Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The United States immigration system is still a complete mess, especially at the southern border. The Biden administration reported a record 18,800 unaccompanied children are currently in custody after crossing the border in March, on top of the 5000 children who were already in holding cells.
Republicans who were quiet during the Trump administration have raised their voices in faux-protest, while those to the left of President Joe Biden have criticized him heavily for continuing to hold children in some of the same facilities the Trump administration used. Although I agree with the latter criticism, to me, the issue is even bigger than that.
At this moment, migrant children who are taken into U.S. custody risk facing sexual assault, psychological abuse and harassment. For example, the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio is currently under investigation for allegations of sexual abuse and improper COVID-19 protocol — and these heinous acts are probably happening at a lot more holding facilities than just San Antonio. On top of that, the children who do make lives for themselves in the U.S. live under the constant threat of surveillance and deportation of their entire family. It’s well past time to start doing this differently.
This country has been using an outdated, profit-driven immigration system designed for job-seeking single adults rather than implementing modern, humane practices focused on protecting immigrant children. Although Biden has said most of the right things regarding immigration, his actions have suggested more of the same; he has reopened Trump-era holding facilities and continues to deport people. As the successor to one of the more blatantly anti-immigration, anti-Latino presidents in U.S. history, it would behoove Biden to commit to a complete overhaul of the federal immigration system rather than settle for small-scale reforms.
First and foremost, the southern border needs to be demilitarized. There are currently more than 3,600 armed troops stationed at the southern border, along with their weaponry.
This is problematic for a lot of reasons, including that the soldiers’ purpose feels dangerously ambiguous. Their stated mission includes “detection and monitoring, logistics, and transportation support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” If this is the case, then they are the absolute worst possible option for border “security.” There is no need to greet children — many of whom are fleeing situations that are already violent — with more militancy.
The optics of this are also beyond awful. As Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) stated in a letter to Biden, “continued military deployment at the southern border for its current mission would be actively harmful from the moral, strategic, and institutional standpoints …[Trump] entangled our military personnel into a mission that was not only misguided, but also meant to be temporary — which now threatens to become permanent.”
This military occupation is funded by taxpayer dollars to defend the border from asylum-seeking children. Defunding the homeland security department, the Pentagon and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be a huge step into demilitarizing the border and minimizing future conflicts with asylum seekers. These funds could then be reallocated and put toward ensuring migrant children are actually treated humanely.
Although cutting department funding and abolishing ICE would be excellent first steps, there need to be more specific policies alleviating the bureaucratic red tape that accompanies the immigration process.
There should be a six-month residency period before automatic citizenship and immigrants, documented or not, should receive the same rights, wages and benefits as anyone else. Now would be an especially good time to try and get these things done given the Democratic majority.
There is currently an immigration reform bill traveling through Congress called the U.S. Citizenship Act that aims to “restore humanity” to the immigration system, but it leaves quite a bit to be desired. Instead of a six-month residency process, the bill would make the process eight years, or three with a green card. Rather than abolishing ICE, the bill outlines “enforcement guidelines” for them. The most disappointing aspect of the bill is that it actually contains a provision to give the homeland security department more funding for screening technology and officer training.
With the filibuster still alive, it’s unlikely that even a tame bill like this would pass, even with a Democratic majority. Simultaneously, Biden’s White House has done little to distance from past atrocities. With no material solution in sight, this situation can only get worse for the children caught in it. If Biden is made of more than just rhetoric, he’ll start acting quickly and aggressively to remedy the decade-long chaos at the southern border.
Malcolm Ferguson is a senior English and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.