europe, North America, and other parts of the affluent world and — though it’s hard and often dangerous — it is possible to get there.

What we can draw from this is that the accelerating patterns of global migration which are so central to the politics of the last decade and have helped reshape politics in Europe and North America will almost certainly continue to intensify.

One More Comment from Prof. Zimmer on the Pathetic Circus We Call American Politics

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That’s Florida’s thuggish Republican governor Ronald DeSantis using his own state’s funds to gather up immigrants in Texas and put them on a plane to Massachusetts (where the arrivals were greeted warmly by local residents). History professor Thomas Zimmer had a reaction:

Leading Republican elected officials: “Let’s round up human beings under false pretenses and treat them like cargo in order to use them as props in an illegal stunt to trigger the Libs and rile up the base!”   New York Times: “Here’s a new political tactic we haven’t seen…”

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There is almost nothing so vile, so inhumane, so outrageous that the mainstream media can’t press it into the established politics-as-horse-race framework, thereby sanitizing it and presenting it as just the latest development in the struggle between Team Red and Team Blue.

Since mainstream journalism is predicated on the idea that politics is a game between two teams that are essentially the same and journalists aspire to “neutrality,” which they define as equidistance from either side, whatever comes from the [Republican Party] has to be elevated to credibility.

Sometimes that happens by presenting bad-faith nonsense as serious policy proposals – that’s what we get after every mass shooting, when Republicans claim the answer to gun violence is more guns or maybe school buildings with just one entry point, remember that one?

If that doesn’t work, then the sanitizing effect is achieved by simply ignoring the actual substance of what Republicans have done and focusing solely on the “playing politics” part, the horse race and how it may or may not be affected by these actions.

It’s one of the most bizarre features of the American political discourse that it demands we pretend these are serious political actions, coming from serious political actors, instead of denouncing them as the extremist culture warriors they so clearly are.

In a healthy political culture, anyone involved in such a deranged scheme would be shunned and ostracized, the party that elevated them would have to pay a hefty political price. In the U.S., that’s evidently not the case. And until that changes, nothing changes.

Unquote. 

There’s more to this story coming out. According to a lawyer representing the immigrants, officials from the Department of Homeland Security participated in this fiasco and falsified government documents, filling in random addresses around the US as the immigrants’ mailing addresses. If this actually happened, there needs to be serious jailtime.

Politics vs. Reality at the Border

Headline from The Washington Post, March 20, 2021, for an article by three political reporters and one who covers immigration enforcement:

‘No end in sight’: Inside the Biden administration’s failure to contain the border surge

Headline from The Washington Post, March 23, 2021, for an article by three political scientists, one of whom heads the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California in San Diego:

There’s no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border. Here’s the data [that] reveals the usual seasonal bump — plus some of the people who waited during the pandemic

From the article by the people who know what they’re talking about:

Last week, at the U.S. border with Mexico, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared that the recent increase in unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the United States was a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”

We looked at data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see whether there’s a “crisis” — or even a “surge,” as many news outlets have characterized it. We analyzed monthly CBP data from 2012 to now and found no crisis or surge that can be attributed to Biden administration policies. Rather, the current increase in apprehensions fits a predictable pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020’s coronavirus border closure.

IT’S NOT A SURGE. IT’S THE USUAL SEASONAL INCREASE.

The CBP reports monthly data on how many migrants its agents apprehend at the southern border, including unaccompanied minors. . . .

The CBP has recorded a 28 percent increase in migrants apprehended from January to February 2021, from 78,442 to 100,441. News outlets, pundits and politicians have been calling this a “surge” and a “crisis.”

But the CBP’s numbers reveal that undocumented immigration is seasonal, shifting upward this time of year. During fiscal year 2019, under the [previous] administration, total apprehensions increased 31 percent during the same period, a bigger jump than we’re seeing now. (We’re comparing fiscal year 2021 to 2019 because the pandemic changed the pattern in 2020.) In 2018, the increase is about 25 percent from February to March — somewhat smaller but still pronounced.

But was 2019 an aberration? In the figure below, we combine data from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2020 to show the cumulative total number of apprehensions for each month over these eight years. As you can see, migrants start coming when winter ends and the weather gets a bit warmer. We see a regular increase not just from January to February, but from February to March, March to April, and April to May — and then a sharp drop-off, as migrants stop coming in the hotter summer months when the desert is deadly. That means we should expect decreases from May to June and June to July.

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What we’re seeing, in other words, isn’t a surge or crisis, but a predictable seasonal shift. When the numbers drop again in June and July, policymakers may be tempted to claim that their deterrence policies succeeded. But that will just be the usual seasonal drop.

SO WHY ARE WE SEEING MORE MIGRANTS SO FAR IN 2021?

The CBP has indeed reported apprehending more migrants in February 2021 than in the same month in previous years. But that too doesn’t mean it’s a surge or a crisis. . . .

2020 was the pandemic, when movement dropped dramatically. Countries around the world closed their borders. Here in the United States, the [previous] administration invoked Title 42, a provision from the 1944 Public Health Act, to summarily expel migrants attempting to enter the United States without proper documentation.

In other words, in fiscal year 2021, it appears that migrants are continuing to enter the United States in the same numbers as in fiscal year 2019 — plus the pent-up demand from people who would have come in fiscal year 2020, but for the pandemic. . . .

This suggests that Title 42 expulsions delayed prospective migrants rather than deterred them — and they’re arriving now.

That would be consistent with nearly three decades of research in political science. Much of this research has been done since President Bill Clinton’s administration ran Operation Gatekeeper, which tried to keep out migrants by increasing funding and staff for border enforcement. Scholars consistently find that border security policies do not necessarily deter migration; rather, they delay migrants’ decisions to travel, and change the routes they take.

REASSESSING OUR UNDERSTANDING OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION

So have Biden administration policies caused a crisis at the southern border? Evidence suggests not. The [last] administration oversaw a record in apprehensions in fiscal year 2019, before the pandemic shut the border. This year looks like the usual seasonal increase plus migrants who would have come last year, but could not.

Focusing on month-to-month differences in apprehensions is misleading; given seasonal patterns, each month should be considered in relation to the same month in previous years. Knowing those patterns, policymakers may be better able to plan, prepare and to manage the border.

Unquote. Also, political reporters would avoid jumping on bandwagons being driven by politicians with their own agendas.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer summarizes:

The border situation is neither the first crisis facing the new administration nor close to the biggest — not with a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and the related economic crisis leaving 10 million out of work — but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry. Indeed, the Sunday morning talk shows — ABC even flew its panelists to an outdoor location at the border — seemed to openly salivate at a return to the days of swinging at Democrats with a club furnished by the Republican National Committee.

There is overcrowding at the border, partly because Biden’s predecessor left a mess behind him. The new administration is working on the problem, which is what we should expect.

The Government’s Statement on the Border Issue

This morning, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released this statement about the situation at the southwest border. I tend to think it’s an improvement over the bullshit statements the government issued during the past four years:

There is understandably a great deal of attention currently focused on the southwest border.  I want to share the facts, the work that we in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and across the government are doing, and our plan of action. . . .

Our goal is a safe, legal, and orderly immigration system that is based on our bedrock priorities: to keep our borders secure, address the plight of children as the law requires, and enable families to be together. As noted by the President in his Executive Order, “securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them.” We are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  That is one of our proudest traditions.

The Facts

We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.  We are expelling most single adults and families.  We are not expelling unaccompanied children.  We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children.  We have more work to do.

This is not new. We have experienced migration surges before – in 2019, 2014, and before then as well. Since April 2020, the number of encounters at the southwest border has been steadily increasing. Border Patrol Agents are working around the clock to process the flow at the border . . . To understand the situation, it is important to identify who is arriving at our southwest border and how we are following the law to manage different types of border encounters.

Single Adults

The majority of those apprehended at the southwest border are single adults who are currently being expelled under the CDC’s authority to manage the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Pursuant to that authority under Title 42 of the United States Code, single adults from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are swiftly expelled to Mexico.  Single adults from other countries are expelled by plane to their countries of origin if Mexico does not accept them.  There are limited exceptions to our use of the CDC’s expulsion authority.  For example, we do not expel individuals with certain acute vulnerabilities. 

The expulsion of single adults does not pose an operational challenge for the Border Patrol because of the speed and minimal processing burden of their expulsion.

Families

Families apprehended at the southwest border are also currently being expelled under the CDC’s Title 42 authority.  Families from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries are expelled to Mexico unless Mexico does not have the capacity to receive the families.  Families from countries other than Mexico or the Northern Triangle are expelled by plane to their countries of origin.  Exceptions can be made when a family member has an acute vulnerability.

Mexico’s limited capacity has strained our resources, including in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas.  When Mexico’s capacity is reached, we process the families and place them in immigration proceedings here in the United States.  We have partnered with community-based organizations to test the family members and quarantine them as needed under COVID-19 protocols.  In some locations, the processing of individuals who are part of a family unit has strained our border resources. . . .

Unaccompanied Children

We are encountering many unaccompanied children at our southwest border every day.  A child who is under the age of 18 and not accompanied by their parent or legal guardian is considered under the law to be an unaccompanied child.  We are encountering six- and seven-year-old children, for example, arriving at our border without an adult.  They are vulnerable children and we have ended the prior administration’s practice of expelling them.

An unaccompanied child is brought to a Border Patrol facility and processed for transfer to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Customs and Border Protection is a pass-through and is required to transfer the child to HHS within 72 hours of apprehension.  HHS holds the child for testing and quarantine, and shelters the child until the child is placed with a sponsor here in the United States. In more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian. . . .

The children then go through immigration proceedings where they are able to present a claim for relief under the law.

The Border Patrol facilities have become crowded with children and the 72-hour timeframe for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met.  HHS has not had the capacity to intake the number of unaccompanied children we have been encountering. . . .

Why the Challenge is Especially Difficult Now

Poverty, high levels of violence, and corruption in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries have propelled migration to our southwest border for years.  The adverse conditions have continued to deteriorate.  Two damaging hurricanes that hit Honduras and swept through the region made the living conditions there even worse, causing more children and families to flee. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation more complicated.  There are restrictions and protocols that need to be followed.  The physical distancing protocol, for example, imposes space and other limitations on our facilities and operations.

The prior administration completely dismantled the asylum system.  The system was gutted, facilities were closed, and they cruelly expelled young children into the hands of traffickers.  We have had to rebuild the entire system, including the policies and procedures required to administer the asylum laws that Congress passed long ago. 

The prior administration tore down the lawful pathways that had been developed for children to come to the United States in a safe, efficient, and orderly way.  It tore down, for example, the Central American Minors program that avoided the need for children to take the dangerous journey to our southwest border.

The previous administration also cut foreign aid funding to the Northern Triangle.  No longer did we [assist] efforts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to tackle the root causes of people fleeing their homes.

And, there were no plans to protect our front-line personnel against the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was no appropriate planning for the pandemic at all.

As difficult as the border situation is now, we are addressing it.  We have acted and we have made progress.  We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time. . . .

Actions We Have Taken

In less than two months, Customs and Border Protection stood-up an additional facility in Donna, Texas to process unaccompanied children and families.  We deployed additional personnel to provide oversight, care, and transportation assistance for unaccompanied minors pending transfer to HHS custody.

We are standing up additional facilities in Texas and Arizona to shelter unaccompanied children and families.  We are working with Mexico to increase its capacity to receive expelled families.  We partnered with community-based organizations to test and quarantine families that Mexico has not had the capacity to receive.  We have developed a framework for partnering with local mayors and public health officials to pay for 100% of the expense for testing, isolation, and quarantine for migrants.  ICE has also developed additional facilities to provide testing, local transportation, immigration document assistance, orientation, travel coordination in the interior, and mechanisms to support oversight of the migrant families who are not expelled.

Working with Mexico and international organizations, we built a system in which migrants who were forced to remain in Mexico and denied a chance to seek protection under the previous administration can now use a virtual platform – using their phones – to register.  They do not need to take the dangerous journey to the border.  The individuals are tested, processed, and transported to a port of entry safely and out of the hands of traffickers.  We succeeded in processing the individuals who were in the Matamoros camp in Mexico.  This is the roadmap going forward for a system that is safe, orderly, and fair.

To protect our own workforce, we launched Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (VOW) in late January.   At the beginning of this administration, less than 2 percent of our frontline personnel were vaccinated.  Now more than 25 percent of our frontline personnel have been vaccinated.

We directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist HHS in developing the capacity to meet the surge of unaccompanied children.  FEMA already established one new facility for HHS to shelter 700 children.  They have identified and are currently adding additional facilities.  We are working with HHS to more efficiently identify and screen sponsors for children.  In two days, we recruited more than 560 DHS volunteers to support HHS in our collective efforts to address the needs of the unaccompanied children.

We are restarting and expanding the Central American Minors program.  It creates a lawful pathway for children to come to the United States without having to take the dangerous journey. Under this expansion, children will be processed in their home countries and brought to the United States in a safe and orderly way.

In addition, DHS and HHS terminated a 2018 agreement that had a chilling effect on potential sponsors – typically a parent or close relative – from coming forward to care for an unaccompanied child placed in an HHS shelter. In its place, DHS and HHS signed a new Memorandum of Agreement that promotes the safe and timely transfer of children. . . .

The Path Forward

We are creating joint processing centers so that children can be placed in HHS care immediately after Border Patrol encounters them.  We are also identifying and equipping additional facilities for HHS to shelter unaccompanied children until they are placed with family or sponsors.  These are short-term solutions to address the surge of unaccompanied children.

Longer term, we are working with Mexico and international organizations to expand our new virtual platform so that unaccompanied children can access it without having to take the dangerous journey to our border. . . .

We are developing additional legal and safe pathways for children and others to reach the United States.  While we are building a formal refugee program throughout the region, we are working with Mexico, the Northern Triangle countries, and international organizations to establish processing centers in those countries so that individuals can be screened through them and brought to the United States if they qualify for relief under our humanitarian laws and other authorities. 

For years, the asylum system has been badly in need of reengineering.  In addition to improving the process by which unaccompanied children are placed with family or sponsors, we will be issuing a new regulation shortly and taking other measures to implement the long-needed systemic reforms.  We will shorten from years to months the time it takes to adjudicate an asylum claim while ensuring procedural safeguards and enhancing access to counsel.

President Biden laid out a vision of a “multi-pronged approach toward managing migration throughout North and Central America that reflects the Nation’s highest values.” To that end, we are working with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and State in an all-of-government effort to not only address the current situation at our southwest border, but to institute longer-term solutions to irregular migration from countries in our hemisphere that are suffering worsening conditions. . . .

Conclusion

The situation we are currently facing at the southwest border is a difficult one.  We are tackling it.  We are keeping our borders secure, enforcing our laws, and staying true to our values and principles. . . .

I came to this country as an infant, brought by parents who understood the hope and promise of America.  Today, young children are arriving at our border with that same hope.  We can do this.

Border Crisis or Big Problem Being Addressed?

People in the media love a new “crisis”, even if the old crisis was worse. From Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

Republicans are convinced that attacking President Biden’s border policies will win them the midterms. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has gleefully labeled the situation there “Biden’s border crisis.”

In this, Republicans are benefiting from a media debate that has gone off the rails.
There’s a huge hole in this attack, but it’s rarely described clearly in news reports and commentary. You can read endless headlines warning of a “crisis.” But even if that’s so, a crisis relative to what, exactly?

What’s missing is a serious comparison with the pre-Biden status quo. It’s as if the current situation exists in a vacuum: Before there was no crisis, and now there’s a crisis.

That’s absurd. The situation under the former president was substantially worse from a humanitarian and a pragmatic governing perspective: worse for the migrants, worse for the rule of law and worse for our country.

It’s true that child and teenage migrants are overwhelming our facilities.

Because they can’t get released alone, they must be held at Border Patrol facilities for 72 hours before getting transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which places them with relatives or guardians. The ORR facilities are jammed, backlogging border facilities.

This is a terrible situation. But it’s happening in large part because Biden is undoing a policy that should be undone.

Due to covid-19, the previous administration turned away most asylum seekers — without hearings — under a legal provision allowing a temporary block on noncitizens from entering, in order to protect public health.

Biden is no longer applying this provision to unaccompanied children and teenagers (while keeping it for adults), helping fuel child backlogs. But that’s a move in the right direction, both from a humanitarian and rule-of-law perspective.

Coronavirus will be tamed before long, and we have a legal obligation to allow migrants to exercise their right to seek asylum. [The public health] provision is not for controlling migrant flows outside a genuine public health rationale. If anything, expelling adults abuses it.

So continuing to use this tool is not a tenable long-term solution to the humanitarian problem, and it’s not in keeping with the rule of law. That requires letting in the kids, and we will have to allow more adults to apply for asylum. The question is how we manage it.

Republicans claim we’re seeing a breakdown in enforcement, and that this, combined with Biden’s promise to reverse the former guy’s policies, is causing the migrant spikes.

Yes, we’re seeing a spike: There were over 100,000 detentions at the border in February.

But right now, the border is in large part closed: Many adult asylum seekers are getting turned away with zero due process. The decision to lift the public health restriction for children and teens [does not mean a law isn’t being enforced. It means] the administration is no longer incorrectly applying the law to children and teens . . .

On the second claim, these spikes in migrations occur for complex reasons rooted in Central American conditions. Indeed, . . . there was a huge spike in 2019, amid the former guy’s draconian policies.

Expectations of a policy reversal might play some role in spurring people to attempt to apply for asylum. But all this really means is that [the former guy] was denying them that legal right, and Biden [won’t].

[The former guy’s] “solutions” were designed to prevent people from applying for asylum at all. His “Remain in Mexico” policy — which forced thousands back into Mexico to await hearings — was the centerpiece of this.

But that was a humanitarian catastrophe. Many were exposed to violence and even kidnapping, or stranded in horrific refugee camp conditions for months.

“[That] created a much worse humanitarian and legal crisis than what we’re seeing now,” Dan Restrepo, a national security official under former president Barack Obama, told me. “It failed to meet our legal obligations and relegated tens of thousands to dangerous and inhumane conditions in Mexico.”

That was only a “solution” if you believe cruelty and fear should be used to deter people from applying for asylum. That’s the real Republican position: that those are legitimate tools to ensure that as few people apply and qualify for asylum as possible.

But continuing that approach would be worse than the present in humanitarian and rule-of-law terms: Conditions spurring migrations will continue, and it would renege on our obligations under U.S. and international law.

The question is whether Biden can make the asylum system function better.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas just released a new statement outlining what this should look like: investing in Central American countries and creating new pathways for people to apply from afar, so they don’t come to the border; speeding up processing, so asylum claimants aren’t left in the interior and kids get transferred to guardians faster; and increasing capacity and ensuring more humane treatment at [Refugee Resettlement] facilities in the interim. . . .

The real way to hold Biden accountable is to judge whether he meets those promises.
Yes, these problems are hard to solve. But that’s the point: What’s hard is actually trying to solve them. Calling this a “crisis” outside that context is absurd: It was a crisis before, too. What’s different is that Biden is attempting to tackle this crisis in a far better way than [his predecessor] did.