President Biden is signing new executive orders today to enact reforms to US immigration policy. One that is sure to be a focus of much media discussion, and which has already emerged as a symbol of the differences between Biden’s and former president Trump’s respective approaches to migration from Latin America and elsewhere, is the order to create a task force to “reunify families.” While this and some of Biden’s other immigration damage-control measures ― such as ending the travel ban on people from various predominantly Islamic countries, and halting construction of the border “wall” between the US and Mexico ― are certainly welcome, other orders provide little assurance that the Biden administration will truly address “root causes” of displacement and migration from Central America (source of the “Migrant Caravans” that have become a focus of right-wing media coverage and xenophobic ire), and elsewhere.
Today’s order to “Develop a Strategy to Address Irregular Migration Across the Southern Border and Create a Humane Asylum System” is aimed at “roll[ing] back the most damaging policies adopted by the prior administration, while taking effective action to manage migration across the region.” But this worryingly states: “the Administration will collaborate with regional partners, including foreign governments, international organizations, and nonprofits to shore up other countries’ capacity to provide protection and opportunities to asylum seekers and migrants closer to home.” This sounds reminiscent of Plan Frontera Sur, “Third Safe Country” agreements, and other programs in which the US government has leaned on authorities in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and elsewhere to stop migrants from reaching the US-Mexico border. “Protection and opportunities” are not going to miraculously appear and offer people who are often fleeing violence, death threats, political repression, environmental disaster, and economic hardship viable alternatives to create new, happy lives in Guatemala or Mexico.
President Biden led US-Central America policy under the Obama administration, a period that saw the US government support a coup in Honduras and back the bloody and corrupt post-coup governments of Porfirio Lobo and then Juan Orlando Hernández (recently named by US prosecutors as involved in cocaine trafficking). US officials lied to Congress about US support for Honduran police death squads and US aid for and training of Honduran security forces ― even assisting them in shooting and killing innocent civilians in counternarcotics operations. This kind of blatant, unbridled support for antidemocratic, repressive, and corrupt governments in the region exacerbates previous factors pushing people to leave their homes and head north, and creates new ones.
In response to the “child migrant crisis” hyped up by right-wing media in 2014, Biden offered Central American governments a raft of US support in the form of possible corporate investment, public-private partnerships, multilateral development bank funds, and more backing for security forces. Decent paying jobs, environmental protections, Indigenous and community rights to the land and water, and worker safety were secondary concerns, at best.
Concerned that the Biden administration could repeat the mistakes of the Biden-led Central America policy under Obama, CEPR joined the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Win Without War, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Central American Resource Center – Los Angeles (CARECEN-LA) in issuing a statement saying, in part:
… we fear that the Biden administration’s plans will not go far enough. To truly address the root causes of displacement in Central America and beyond, we must recognize the United States’ own role in fueling inequality, poverty, and violence.
The intersecting crises that millions in Central America face are the result of decades of brutal state repression of democratic movements by right-wing regimes and the implementation of economic models designed to benefit local oligarchs and transnational corporations. Far too often, the United States has been a major force behind these policies, which have impoverished the majority of the population and devastated the environment.
And CEPR was one of over 75 organizations to sign an open letter to the Biden administration urging a serious overhaul of US-Central America policy, including immigration policies that affect people from the region.