By Octavia Feliciano
With hope sparked by the election of President Joe Biden, migrants from South America are making their way to the U.S.’s southern border in large numbers, but they may not find conditions much more welcoming than they were under the Trump administration.
The Center for Migration Studies of New York summarized the measures former President Trump took to prevent migrants from passing the border on their website. These measures included increasing the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on patrol, with the intent of catching a greater number of individuals crossing the border and detaining them in detention facilities where the children of migrants were often separated from their parents.
According to CNN’s reviews of internal government estimates, the government projects that the U.S. can expect to see upwards of 2 million migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border before the end of the fiscal year .
Migrants detained at the border this past March told The New York Times that the smugglers they contracted to bring them into the U.S. had lied about the extent of Biden’s immigration reforms. The migrants spoke of how the smugglers had “falsely promised them the border was open after President Biden’s election.” Many of those The Times spoke with had gone into debt or given their life savings to pay the smugglers who promised to help them cross the border on the basis of their misrepresentation of Biden’s plans.
The smugglers exaggerated the extent of the reform Biden promised. But during his campaign for the presidency, the president did promise to reform the immigration policies enforced under the Trump administration, albeit not so drastically as smugglers promised migrants.
Biden’s official campaign website has a section devoted to his views on immigration and the ongoing struggles at the border. It begins as follows, “It is a moral failing and a national shame when a father and his baby daughter drown seeking our shores. When children are locked away in overcrowded detention centers and the government seeks to keep them there indefinitely. When our government argues in court against giving those children toothbrushes and soap . . . Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants. It’s wrong, and it stops when Joe Biden is elected president.”
Nevertheless, the detention centers that he criticized are still running under almost identical conditions. As reported by The Los Angeles Times, the number of refugees being allowed into the country this year is one-quarter of what Biden had initially promised.
An official with the Department of Homeland Security told CNN that the Donna migrant facility is one of many such that is “significantly overcrowded,” and that the amount of children detained in the facility is “alarming and concerning.”
Attorneys visited the Donna facility to ensure that the Flores Agreement, a policy that dictates standards for the treatment of minors in Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) custody, was abided by. These attorneys later spoke with CNN, and described the overcrowded conditions and the hygienic problems stemming from them. CNN was told that the children get to shower only once a week, and that it is not uncommon for the facility to run out of soap.
BBC received similar information on overcrowding and shortages of hygienic products from interviewing attorneys who visited a variety of border detention centers. They also reported on the presidential administration’s efforts to alleviate some of the overcrowded conditions in detention centers. The administration is looking to repurpose additional government buildings to allow children in INS custody to spread out and has called in aid from charities and emergency organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide for the needs of the detainees.
As a preventive measure, the administration is also purchasing radio and television advertisements in South and Central America to speak candidly about the administration’s goals and to halt the spread of misinformation that is leading to the overwhelming influx of migrants at the border.
Whether the Biden administration will deliver on their campaign promises to instate “fair and humane” immigration reform remains to be seen.