Biden’s border shutdown shows how politics around immigration have shifted to the right


As dawn breaks on a new era in American immigration policy, a young boy peels and eats a clementine in the gap between the border fence that separates the United States and Mexico.

A teenage girl wraps herself in a silver thermal blanket and a man passes his mobile phone through the metal slats in the fence for someone on the other side to charge.

They are the lucky ones, in a way, because they are among the final group of migrants to enter the United States before the introduction of a new border policy.

The executive order, issued by President Biden, will temporarily seal the border along the southern states if illegal crossings exceed 2,500 people a day, which they do on a regular basis at the moment.

The order had been a closely guarded secret, until it wasn’t. President Biden used the announcement to criticise Republicans in Congress for failing to pass a bipartisan bill on the border and defend his own immigration policy.

“This action will help us gain control of our border, restore order into the process,” he said. “If the United States doesn’t secure our border, there’s no limit to the number of people who may try to come here. Doing nothing is not an option, we have to act.”

It represented a sharp about-turn for a man who came to power criticising Donald Trump’s draconian action to curb immigration but is now making moves reminiscent of his predecessor.

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Pic: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Pic: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Proponents of the order say it will relieve an overwhelmed system. But critics say it will put the lives of genuine asylum seekers at risk.

Stakeholders on both sides of the political aisle say it is a politically cynical move, five months out from a general election when immigration will be a major factor in voters’ minds.

“It’s setting a very bad precedent,” says Lilian Serrano, director of Southern Border Communities Coalition, a non-government organisation.

Lilian Serrano, Director of Southern Border Communities Coalition
Lilian Serrano, director of Southern Border Communities Coalition

“A president making decisions that are politically motivated to gain political points in an election year is more important for President Biden than respecting human rights? That is the message.”

Once the migrants are processed at the border in San Diego, now the busiest place in the country for illegal border crossings, they are bussed to the outskirts of the city and dropped at a roadside.

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Some of them have no idea which city they are in. One man, from Ghana, asks me how to get to New York, almost 3,000 miles away.

Durlei is trying to get to San Francisco
Durlei is trying to get to San Francisco

Durlei, a young woman from Colombia, is trying to get to San Francisco to be reunited with a friend.

She was a shoe shop owner in her home country but says she is seeking asylum from gang violence.

“I come here fleeing my country,” she says. “If Biden changes his laws I don’t know where I will go.”

Word has reached Aurelio, from El Salvador, about the new policy. “I’ve heard about the new order,” he says. “I feel fortunate to have arrived before it takes effect, because it’s my dream to be here.”

Children who cross the border unaccompanied are excepted from the new policy, as are victims of human trafficking.

Nevertheless, this is the most restrictive border policy by a Democrat president in decades.

It is a shutout which shows just how much the politics around immigration have shifted to the right.

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