The border “crisis” explained. Or: Ted Cruz makes a nature documentary.
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Biden unveiled his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan Wednesday to address everything from transportation to broadband internet and climate change. The administration proposes we fund the massive package, called the American Jobs Plan, by raising the corporate tax rate and global minimum tax, ending federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies, and more strongly enforcing measures against offshoring profits. Republican and business groups have already announced their opposition to the plan, claiming that raising taxes on businesses would harm U.S. global competitiveness. Such an increase would partly undo the Republicans’ signature 2017 tax cut bill.
- $650 billion for infrastructure at home: Investing in clean drinking water, high-speed broadband, electrical infrastructure, affordable and sustainable housing, and schools.
- $621 billion for transportation infrastructure: Investing in roads and bridges, public transit, rail, electric vehicles, airports, water transit, transportation inequities, and infrastructure resilience.
- $580 billion for research and development, including clean energy domestic manufacturing and worker training.
- $400 billion investment in home and community-based care for elderly and disabled people.
It is now up to House Democrats to craft legislation based on Biden’s outline – not an easy task with a diverse caucus and only three party votes to spare. Democrats in vulnerable midterm seats worry about Republican attacks on tax increases, while some progressives have criticized Biden’s plan for not fully raising the corporate tax rate to pre-2017 levels.
“We’re hearing the next few months might bring a so-called ‘infrastructure’ proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said from the Senate floor last week.
- Further reading: WaPo, “The linchpin of Biden’s plan, which he detailed in a speech Wednesday in Pittsburgh, is the creation of a national standard requiring utilities to use a specific amount of solar, wind and other renewable energy to power American homes, businesses and factories. The amount would increase over time, cutting the nation’s use of coal, gas and oil over the next 15 years.” Inside Climate News, “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change”.
So far, Biden has taken three critical actions to tackle the $1.7 trillion student-debt crisis: On March 18, the administration canceled student debt for 72,000 borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools. On March 29, they canceled Student the debt of 41,000 with permanent and total disabilities. Last week, Student-debt collections were paused for 1.14 million with private loans. In total, so far, more than 113,000 people in the country are getting $2.3 billion of debt relief.
Social Security beneficiaries waited weeks for the most recent round of stimulus checks, almost a month after many Americans began receiving theirs, due to alleged sabotage from a Trump-era appointee. House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal (D-MA) sent a letter to Social Security Administrator Commissioner Andrew Saul last month accusing him of intentionally refusing to send the necessary payment files to the IRS. Neal and other Democratic signatories demanded Saul release the information within 24 hours, which he did, not explaining the delay. Several Democrats have previously called on Biden to fire Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black, both Trump appointees who have undermined the departments they were tasked with managing.
Biden revealed his first slate of judicial nominees earlier this week, the 11 judges setting the stage for a diversifying of the courts. His nominees include three African-American women for appeals court vacancies and – if confirmed – the first federal district judge who is Muslim, the first Asian-American woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the DC Circuit, and the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge in Maryland.
- Further Reading: This group is also unique in another way: Four of them have experience in public defender’s offices.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas fired the majority of the department’s independent advisory council, purging all but the chairman and chair emeritus. Most of the ousted members were appointed by the Trump administration after all Obama era appointees resigned in protest of Trump’s family separation policy in 2018. For example, Thomas Homan served as the acting ICE Director in 2017 and 2018 and was one of the top officials to sign off on the family separation policy. Just before leaving office, Trump named former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli to the panel.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan fired over 40 outside experts appointed under Trump from two advisory panels – the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Regan characterized the move as one of several to reestablish scientific integrity to the EPA after being sidelined under Trump in favor of political and business interests. For instance, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appointed fossil fuel industry consultant Louis Cox to lead the advisory panel on air pollution. Among other actions seen as sabotaging the EPA’s mission, Cox advised Pruitt to do away with the EPA’s methods for calculating the public health benefits of smog regulations.
- Related: NBC News, “A new White House task force will examine instances where the Trump administration may have distorted or suppressed science in critical government decisions, with an eye toward creating fail-safes to prevent it from happening again, the White House said Monday.”
Further reading: “Biden revokes Trump’s sanctions on International Criminal Court”; “Biden Announces New Steps To Tackle Anti-Asian Violence And Discrimination”; “Biden is about to send $1 billion more in food stamps to the 25 million neediest Americans.”
Despite political claims of a “crisis” at the southern border, perpetuated with the help of sensationalized headlines, an analysis of border crossing data reveals a predictable pattern in migration – both authorized and illegal. Customs and Border Protection data shows that “undocumented immigration is seasonal,” always increasing during the colder months. For instance, in 2019, total apprehensions increased 31% during the same period – a bigger jump than the 28% increase found in comparing January-February 2020 to 2021.
There is a problem, however, with comparing current data to past data. As Politico and Andrew Selee, president of nonpartisan think tank ‘Migration Policy Institute’, point out: “And [the numbers are] still probably lower now than in 2019, they just doesn’t look that way because they now count ‘encounters’ instead of ‘people,’ and there’s a huge number of people who try [to enter] multiple times. So the actual numbers are even lower than two years ago, and definitely lower than the mid-2000s.”
Finally, any recent increase in border crossings cannot be attributed to Biden’s policies alone. Tom K. Wong, director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center, asserts that closing the border last year due to the coronavirus caused a “backlog of demand.” Trump’s “Title 42 expulsions delayed prospective migrants rather than deterred them — and they’re arriving now.”
The Biden administration is still employing Title 42 to expel nearly all undocumented migrants, with the exception of unaccompanied minors. Previously, under Trump, even children were sent back to dangerous communities. “We have made a decision that we can address the public health imperative while addressing the humanitarian needs of vulnerable children,” DHS Secretary Mayorkas said. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoed Mayorkas last week: “Children presenting at our border who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis.”
Immigration experts like Selee have explained quite bluntly that Title 42 – expelling adult immigrants for public health reasons – is necessary “to buy time” while addressing the systemic problems in America’s immigration system. “Where we should be headed is creating two different paths: one for people who clearly are motivated by the need to leave their home country because of safety, and another for people aspiring to make their lives better by making more money.”
The overarching issues triggering the migration North often get far less attention — from gang violence to crushing poverty made worse by the coronavirus pandemic to a pair of hurricanes that destroyed houses and businesses and schools in Central America last year.
The real question is for Congress, not Biden: Immigration reform is desperately needed. Lawmakers must come together to create an immigration system that works for both asylum seekers and economic migrants. At the same time, the U.S. needs a long-term strategy to address poverty, corruption, and security in Central American countries.
It is indisputable that the Biden administration is dealing with an influx of unaccompanied children, a result of the decision not to expel them as was previously done. Nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children entered U.S. custody during March, an all-time high. As of Thursday morning, there were over 4,500 unaccompanied migrant children in Border Patrol facilities and 13,000 housed in emergency HHS housing facilities.
The Trump administration expelled more than 15,000 unaccompanied children, including victims of gang and domestic violence. One of these minors was a 16-year-old boy who fled his home country of Guatemala “after receiving death threats due to his father’s political opinions and because he refused to join a gang.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection took him into custody at the border and used Trump’s rapid expulsion program to deport him.
Now, when border agents encounter children, they’re taken to CBP holding facilities where – ideally – they won’t be kept longer than the legal 72-hour limit before being transferred to the HHS shelter system. However, faced with a dismantled immigration system, coronavirus restraints, and the new policy against expelling unaccompanied minors, thousands of children have been held in crowded facilities for longer than the 3-day limit. The administration is in the process of opening new intake sites and shelters to relieve the stress on the system and hopefully reduce the time children are in holding facilities.
- Further reading: The Biden transition team warned the Trump administration in early December 2020 that a large number of migrant children would be arriving the border, necessitating a rapid expansion of shelter space. However, the Trump team did not act until just two days before Biden’s inauguration. “They were sitting on their hands…It was incredibly frustrating,” one Biden transition official told NBC News.
- Further reading: “9 questions about the humanitarian crisis on the border, answered,” Vice News.
- Further reading: “Migrant children in emergency facilities have limited access to family phone calls and case managers, lawyers say,” CBS News. “Inside a Border Patrol facility holding 16 times more migrants than its capacity.” CBS News.
The Biden administration announced it is ending a Trump-era policy that arrested undocumented U.S. sponsors of children who had traveled to the country alone. Arresting and deporting would-be-sponsors “led to a chilling effect and decreased the pool of adults who could take custody of unaccompanied children,” allowing the administration to deport more children back to dangerous countries.
Faced with the bottleneck in transferring unaccompanied migrant children out of CBP custody, DHS issued new guidance allowing some children to move in with their parents or legal guardian more quickly. CBS News: The guidance says that children with “category 1” cases are eligible for the new expedited release process unless they are “especially vulnerable”; if their cases require a legally-mandated home study; or if red flags are identified in regards to the parents or legal guardians seeking to sponsor them.
Biden’s DHS has done away with the previous administration’s ‘No Blank Space’ policy, which allowed US Citizenship and Immigration Services to reject asylum applicants if even a single part of a form was left unanswered. For instance, if an applicant did not have a middle name or did not have a passport and left either space blank, the Trump administration would automatically reject the application.
The reversal “increases the predictability that these applications will be accepted and seriously considered, as they should, to consider whether an applicant qualifies for an immigration benefit,” said Sarah Pierce, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, who added that the Trump-era change “increased the chances that an applicant would be dissuaded from applying again altogether.”
- Further reading: “The Trump administration’s no-blanks policy is the latest Kafkaesque plan designed to curb immigration,” WaPo
Further reading: CBS News, “Immigrants held at an immigration detention center in Arizona were subject to widespread mistreatment last year, ranging from inadequate medical care to excessive punishment for peacefully protesting lax coronavirus mitigation efforts, an internal government watchdog found.”
Congress visits the border
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) led a delegation of 17 fellow Republican senators on a gunboat patrol along the Rio Grande with Border Protection agents in the middle of the night. In stark contrast to their statements during Trump’s crackdown on immigration, the group decried the “tragedy” at the “open border,” simultaneously describing the situation as “not humane” while also calling for all unaccompanied children to be sent back to their dangerous home countries.
[ABC News’ Rachel Scott] asked the senators: Were they outraged with the condition and policies under the Trump administration?
“What outrage? The outrage is that you entice people to do this,” Graham said. He added, “What President Biden did today at that news conference was a disaster. … What he did is created a human tsunami that’s going to come to the United States. He didn’t mean to, but I don’t think he understands his own policies.”
- Watch: Ted Cruz at the Rio Grande. Watch: Ted Cruz talk about his harrowing experience. Watch: The GOP on their gunboat photo op.
Progressives have also criticized the conditions at the border, but have been clear that there is no similarity to Trump’s immigration policies.
“We’re looking at what’s going on in these facilities. It’s unacceptable, it’s horrifying and it’s a result of the fact that we have built our immigration system on the same principles and scaffolding as our carceral system,” [Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez [D-NY] said during a virtual town hall…
“What is happening here is not the same as what happened during the Trump administration where they took babies out of the arms of mothers and deported their families and permanently traumatized these children,” she said, adding that President Biden’s policies toward families are “simply not the same” as his predecessor.
“Both are these things are barbaric and wrong, but when you rip a baby out of the hands of a mother, you cannot draw the same comparison and anyone who is trying to do that is doing a profound disservice to the cause of justice.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) led six of his Democratic colleagues to a DHS facility where unaccompanied children stay on a temporary basis:
He said Biden had “inherited a situation where the previous administration had sought to dismantle the infrastructure for processing asylum seekers and settling asylum seekers in the United States. And during the pandemic, the Trump administration took advantage of that fact and sought to expel every single person who was coming to the United States to seek asylum, which people were allowed to do around the world.” That included thousands of unaccompanied minors, he noted.