Get used to it. We now officially live on a migration planet and you can thank many things for that. The U.S. war on (but also of) terror has unsettled tens of millions of people across the Greater Middle East and Africa. In doing so, by helping raise the specter of hordes of migrants heading one's way, it lent a hand in sustaining the growth of right-wing populism in Europe; similarly, as TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky explains today (and describes in greater detail in her new book , Central America's Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration), U.S. policies in Central America and Mexico have lent a remarkable hand to the endless "crisis" of migrants (and migrant children) arriving at the U.S. border, a crisis that despite recent headlines and Washington claims is no more overwhelming than it was as the Trump years ended. That phenomenon has, however, also helped promote the rise of right-wing populism in this country and the transformation of the Republican Party into an extremist political network.
But above all in the future, you'll be able to thank climate change for many of the migration crises. Thanks to human greenhouse gas emissions, we're now on that migration planet and it's only going to get worse as ever more parts of it become less inhabitable. The present "crisis" at the border, for instance, is at least in part due to two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, that devastated Central America last November as the hurricane season only intensifies in the region. Worse heat, storms, droughts, floods, rising sea levels our grim new world may displace 250 million people or more on this planet by 2050.
In light of that, let Aviva Chomsky explore what the Biden administration is really likely to do not just on our border with Mexico but, like the administrations that preceded it (and not only Donald Trump's either), in trying to outsource that border to Central America. It's a grim tale of our time. Tom
Will Biden's Central American Plan Slow Migration (or Speed It Up)?
The New Border Politics of the Biden Era Are Actually Ancient History
Joe Biden entered the White House with some inspiring yet contradictory positions on immigration and Central America. He promised to reverse Donald Trump's draconian anti-immigrant policies while, through his "Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America," restoring "U.S. leadership in the region" that he claimed Trump had abandoned. For Central Americans, though, such "leadership" has an ominous ring.
Although the second half of his plan's name does, in fact, echo that of left-wing, grassroots organizations like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), its content highlights a version of security and prosperity in that region that's more Cold War-like than CISPES-like. Instead of solidarity (or even partnership) with Central America, Biden's plan actually promotes an old economic development model that has long benefited U.S. corporations. It also aims to impose a distinctly militarized version of "security" on the people of that region. In addition, it focuses on enlisting Central American governments and, in particular, their militaries to contain migration through the use of repression.
Linking Immigration and Foreign Policy
The clearest statement of the president's Central America goals appears in his "U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021," sent to Congress on January 20th. That proposal offers a sweeping set of changes aimed at eliminating President Trump's racist exclusions, restoring rights to asylum, and opening a path to legal status and citizenship for the immigrant population. After the anti-immigrant barrage of the last four years, that proposal seems worth celebrating. It follows in the footsteps of previous bipartisan "comprehensive" compromises like the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and a failed 2013 immigration bill, both of which included a path to citizenship for many undocumented people, while dedicating significant resources to border "security."
Read closely, a significant portion of Biden's immigration proposal focuses on the premise that addressing the root causes of Central America's problems will reduce the flow of immigrants to the U.S. border. In its own words, the Biden plan promises to promote "the rule of law, security, and economic development in Central America" in order to "address the key factors" contributing to emigration. Buried in its fuzzy language, however, are long-standing bipartisan Washington goals that should sound familiar to those who have been paying attention in these years.
Their essence: that millions of dollars in "aid" money should be poured into upgrading local military and police forces in order to protect an economic model based on private investment and the export of profits. Above all, the privileges of foreign investors must not be threatened. As it happens, this is the very model that Washington has imposed on the countries of Central America over the past century, one that's left its lands corrupt, violent, and impoverished, and so continued to uproot Central Americans and send them fleeing toward the United States.
Crucial to Biden's plan, as to those of his predecessors, is another key element: to coerce Mexico and Guatemala into serving as proxies for the wall only partially built along the southern border of the U.S. and proudly promoted by presidents from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump.
While the economic model lurking behind Biden's plan may be old indeed, the attempt to outsource U.S. immigration enforcement to Mexican and Central American military and police forces has proven to be a distinctly twenty-first-century twist on border policy.
Outsourcing the Border (from Bush to Biden)
The idea that immigration policy could be outsourced began long before Donald Trump notoriously threatened, in mid-2019, to impose tariffs on Mexican goods to pressure that country's new president into agreeing to his demand to collaborate with Washington's anti-immigrant agenda. That included, of course, Trump's controversial "remain in Mexico" policy that has continued to strand tens of thousands of asylum-seekers there.
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