US further militarizes the border as COVID-era migration restrictions expire

As a Trump-era immigration policy ends, more migrants are crossing the border prompting a massive border militarization effort

May 12, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Military personnel detaining a migrant as part of Texas' infamous Operation Lone Star

On May 11, Title 42, a Trump-era immigration policy, expired—precipitating a surge in migrants crossing the US–Mexico border. Title 42 used the COVID-19 public health emergency as an excuse to swiftly expel migrants to Mexico. The expiration of the policy has fueled a surge in migration across the Southern border as migrants reportedly are trying to get into the US either before Title 42 restrictions expire to avoid Biden’s new immigration measures, or after, fueled by a rumor that the end of Title 42 will make immigration easier.

Although Biden campaigned on being more “humane” towards migrants, the Biden administration used Title 42 liberally, expelling over two million migrants before the policy expired. Title 8, which is in effect now, is in some ways even more harsh than Title 42, as any migrant who is rejected may not apply for asylum again for five years.

Biden has had a new policy ready and waiting for the expiry of Title 42, dubbed a “transit ban” because of the impossible demands it makes of migrants seeking asylum. This policy is facing several legal challenges, and it is unclear to what extent it will be implemented. It is expected that this policy will keep a significant amount of migrants out of the US, which is what many US politicians want. 

Biden has accompanied the strict immigration restrictions with further militarization of the border. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has deployed 24,000 law enforcement agents, alongside 1,100 new Border Patrol processing coordinators (twice as many as last year), hundreds of other personnel from the Department of Homeland Security, and 400 volunteers. In addition, thousands of contract personnel have been hired in the last year and a half. Biden is sending an additional 1,500 troops to the border this week to supplement the 2,500 Texas National troops already stationed there. On the Mexican side, President Obrador has announced that he will increase the number of National Guard stationed at the border but hasn’t given an official number yet.

Root causes of migration persist

Despite the restrictive Title 42 measures, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on countries across the Global South forced many people to leave their homes in an attempt to reach the US. This is especially true in countries that are currently facing the wrath of US sanctions such as Cuba and Venezuela. Over 200,000 Cubans attempted to enter the US in 2022, a record for the Caribbean nation. Similarly, while in 2018 around 100 Venezuelan migrants tried to cross the border, by 2022, that number was recorded as 188,000.

While some Democratic Representatives penned a letter to Biden, urging him to end sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, even those who are criticizing Biden’s border militarization like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, support the sanctions regimes against Latin American countries.

Meanwhile, conservative leaders from border states have used migrants as pawns against their political rivals. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has sent buses of migrants to cities with Democrat mayors such as New York City, even when mayor Eric Adams proved unwilling to provide proper shelter to these migrants. He has even sent migrants to Democrat Vice President Kamala Harris’s residence as a cruel political joke.

The anti-migrant policies and hysteria exhibited by mainstream media and politicians has already cost lives. On May 7, a Texas resident drove his SUV into a crowd of migrants waiting near a bus stop in Brownsville, Texas. The driver killed eight people and injured ten. Several of the injured and killed were come from Venezuela. In response, the Venezuelan government called for an investigation “to rule out any intentionality related to the practices of hatred and xenophobia against the Venezuelan people that have been expressed in the past, as a result of a culture of violence and intolerance promoted by extremist sectors of US politics and society.”