Migrants crossing into Mexico as part of the new caravan heading for the United States could be forgiven for confusion over what the Biden administration is telling them.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said this spring that the message to those looking to cross the border was not not to come at all, but rather not to come now. He said to wait until the United States is ready to welcome people.
But over the summer, Vice President Kamala D. Harris was more forceful on a trip to Guatemala, saying emphatically, “Don’t come.
As the season transitions into the fall, Attorney General Merrick Garland got a new take this week.
The top law enforcement official in the country first said they shouldn’t come, then clarified and said they really could if they were considering applying for asylum.
“It depends on what they’re coming for,” he told senators.
Nine months into the new administration, President Biden and his team are still grappling with their message to millions of potential migrants in Mexico, Central America and beyond who are considering an attempt to sneak across the border. South.
The confusion comes at a time when between 3,000 and 6,000 migrants are heading north on foot through Mexico in a single caravan. They left the southern Mexican border town of Tapachula last weekend and had traveled only about 36 miles in the first five days, reported Ali Bradley, a journalist covering the migrants.
Composed mainly of migrants from Central America, South America and Haiti, the caravan passed through a Mexican road checkpoint over the weekend.
Organizers say they are confused by Mr Biden.
“At least with Donald Trump, we knew what we had. With Biden, we don’t know,” Irineo Mujica said in a clip posted by Ms Bradley. “He doesn’t seem to know what to do with immigration.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said it’s no surprise people are confused by the message from the administration, because “no one is responsible”.
“Everyone works freelance. And so there will be no consistent rhetorical line because nobody determines what that line is,” he said.
Experts said the administration’s rhetorical approach didn’t really matter, anyway. What matters are the actions of the administration and what would-be migrants see, and right now they are seeing tens of thousands of people crossing the border every month and being caught and released.
“Biden’s message to the rest of the world is clear and unequivocal – to quote Bob Barker in ‘The Price is Right’: Go for it! ‘” said Ken Cuccinelli, who served as the acting assistant secretary for homeland security in the Trump years.
This is especially true for illegal immigrant children and adults traveling with them, Mr. Krikorian said.
“People, family units, are let into the United States and it doesn’t matter whether they get an asylum claim or even file an asylum claim,” he said.
Once here, even if they are still without legal status, they are not at risk of deportation unless they commit a major crime that brings them to the attention of the authorities, Mr Krikorian added.
Mr Garland’s confused response came during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing where Senator Lindsey Graham questioned whether the attorney general was paying attention to the caravan crossing into Mexico.
Mr. Garland said he read news articles about it. Mr Graham then asked the Attorney General for his message.
“I would tell them not to come, but the work of the Department of Justice is about prosecutions and how asylum and removal claims are adjudicated,” he said.
Then pushed for clarity by Mr Graham, Mr Garland changed his answer to “it depends”.
That might actually be the most accurate response of any administration official, Mr. Krikorian said, because it acknowledges the reality that many people are actually coming in.
Coming to the United States to reunite with family or to work is not grounds for asylum. Fleeing government persecution is.
The tricky areas are cases involving more general violence, either by gangs or within families, and whether these count.
The Trump administration tried to narrowly define these cases, but Mr. Garland overturned those definitions and expanded the scope of those who were eligible for asylum.
But during the coronavirus pandemic, none of that is supposed to matter, thanks to the Biden administration’s retention of the Title 42 Public Health Emergency Order.
First imposed by the Trump administration, Title 42 is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ruling that closes the border to unauthorized migration. Those who attempt to enter without permission must be immediately expelled across the border, even if they had planned to seek asylum.
The Justice Department did not respond to a follow-up request to reconcile Mr. Garland’s position with Title 42.
Immigrant rights groups have called on the Biden team to end Title 42, citing a lack of ability to make asylum claims.
The new administration pushed back on those calls, though it created a Title 42 exemption for unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors.
Under the new administration, Mexico has become less cooperative in resuming deportations, forcing the Biden team to “catch and release” tens of thousands of people each month.
In September, the most recent month of Borders, Customs and Border Protection data, there were 192,001 encounters with illegal immigrants along the southern border, but due to repeat offenders, that covered 142,710 people.
Of these, only 53,382 – just 37% – were deported under Title 42. Of the nearly 90,000 others not deported, most were captured and released.