Biden clenches his fist at the border with Mexico, leaning on the inheritance that Trump left him

US troops guard the border with Mexico in El Paso, Texas, on December 31.
US troops guard the border with Mexico in El Paso, Texas, on December 31.Giovanna Dell’Orto (AP)

President Joe Biden visits the border this Sunday for the first time since he arrived at the White House. His brief stay in El Paso, on his way to a summit of North American leaders in Mexico City, will be marked by the legacy that Donald Trump left him. The Democratic president has tried for two years to shape an immigration policy, but reality has forced him to follow the script written by his predecessor. Especially in regards to Title 42, a sanitary regulation that Biden has tried to get rid of, but that he has been forced to maintain by the Judiciary. This Thursday, he announced that border management will be tightened. Access will be allowed for 30,000 immigrants who have a sponsor in the United States, but the country will return the same number of people to Mexico each month that they meet the requirements.

The end of 2022 has been especially hard on the border. The year closed with the highest numbers of illegal immigration seen since World War II. There were more than two million encounters, a euphemism for the arrests made by the Border Patrol. The flow has been fueled by what the Department of Homeland Security has called an “unprecedented exodus” of people leaving Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. “These are nations in crisis and with repressive authoritarian regimes that do not accept the large-scale return of their citizens,” said Blas Nuñez Neto, the acting secretary of Border Policy and Immigration for Homeland Security, on Friday.

The official assured that every day, along the border, the US authorities counted between 7,000 and 8,000 daily encounters of irregular immigrants. “We are also seeing a significant increase in maritime migration from Cuba and Haiti. Border Patrol resources are running out,” Nuñez Neto said. President Biden complained to the press on Thursday that the Republicans have rejected a plan for the border that included 3.5 billion dollars and funds to hire 200 new officials to process asylum requests, as well as the creation of 100 new immigration judges.

So without the possibility of returning to the largest group of people arriving in the United States, Mexico has been forced to play an uncomfortable role as a holding room for its neighbor to the north. This has put pressure on an increasingly saturated Mexican assistance system. In parallel, both governments have been announcing measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis on the border through, above all, opening their hands to legal visa quotas. The last package announced this Thursday by Biden walks in that direction as a step prior to the summit that will bring him together with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican president, and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister.

Biden announced in October a quota of 24,000 humanitarian visas for Venezuelans, one of the nationalities that has grown the most among immigrants. The measure, a replica of the actions to help Ukrainian migration, was extended last week with up to 30,000 visas per month for those who come from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua or Haiti and can demonstrate ties or roots with the country. The other side of the coin will be a tougher punishment for those who do not meet the established criteria: they will be expelled “quickly” and will be banned from entering the United States for five years.

Migration will be one of the main axes of the agenda, where the plan to invest 23 million dollars in development cooperation, the core of a new migration pact that aims to tackle the socioeconomic roots of migration, will foreseeably be spelled out in greater detail. But some civil organizations have criticized the new announcement of the US president. The colectivos take with a grain of salt Washington’s announcement to allow the passage of 30,000 citizens, since the government has not been able to fulfill some of its previous promises. Among these, the increase in the number of refugees that the US will host in the coming years. A figure that it has not reached despite having announced it in September 2021.

“The new visas are an important point in favor of Mexico, which has managed to start a concrete agreement after many negotiations and in line with its objectives of expanding the legal channels of migration,” says Eurídice Rendón, a security expert. “The profile of Central American or Caribbean migrants is not that of Ukrainians, from whom it is realistic to ask for a passport, a minimum income or to arrive by plane,” she adds. The US authorities have not yet published specific data on the number of visas that they have actually granted, although they have registered a considerable drop in the irregular entries of Venezuelan migrants.

To the Professor of Global Studies at The New School in New York, Alexandra Délano, “increasing the visa cap is positive, but it is not enough. A structural change is needed, an in-depth reform that addresses an increasingly broad and complex migratory phenomenon that goes beyond the logic of security and border control. “We do not see, for example, that there is more investment, the effort of resources continues to fall mainly on civil organizations,” says Délano.

The border, however, has more edges beyond the humanitarian one. Security will be another of the reasons for tug of war between the leaders. Biden warned of this on Thursday, recalling that US customs officers have seized more than nine kilos of fentanyl since August, “enough to kill 1,000 people,” according to the president. The DEA, the anti-drug agency, assured that during 2022 they seized more than 379 million lethal doses (two milligrams is enough) of the synthetic opioid, which is enough to kill the entire population of the United States (more than 330 million people). . The material seized by the authorities last year is more than double that seized in 2021.

The DEA blames this epidemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Americans in the last 12 months, on drug trafficking promoted by the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación cartels. These organizations produce the chemical with precursors purchased from China. This Thursday, Sinaloa experienced nightmare moments after the Mexican Armed Forces captured Ovidio Guzmán, known as El Ratón, one of the leaders of the Sinaloan cartel. His capture coincides with Biden’s visit.

At the beginning of last year, Mexico and the US inaugurated a new binational security plan, the Bicentennial Agreement, more focused on prevention and collaboration on paper; and on which the budgets allocated to the bilateral migration agenda depend to a large extent. “At the moment we have seen rhetorical announcements more than concrete changes,” adds Rendón. Meanwhile, Mexico continues to skyrocket its deportation numbers and both its southern and northern borders continue to be equally or more heavily armored than under Trump. Between October and November, López Obrador deployed more than 32,000 troops between the military and the National Guard, a record for the last two years. On the other side of the border, on US soil, the line also looked militarized. This is how 2022 ended.

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