The last thing President-elect Joe Biden wants as he prepares to launch an effort to get an ambitious immigration bill passed — legislation that would include de facto amnesty — is a caravan of Honduran migrants heading through Central America because they believe a Biden administration will make it easier for them to cross into the United States.
Unsurprisingly, though, that’s precisely what he has.
In Guatemala on Sunday, there were clashes again between Guatemalan security forces and members of the caravan, according to NPR. Guillermo Díaz, the top immigration official in the Central American country, estimated that 7,000 to 8,000 people had illegally entered the country since Friday.
An earlier estimate by The New York Times had put that number at as high as 9,000, although it had been revised downward to 7,000 in a Sunday update. The Times had also reported many of the migrants bypassed coronavirus testing checkpoints necessary to enter Guatemala, although that information is absent in its current report.
NPR noted that while nationals of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua used to be able to travel between the countries freely, a negative COVID-19 test has been necessary since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We are very concerned about this situation,” Díaz said in a social media video, according to NPR. “These people who’ve formed this caravan or are forming into a caravan … is a very difficult situation to manage.”
“We hope this situation stops,” he said, “And the flow of migrants ends.”
That’s unlikely for two reasons.
The first is the situation in Honduras is dire; violence and joblessness have always been a problem in the Central American country, and the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic and two hurricanes.
The second is that caravan members think Biden will ease up on the Trump administration’s asylum rules and ditch the “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced migrants who claimed asylum but hadn’t applied in their home country to wait below the border while their cases were adjudicated.
This is because, as The Times pointed out in a Dec. 22 article, that’s exactly what Biden promised on the campaign trail.
Honduran migrant: President-elect Biden is “going to help all of us.” pic.twitter.com/dlvld5APd0
— The Hill (@thehill) January 18, 2021
It’s difficult not to feel the man’s pain, while noting he could request asylum in his own country. Meanwhile, without evidence, he says he’s going toward the border because the United States “is having a new president and … Biden is going to help all of us.” If they arrive within 100 days, he seems to believe, they’ll be given new papers to reside legally in the country.
This is a distortion of what the Biden administration is promising, but it’s one many migrants are believing.
“I have hope and faith in God, and in the good person that the United States has chosen,” migrant Miguel Angel told reporters from AFP.
“Biden is a good person and isn’t the same as the administration that’s just ended.”
Right now, though, he is the same — if just because this is precisely what he doesn’t need to get what might be his first signature non-COVID piece of legislation passed.
Biden’s immigration package will be unveiled Wednesday, when it’s sent to Congress on the president-elect’s first day in office. We have a pretty good idea of what it will entail.
The basics are this, per The Washington Post: legislation that would allow those in the country illegally to apply for green cards after five years and citizenship after eight, with provisions allowing those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs to apply for green cards immediately.
However — partially to preclude a rush to the U.S. border and partially to ensure this passes, one imagines — all of this will only affect illegal immigrants who were in the country on Jan. 1.
According to The Times, Biden had said during a December speech that it would take “probably the next six months” to undo policies like the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” plan. The president-elect added that would be “the last thing we need” since you might end up having “2 million people on our border.”
Other individuals in the incoming Biden administration haven’t been quite that honest about the challenges this poses, while still making it clear they don’t want migrants to undertake the journey.
“Migrants and asylum seekers should not at all believe the people in the region who are selling the idea that the border will suddenly be wide open to process everyone on the first day,” Susan Rice, one of Biden’s domestic policy advisers, told a Spanish-language wire service. “It will not be so.”
Another unidentified senior Biden official told NBC News, in a piece published Monday, that the message needed to get out that this wasn’t the time to come.
“The situation at the border isn’t going to be transformed overnight,” the person said, adding that they “need to understand they’re not going to be able to come into the United States immediately.”
The official added that when they got to the border, those already there would get precedence for processing.
This hasn’t stopped the current caravan and likely won’t stop future ones.
In his social media video, Guillermo Díaz said another caravan of a similar size was forming in Honduras right now. There’s limited information on this purported second caravan; AFP reported on a caravan of “[s]ome 3,000 people” having departed on Friday, although it’s unclear what challenges it will face.
If anything, Central American nations might provide a bulwark to Biden’s new administration. Both Guatemala and Mexico have tightened border security for caravans, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic. Left-wing Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would try to stop migrants from entering his country, according to the BBC — while adding their rights need to be respected.
He also urged the new U.S. president to pursue immigration reform.
“I think the time has come for the commitment [to immigration reform] to be fulfilled, and that is what we hope,” Obrador said.
“In Joe Biden’s campaign, he offered to finalize immigration reform and I hope that he is able to achieve this. That is what I hope.”
The problem comes when you realize the paradox that, as he prepares to put forth the most liberal immigration policy ever, Biden is about to find himself in the center of a tug-of-war between the left and more centrist elements of his party.
To the activists, there would be no reason not to offer the same conditions to new arrivals. The argument would be they faced the same exigencies as the people who would be receiving asylum under the current plan.
For other Democrats, caravans are an optical nightmare — a flashback to the last days of the Obama administration or the caravan crisis of 2019. That could be an electoral death sentence.
What’s worse, it could create yet another crisis at our southern border. That’s not going to help anyone, least of all the man who thought Biden “is going to help all of us.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.