A Chance for New Beginnings: What Joe Biden could do to bring humanity and good sense to U.S. immigration policy.

AuthorGoodman, James

Stopping construction of the border wall, as President Joe Biden has promised, would be a step toward changing the mindset that treats immigrants as criminals. But it would only be a start.

"The problem is not the folks who come from other countries," says immigrant rights activist Lilian Serrano. "The problem is that, as a country, we are not treating them with dignity and humanity."

Serrano, thirty, was born in the United States but spent most of her childhood in Tijuana because her parents, who are from Mexico, did not want her to face the same discrimination her father experienced as a student in Los Angeles. In 2009, she started Alianza Comunitaria, a grassroots group, to alert the public to Border Patrol checkpoints that instill fear in immigrant communities.

Ending these checkpoints has not been part of Biden's immigration policy reform agenda. But Serrano, chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium and co-chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, is urging him to do so, sending an important message on the need to demilitarize the border.

Ernesto, an asylum seeker from Honduras who asked that his last name not be used to protect his safety, learned how hostile the border has become this past August. In a recent telephone interview, he tells how he fled his small town in Honduras after repeated threats from local police who objected to his efforts to expose government corruption.

But as soon as Ernesto crossed the border from Mexico into Arizona near Nogales last August, he was detained by Border Patrol agents. Within four hours, Ernesto was returned to Mexico. He is now back in Honduras, living in fear.

"They didn't review my case," says Ernesto, thirty-seven, a victim of Donald Trump's March 2020 border closures. With the exception of unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers are being summarily rejected-without judicial review-while "essential" commercial vehicles cross unimpeded.

Biden has called for an end to Trump's draconian immigration policies, but some of the changes will be on a slower track. Susan Rice, Biden's domestic policy adviser, told the Spanish wire service EFE that the border will not be suddenly fully open.

And that statement only adds to the skepticism that already exists.

"He's making a lot of promises. I'll wait and see what he actually makes happen," says Victor, a leader of Alianza Agricola, a group of undocumented farmworkers in western New York.

Victor, who like other undocumented immigrants quoted in this story asked that his last name not be used, for fear of deportation, continues to work seventy-nine hours a week on a dairy farm, where he begins milking cows at four in the morning. He remains reluctant to venture into the community until he has legal status. "We will always have fear," says Victor. "No President will be able to protect us without a law."

Immigration policy in the United States has long been shaped by racism and xenophobia-trends that Trump took to a new low, with an unprecedented assault on immigration. His more than 400 anti-immigrant executive orders have left Biden with a tangled mess to undo. This includes a sweeping executive...

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