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Compassionate border policy?

By Kevin Martin

Prior to the 2020 Presidential Election, many of my Catholic friends implored potential voters, including myself, to consider Biden’s immigration policies when deciding whom to vote for. They argued that his policies were more in line with Catholic Social Teaching, and more compassionate overall, compared to Trump’s proposed policies and actions. They contended that the policies Biden proposed would solve the numerous shameful and disheartening ethical issues that have been visible on our Southern border for decades now. In their eyes, Biden’s victory signified the end to this long era of troublesome border crises. Today, sadly, America is on pace to experience the most illegal border crossings in twenty years, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and another crisis has erupted on the border.

There are a lot of factors causing this surge on the U.S.-Mexican border. In part, the economic effects of COVID-19 shutdowns have increased poverty in the developing countries south of the border. Past and current famines in Honduras have meant that many in that country face severe hunger. Gang violence has also increased in Central American nations in the past few years, causing many innocent people to fear for their lives. All of these circumstances have surely propelled the increased illegal border crossing attempts.

But those are all foreign causes, largely out of the control of the American people or government. The largest domestic reason for this surge has been the rhetoric and actions of Joe Biden. During his campaign, he promised to ease immigration restrictions by putting a moratorium on deportations, ending the last administration's "wait in Mexico" asylum policy and ceasing construction of the wall on the border. This rhetoric gave potential migrants a reasonable belief that entering the U.S. could be easier once Biden was inaugurated. And when he won the election and was subsequently inaugurated, he made good on his policy promises, and went further by putting forth a legislative proposal to create a pathway to citizenship for many of America’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

The results of these decisions have been nothing but disastrous. Just in February, nearly 100,000 migrants were arrested while attempting to cross the border; many others likely circumvented interceptions by ICE. And reports from Secretary Mayorkas do not suggest these border crossings will slow. The administration has begun sending back lone adults and even some families, according to the Wall Street Journal. The trouble with this policy, however, is that Mexico has been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to work to prevent the flow of migrants in the way they did over the past few years. This has meant that many of these migrants who were turned away may attempt to cross the border illegally again. And crossing the border is always a dangerous affair. Another serious concern is the situation of unaccompanied migrant children. According to the Washington Post, an estimated 14,000 unaccompanied children are in U.S. custody on the border. Many of them have been kept in detention facilities longer than the legal 72-hour limit, due to the massive overflow. Worse yet, the Biden administration has denied media attempts to access pictures of the living conditions or of the migrants themselves, according to NBC News. And an unofficial “gag order” has been put upon border officials, according to NBC sources.

These friends of mine were mistaken. Biden's policies have not made our southern border any safer or more ethical; in fact, these policies appear to have aided the growth of a crisis. Again, there are 14,000 children in holding facilities that are becoming increasingly cramped. This would be bad at any time, but it is especially concerning during a global pandemic. I cannot help but believe that under the previous administration, these conditions on the border would be protested, the hyperbolic phrase "kids in cages" would make a return, and serious action to rectify the situation would have been called for. Today, however, this cannot truly be witnessed. The Biden administration has not experienced enough political heat for mishandling this crisis. They have attempted to smile their way through the chaos as well as blame the previous administration for the situation, though it is unclear exactly how that would be the case. The discouraging status quo cannot continue to stand. Sooner or later a humane solution must be found and administered to quell this crisis. Part of that solution? A return to stricter rules and more cautious rhetoric. If not, the number of people attempting to cross the border will continue to climb, and this crisis may turn into a true humanitarian nightmare. I fear serious tragedies will follow. So it turns out that a less open border policy may be the more compassionate choice.

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