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Josue De Luna Navarro is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
In mid-January, a new caravan of up to 7,000 Central American migrants started the difficult journey north, from Honduras through Guatemala, headed into Mexico and ultimately the United States.
“Many are fleeing poverty and violence made worse by the pandemic and two major hurricanes that pummeled the region late last year,” The New York Times reported.
Over the next decade, Central America will face still stronger storms and longer droughts as climate change accelerates. This will drive more displaced people into the maw of an immigration system that has grown only crueler.
Those brave enough to take the journey will face challenges long before they reach the U.S. border, including potential abuse by U.S.-funded security forces in Mexico and Central America tasked with preventing them from ever reaching the northern border. Those who make it to the United States will face wretched conditions living in the shadows, even as they form the backbone of the U.S. economy.
If President Joe Biden wants to heal these wounds and root out the anti-immigrant sentiment stirred up by his predecessor, his administration must go beyond business as usual on immigration.
In part, Biden seems to understand this.
He’s introduced a sweeping proposal for expanded refugee admissions and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He’s also issued executive orders halting the construction of Trump’s border wall, instituting a 100-day moratorium on deportations and ordering the reunification of separated immigrant families.
This is great news, but there’s a trade-off. As The Washington Post reports, Biden’s plan “calls on the Department of Homeland Security to develop a proposal that uses technology and other similar infrastructure to implement new security measures along the border, both at and between ports of entry.”
Wall or no wall, tightening border security against refugees from poverty, violence and climate change is no break from “business as usual.” Advocates also worry that hard-line immigration agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, may refuse to comply with the deportation moratorium.
This is why it’s vital for the Biden administration to go beyond simply reforming the existing immigration system — and move instead to dismantle the deportation machine.
Let’s start with ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, or CBP, whose explosive growth in recent decades has fueled the abuse of immigrant families.
According to the American Immigration Council, the budget allocated to immigration enforcement has increased by 300 percent since the creation of ICE in 2003. Last year, ICE and CBP got more than $25 billion.
Much of that money ends up in the pockets of shareholders and private corporations. CBP alone spent $26.5 billion between 2008 and 2018 on contractors like CoreCivic and GEO Group, which run for-profit detention centers that have been shown to have engaged in widespread abuse.
Dismantling this machine will mean defunding these agencies and banning corporations from profiting off the persecution of immigrants. There are so many better things we could put our money into — like health care, education and green jobs.
Biden says he wants to create an accessible pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented families. He should do so, and Congress should support him. But he must also start dismantling the draconian deportation machine and border militarization that have taken root in the last few decades.
If he fails, a rising tide of white supremacy and our worsening climate crisis would needlessly continue the suffering of immigrant families fleeing for their lives.