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Kamala Harris tells migrants, “Do not come”

Pedro Ríos  |  Issue: June July 2021

I want to be clear, to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States – Mexico border. Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur. … And I believe, if you come to our border, you will be turned back.

encampment at U.S. Mexican border
TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO — Since February 2021, by the Chaparral Port of Entry, around 3000 migrants from Mexico, Central America, Haiti, Africa, and other parts of the world have formed an encampment while waiting for information from the Mexican and United States authorities about when their cases on asylum processing will restart. The living conditions have worsened over the last several months.
Photo: Pedro Rios

That was Vice President Kamala Harris in early June, urging would-be migrants in Guatemala in early June, not to migrate to the United States, adding that only smugglers benefited from people migrating.

There are multiple problems with this statement. To begin, it parallels comments by her predecessor, Mike Pence, during his visit to Latin America in 2018, when he said: “If you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.”

One wonders what difference there is between President Biden’s policies on immigration and President Trump’s extremely restrictive, racist and punitive policies.

A contradiction in Vice President Harris’ statement, also reflected in Pence’s statement, sheds light on this question. The idea that a working-class migrant can “legally” migrate to the United States with ease is preposterous. How can legal migration occur, as Vice President Harris suggests, if the Biden administration has yet to change policies that have closed ports of entry to those seeking asylum. The continued application of Trump’s CDC’s Title 42 order, which empowers the Border Patrol to expel migrants without due process rights, closes the door to the “legal methods” Vice President Harris references, making her statement deceitful.

encampment at U.S. Mexican border
Photo: Pedro Rios

With a border closed to those seeking asylum, it forces asylum seekers to seek dangerous methods to cross into the United States. On multiple occasions I have spoken to parents at the Chaparral encampment in Tijuana, México, which has grown to about 2,500 people, who have stated that either they have strongly considered sending their children alone to cross to the United States (since Title 42, in most cases, does not apply to them), or that they have done so already. They refer to this as self-separation.

How is this different from Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy, which was used to separate children from their families with the intention of discouraging migrants from making the trek to the United States border to make an asylum claim?

Is it a more nuanced case of plausible deniability, that the difficult and traumatic decision to separate is forced onto the parents, looking for ways to keep their children alive?

Still, another problematic aspect in Vice President Harris’ statement is the parroting of Border Patrol’s blaming of smugglers for the dangers associated with migration. In fact, as border communities have become ever more militarized and restrictive since the 1990s, smuggling operations are more lucrative. With Border Patrol considering itself to be a paramilitary force that operates with impunity, it is shameful that Vice President Harris would echo their framing without acknowledging that it is under Border Patrol’s custody that children have died and where thousands of abusive practices have been recorded.

Finally, Vice President Harris’ comments seriously lack historical context of how U.S. foreign interventionist policies have destabilized Guatemala and Central America for its profit and that of foreign companies which act as proxies for U.S. interests. This lack of historical memory is an ideological affront to those organizing to live in peace with justice, on lands that where they not only contend with the impact of climate change, but also the power plays of the aftereffects of military dictatorships and vigilante forces vying for power.

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