Kids in cages: Biden’s end to his predecessor’s policies causes surge in cross-border migration
13th May 2021
“Kids in cages” is a phrase we are all unfortunately accustomed to hearing. The migrant crisis and border policies dominated Donald Trump’s presidency, and images of children crowded into tiny, wired confines have since been associated with the former administration. Throughout the past four years and the 2020 campaign, many, including Joe Biden, were incredibly vocal regarding their disapproval, calling for the closure of the facilities and the reunification of migrant families. Only a few months into his term, Biden has made the controversial decision to reopen many of the centers, citing COVID-19 and social distancing as the justification. The President has been accused of using the current virus as an opportunity to continue the policies he helped instigate under the Obama administration; but is this really the case or is Biden just cleaning up the mess that Trump left behind?
According to the United States Border Patrol, the spring of 2014 saw an unprecedented rise in the numbers of Central Americans crossing into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. When they turned themselves over to U.S. agents, many cited poverty, violence, and unemployment as the reasons for making the journey. It was not uncommon for many groups to include teenagers and children as people had been told by smugglers that having children present when crossing the border typically assured the avoidance of deportation and lengthy detention. At the time, those claims were accurate. By May of the same year, more than 4,000 people were arriving daily and Border Patrol was completely overwhelmed. The holding cells quickly filled and agents began using “sally port”, the areas outside the stations, as holding pens. At this point, it was standard to see women and babies left on concrete floors, in 95-plus degree heat (35-degrees Celsius) for several hours at a time.
When the conditions at the McAllen station became public, the Obama administration quickly began expanding its capacity, building infrastructure to handle single adult men only. In July 2014, the new “Central Processing Center” (CPC) opened. It was a large, air-conditioned warehouse with chain-link fencing partitions to maximize and designate space. The center quickly became known as “la perrera” or “the dog kennel” due to the industrial, livestock nature of the operation. The facility was criticized at the time, but when Trump instigated his zero-tolerance policy in 2018, there was an international outcry. The policy ended after only six weeks. When Trump declared that families would no longer be separated, smugglers began ensuring people that children were a passport to the U.S, and a new wave began.
“On 22 March 2021, Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar released images of a migrant facility in Donna. Some of these images included children sleeping on the floor under foil blankets. Concerns have been raised about the conditions of the centre, with activists suggesting that overcrowding and a lack of social distancing, as well as poor access to adequate food or soap supplies were major issues.”
Currently, the Donna facility is housing 1,000 people, and this follows a large increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in the months since Biden has taken office. So far journalists have not been permitted to enter the facilities as they were during the Trump administration, however, lawyers representing the children, who have entered the facilities have described them as “cramped”. According to Cueller, migrants are supposed to be separated into ‘pods’ of 260 people, yet one of the pods in the Donna facility contained over 400 unaccompanied male minors. Cueller said that these children needed to be quickly moved from the facility into care and away from the “terrible conditions”.
The surge in the number of migrants trying to cross the border has been blamed on Biden’s decision to end the policies put in place by his predecessor. Critics have said that this decision has only invited people to make the treacherous journey. Representative John Katko, R-NY, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has said Biden’s rollback of policies that were working have “encouraged cartels to exploit the southern border”, and that the number of people being trafficked into America through Texas is only growing. While migrants have been turned away at the border due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is U.S. policy to take any unaccompanied minors into custody. These minors are to be placed in a migrant facility for a maximum of three days before being placed with a sponsor family, however, due to delays in the system, many children are spending significantly longer waiting for a placement.
Many of the Trump-era facilities have been reopened at 100% capacity under the CDC (Center for Disease Control) advice, despite ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus disease, and the CDCs own recommendations that people remain two meters apart to reduce the spread of infections. As of 22 April, according to the New York Times, shelters for migrant children were 13 days away from maximum capacity. Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, has said that holding the children in the border camps is “in our view, the right choice to make”, the alternative being to send them back. The U.S. government has said that it wants to work with the governments of Mexico and Guatemala to address the poverty, violence, and other root causes of the mass migration.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has blamed the conditions on the “mess and wreck” inherited from the former Trump administration, saying that the conditions are “better than what we saw in 2019”. It seems that this attempt to place blame has not shifted the attention of the general public, with activists continuing to lobby President Biden, calling for more action and a better response before the situation becomes any worse.