Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass community concerned about new Biden border regulations

New regulations at the southern border prompt criticism and further efforts to organize in the UMass community
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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian (2022).

**Update: one source’s name has been removed, along with the name of an organization, to protect source safety**

With current policy expiring on May 11, new regulations are being established at the southern border of the United States. Experts and community organizations expressed their frustrations with the new regulations proposed by the Biden administration.

The Biden Administration will end the Title 42 restrictions at the southern border. Title 42, enacted during the Trump Administration, allowed the federal government to expel migrants seeking asylum at the border as a risk reduction measure against communicable diseases. Over two million migrants have been expelled at the border since the rule was enacted.202

In March, 38 migrants were killed in a fire at a detention center in Mexico. These migrants were seeking asylum in the United States but were sent back to Mexico to wait for asylum appointments.

With the end of Title 42, news rules have been implemented that have been criticized as a continuation of the Trump-era policy, directly contradicting Biden’s campaign promises.

According to Rebecca Hamlin, a professor in the legal studies department at the University of Massachusetts, “Biden ran against Trump’s immigration policies. He promised to end them and not only end the bad policies but to replace them with a humane system … The bottom line is we’ve seen a very mixed record.”

This can be explained by deliberate attempts to maintain the status quo, a lack of prioritization or what Hamlin described as a “very long hangover” from Trump-era policies.

“Trump destroyed that infrastructure overnight, and it will take years, maybe even a decade, to get us back to capacity,” Hamlin explained.

The numbers of refugees being accepted into the States are some of the lowest seen in two decades; Hamlin referenced the Refugee Resettlement Program, which Trump disinvested in, while also pointing out the backlog in the immigration courts due to continued underinvestment from not only the Trump Administration, but from numerous administrations prior.

“The only way to fix it is to spend massive amounts of money, but there is no political will to do so, in particular at the southern border with Mexico,” Hamlin said.

With regard to her suggestion of a “lack of political will,” Hamlin explained that due to immigration politics moving so far right, it is not favorable to spend money on immigration. Hamlin continued, adding that Trump’s policies made asylum seekers have to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearing, creating “North American refugee camps.”

“Massive camps with people living in destitute conditions, unsafe sanitary conditions and they became sitting ducks for assault, violence and gang activity,” she said.

Hamlin explained that Biden promised to end these programs because of the humanitarian crises, but that his new policies are essentially the same as those of the Trump administration.

“[Biden’s policies are] horrible, they are really bad, and they are not meaningfully different from Trump’s policies. They turn back most people at the US-Mexico border and force most people to wait in Mexico,” Hamlin said, adding that the only difference between the two administrations’ policies is the new app for asylum appointments released for asylum seekers called CBP One. The app, however, “is very difficult to use,” according to Hamlin, essentially turning into “‘metering’ of asylum seekers.”

The app creates a significant backlog due to the amount of asylum seekers, which forces them to stay in dangerous conditions for long amounts of time while waiting for an appointment, Hamlin explained.

“It’s become really clear to me that there’s certain things Biden doesn’t care about, and immigration is one of them. It seems like it’s an issue he wakes up and doesn’t want to deal with.”

Lynnette Arnold, a professor of linguistic anthropology at UMass, has been an immigration activist since 2009. Arnold used her experience as an activist to inform her expectations of the Biden administration’s immigration policies. “One of the major takeaways from me as someone who’s been involved for a long time, is that we need to think historically and see how this has deeper roots. We should not be surprised when Biden’s promises don’t match his actions,” Arnold said.

Arnold highlighted the new rules and their lack of meaningful deviation from the Trump era. “Alejandro Mayorkas [the head of the Department of Homeland Security] has been very clear that things are not going to change on the ground,” Arnold said.

Arnold referred to the Biden administration’s proposed new rule that would combine the entry and transit ban from the Trump Administration. While the entry ban was like the Title 42 measures, “the transit ban required asylum seekers to prove that they had requested asylum in countries they transited through prior to coming to the border,” Arnold explained.

“By combining the two rules, Biden’s new ban is maintaining that bottleneck at the border,” she continued.

Arnold said that these policy changes will not hurt Biden, noting that hundreds of thousands of people have submitted public comments on immigration policies under Trump, slowing down the implementation of his policies. Biden, however, had significantly less comments. “We see this over and over again that people stop caring about immigration with a democrat as president,” Arnold said, though she rests her hopes on local organizing to change the system.

One such organization Arnold works with is a group of transgender people seeking asylum. On May 4, the UAct Plug In event at Goodell Hall hosted workshops with local organizations involved in grassroots activism, including the group Arnold works with.

According to the literature provided by the group at the event, the organization is “a border abolitionist direct action and mutual aid collective focused on supporting transgender asylum seekers.” This includes aid such as crossing the border, getting out of detention and financial support.

One of the members at the workshop was a trans asylum seeker from Guatemala currently being supported by the group.

At the workshop, she recounted her story from growing up in Guatemala to immigrating to the United States, as well as the support she has received from the group. Before she began her story, she described the group as “not just an organization, but another family.”

She grew up poor in Guatemala and suffered abuse because of her being a trans woman. She was kicked out of her home when she was twelve and lived on the streets until she was 18.

Upon turning 18, she immigrated to the United States at the southern border. She spent seven months in immigration detention and was later released to her sister in Austin, Texas. According to her, her sister was homophobic, and she felt like she was an unwelcome presence in her sister’s home.

After two months, she was kicked out of her sister’s house. She got into contact with the group through a friend she made during her time in detention, and was immediately sent money for a bus fare from Texas to Massachusetts.

When asked what the transition was like across the country, she beamed with joy. “It was beautiful when I came to Massachusetts. I immediately received love and support from [the group].”

As a result of the organization’s support, she now has the support she needs to thrive in her new life.

“Now, I walk like and feel like I am alive for the first time,” she said.

Sam Cavalheiro can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @samcavalheiro1.

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