Many Americans are pleased that our next president appears to be more polite, kind and sensible than his predecessor, at least in public relations. Yet, it’s critical that we are capable of acknowledging the nuance of political developments, including the extent to which new leadership can continue old policies and maintain previous political structures in spite of outward appearances.
One significant area of continuity for the Biden administration promises to be immigration policy. The 46th president claims the Trump immigration policy has been disastrous for the country and the new administration will quickly overturn the worst of these policies, including the border wall. It’s important to note how Biden’s language on this topic is centered around Trump’s failure to address what Biden considers legitimate “security concerns” from immigrants and the threat that reduced immigration poses to the American economy (that’s code for less cheap labor). In other words, Biden’s central concern is not the dehumanization and death associated with border militarization but the effects on gross domestic product and the federal budget.
Additionally, the Obama administration in which Joe Biden served as Vice President deported 3,000,000 migrants, which Joe Biden praised last year as “a heck of a job.” For reference, that is more deportations than any other American president and more than the sum of migrant deportations during the entire 20th century.
One might argue that Barack Obama did not deport so many migrants due to a personal vendetta against them or due to any xenophobia on his part. But, if for some reason Obama deported these millions against his own conscience, this would strongly reinforce the notion that U.S. presidents, including Biden, act according to the demands of their wealthy donors rather than their own personal beliefs. In other words: The idea that Biden will be “better” or “nicer” to migrants than Trump is baseless because Biden is supported by the same capitalist class which funded the campaigns of Obama and Trump.
More importantly, many of the greatest criticisms leveraged at the Trump administration’s immigration policy originated during the Obama administration. While Obama did not publicly advocate for building a wall across our southern border, he repurposed hundreds of billions of dollars for militarizing the border and empowering patrol agents. The detention centers which Trump used to house hundreds of migrant children separated from their families were literally constructed under the Obama administration and used for the same purpose, but just not publicized so widely nor discussed with such blatant rhetoric.
But without a doubt the greatest way in which Biden will continue Obama and Trump era immigration policies is through continued imperialism of Latin America. There is a strong, century-old tradition of the United States militarily interfering in the democratically elected governments of nearly every single Latin American country in order to promote fascist leaders who are beneficial to U.S. interests in the region. While Trump was content voicing open support for these coups, including that of Bolivia last October, Obama was more fond of “softer” imperialism: neoliberal free-trade agreements enriching U.S. corporations at the expense of developing industry in Latin American trade partners.
The reality is that nearly every Latin American immigrant to the United States comes here in search of a small portion of the gigantic wealth the U.S. has amassed from global imperialism, often at the expense of the economic wellbeing of Latin America. Functionally speaking, millions of these “immigrants” are really economic refugees, in spite of being criminalized, separated from their families and locked in cages. This treatment of immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere is a necessary part of the United States empire, discouraging more people from coming here. If our country really did welcome the tired, poor huddled masses of the world, they might share more of our surplus and our empire would not have much of a purpose.
We need to stay conscious of the ways this next presidential administration can maintain some of the most fundamental injustices of this country. Immigration policy is no exception to this trend and we need to organize for a future in which nobody is forced to immigrate anywhere, denied asylum or criminalized thereafter.