Rounded up like cattle and ushered across the Rio Grande, Haitian immigrants found themselves face to face with hooves and harnesses while evading Border Control in mid-September. Images and videos of the situation took over the media and corralled all of Capitol Hill into the conversation. “Human beings should never be treated that way,” said Vice President Kamala Harris after seeing the circulated images. On the other side of the aisle, Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) accused the Biden administration of “continued uncontrolled illegal immigration into the country.” Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, spoke on behalf of the President saying that the violence exhibited by officers was “horrific.” But if Biden disavows such harsh control, how did it happen in the first place?
Upon his election, Biden promised to halt all deportation. He also entertained the idea of discontinuing the “Remain in Mexico” policy enacted by Trump to limit the number of immigrants allowed across the border. He did them both.
Against criticism from many members of his administration, Biden ended the policy that restricted immigration and allowed over 10,000 immigrants across the border to await processing. He also tried to stop all deportations, but this attempt got struck down in the court system. After these key actions, Biden opened the doors to immigrants who must now go through the lengthy asylum-seeking process that “typically takes between 6 months and several years.” With more and more coming in and overloading the system, Capitol Hill got restless and the opposition grew.
Republicans and many Democrats jumped on the issue and positioned themselves against President Biden as a result of the crowding at the border. Biden, while trying to push for acceptance of immigrants in the U.S., inadvertently fed his opponents ammunition to use against him. He shot himself in the foot.
Biden’s campaign treated immigration as the hot-button issue it has been for years. On his website, his team insists that reforming America’s immigration system must be structural at its core. Biden planned on undoing Trump's policies of mass deportation while reworking the immigration process to make it more efficient.
Today, neither has come to fruition.
Title 42, the policy that allowed Trump to deport millions in the name of public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, still exists today. Biden, like Trump, uses this tool to deport immigrants by the thousands. The President’s use of Title 42 shows a clear willingness to deport immigrants at the border to ease the situation at hand. For all the promises made on the administration’s website, the first sign of pushback to Biden’s progressive plans has resulted in a return to Trumpian tactics of deportation.
The images and crisis pictured at the border may have exposed the inhumanity of the border police. But more than anything, the situation served as a political chess piece for Republican legislators. With such heavy criticism focused towards him, Biden finds himself in a corner, caught between making progress or reversing his stance to save face.
But can all of this chaos really come back to Biden himself? Not entirely.
Biden made progress where many other conservative democrats never would have. However, this progress is nothing without the support of Congress. He opened the borders to more immigrants, but the failure of Congress to affect change at the systemic level left an ineffectual and incompetent immigration system to deal with an immense amount of migrants. On the White House’s website, the administration states that they have “[continued] to call on Congress to make long overdue reforms to U.S. immigration laws” and “[sent] Congress legislation that creates a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, provide a pathway to citizenship, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” The entire Biden agenda rests on the leadership and competence of Congress.
This is a recipe for disaster.
Republican opponents to the Biden administration use the images and scenes along the border to prove their side of the debate, that immigrants are flooding in and that the border presents a crisis like none other in this country. Congressional Democrats like Chuck Schumer point out the hypocrisy in Biden’s use of Title 42, but continue to lead Congress into stalemates.
To say that Biden and the Democrats alone are to blame, or that Republicans are to blame, simplifies the issue far too much. The border crisis today is a problem of backbone. Biden, who was once pushing for progressive change, now feels the need to backpedal and save face. Democrats, who claim to stand for a just system, cannot harness Congressional power to make it happen. Republicans, who argue that the border presents a danger for American citizens, would rather base their political careers on hating immigrants than making impactful change for the average American.
Beyond the politics of the situation, our culture of snappy headlines and shock-value content is to blame in part for the crisis at the border. Biden’s bending on immigration policies comes as a result of political backlash, and this backlash comes because images like those shown above move the public to anger. In context, the images present a more understandable view of the injustice at the border. Training and new staffing at the border—two of Biden’s promises—haven’t happened because of political incompetence, not because of innate hatred of immigrants. Pileups at the border come as a result of ineffective immigration processing, not reckless policy by the President. These images of wrangling up immigrants do more to corral the public towards political contempt than they do to make any actual change.
While the Haitian migrant crisis sounds devastating (and the pictures make it out so) it might just be our own infatuation with shock-value content that leads to situations like these. Shouldn’t we expect this kind of political derision and hatred? After all, far more people are interested in the politics of our nation if it's presented with a heavy hand of drama.