immigration at the heart of the midterm elections

In December 2021, a truck that was traveling too fast overturned shortly before Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico. On board, 166 migrants, many of them minors. Mostly Guatemalans and nationals of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua. Result: 55 dead and 105 injured. The vehicle’s final destination was the United States border.

These exiles in search of a better life were fleeing violence and poverty, scourges that are eroding their countries, even more so since the pandemic. The truck took a route designed to avoid military checkpoints deployed by the Mexican government. “The strategy of the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (nicknamed Amlo) to deploy the army to its two borders, north and south, to contain migratory flows, encourages migrants to go through more dangerous and clandestine routes”wrote the daily El Paíspointing out that many other unventilated trucks, loaded with migrants, had been stopped shortly before. “In 2021, more than 228,000 foreigners were arrested in Mexico, of which 120,000 requested asylum, historical figures”the article noted.

The case caused a stir. The conservative governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, took the opportunity to denounce “Jo Biden’s murderous open borders policy”. An opening, however, very relative!

A break, but also setbacks

The migration issue was yesterday the central marker of Donald Trump’s policy. Barely elected, Jo Biden had promised to apply more humane measures than his predecessor. The Republican President had put in place a legal arsenal aimed at dismantling the right to asylum and outsourcing the management of migratory flows, forcing migrants to pile up at the country’s southern border. He did not hesitate to separate children from their families who had entered the territory. According to Matthieu Tardis, researcher at Ifri (French Institute of International Relations), it was “returned to the bipartisan consensus recognizing the positive contribution of immigration to the country”.

Has his successor broken with his very restrictive measures? Not quite. “There is a rupture, but also setbacks, slowdowns. Jo Biden takes on a different approach promoted during his campaign. He promised to regularize the 11 million undocumented migrants present in four to five years, and has begun to do so. He wants to bring them out of hiding and grant them American citizenship. It’s brave in the age of white supremacy, and when the Spanish language will soon be more spoken than English. But he also intends to prevent new ones from entering. For them, a more repressive component is in place”notes Christophe Ventura, researcher at Iris (Institute of International and Strategic Relations), author of Geopolitics of Latin America (Eyrolles, October 2022).

An acute migration crisis

At the time of midterms, the acute migration crisis is a political issue. According to a recent poll by the conservative channel Fox News, 56% of the Republican electorate places the question of immigration at the top of their concerns, after that of the cost of living and inflation. “The tension has existed for years, but it has been exacerbated. Border police figures attest to a sharp rise in the flow of Caribbean and Central American migrants. This is the consequence of an economic, social, climatic and health crisis. Poverty particularly affects the countries of the “northern triangle”: El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala”explains Christophe Ventura.

We are reaching historic peaks: more than two million undocumented migrants were arrested at the southern border of the United States between September 2021 and August 2022. They mainly came from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti. Thus, 180,000 Cubans knocked on the door of the United States in a few months, fleeing a country subject to power cuts, a shortage of raw materials and repression: unheard of since the Castro revolution of 1959.

The exodus of Haitians started in 2015, continued after the earthquakes, cholera epidemic, famine, etc., and accelerated after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021. As for the Venezuelans, who are fleeing the regime of Nicolas Maduro, there are seven million recent displaced persons, and a greater number knock on the door of the American giant.

Fallow projects

Jo Biden has therefore sometimes acted contrary to his commitments. So he promised to “do not add a meter” to the expensive wall of Donald Trump, raised at the border over 700 km in length and 10 m in height. But he financed the filling of breaches! In 2021, a publicized controversy, we also saw border guards on horseback pushing back Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. Even if since May 2021, a “temporary protected status” has been granted to Haitians.

Likewise, Jo Biden has long maintained the criticized policy of outsourcing the management of migration flows named Remain in Mexico “Stay in Mexico”. A country where smugglers and cartels nevertheless put migrants through hell. The goal ? Entrust the Mexican neighbour, on the basis of agreements, with the management of asylum seekers, kept in overcrowded detention centres. A bit like Europe has instructed Turkey to stop migrants wishing to enter Europe.

In June 2022, the US Supreme Court finally allowed the Biden administration to end the politics of the Remain in Mexico. Amlo, the left-leaning Mexican president, hoped the United States would fund major development programs in Central America to reduce the need for departures, in a region considered the backyard of Washington, which has been exercising its expansionism there for a long time. the end of the 19th centurye century. The Biden administration has put $4 billion on the table. But the project, in the hands of Kamala Harris, lay fallow. The vice-president had booked her first foreign visit to Guatemala in 2021, brandishing this message: “You must not come to us! »

Haitian Charters

The maintenance of “Title 42” is also debated. Donald Trump had taken advantage of this old decree to suspend the application of the right of asylum, on the pretext that migrants presented a danger to American public health, at the time of the Covid. If Jo Biden’s government first canceled it, it then continued to apply it after the intervention of two federal judges. Then recently extended it to Venezuelans. Even if, at the same time, he created a “conditional release” program for 24,000 Venezuelans deprived of their freedom while waiting for their case to be processed.

The Democratic President, reputed to be a connoisseur of Latin America, admitted that he was not “not rational to expel” Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans to their countries, where their rights are violated. But he consented to removals, including charters of Haitians. “With the use of Section 42, the US administration is preventing people from seeking asylum, which is against international law. The NGO Amnesty International finds it extremely disappointing that the Biden administration is backtracking on a promise to end one of Trump’s worst immigration policies.completes the French Adeline Neau, a researcher who works in the Americas office of Amnesty, in Mexico City.

“Our borders are not open”, insists Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, of Cuban origin, the first Latino to hold this position. Out of 329 million Americans, the United States has nearly 60 million citizens from Latin America. If the Cubans vote more Republican, the other Latin Americans have long leaned towards the Democrats. “The Latino vote generally benefits them, but this trend is eroding, especially among older people”adds Christophe Ventura.

During the midterms of 2018, Latinos had often voted Democrat, such as in Nevada, and made a difference. And many Hispanics had been elected to Congress. In the future, Adeline Neau hopes for political progress. “Amnesty opposes the systematic detention of those traveling for migration purposes. Restrictions on access to asylum applications expose people to greater dangers. We demand respect for the right of asylum. Much remains to be done to guarantee the rights of people fleeing their country”.

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