New Caravan Marches on US as Biden Promises Mass Amnesty


UPDATE, Jan. 18, 2020: Following publication of this article, an unnamed senior Biden transition official told NBC News: “The situation at the border isn’t going to be transformed overnight.”

The official did say that those who have been waiting in Mexico to enter the U.S. while their asylum cases are being decided will have priority over newcomers.

But migrants who think the world will change when Biden is inaugurated “need to understand they’re not going to be able to come into the United States immediately,” the official said.

Illegal immigrants “will not find when they get to the U.S. border that from Tuesday to Wednesday, things have changed overnight and ports are all open and they can come into the United States,” the official said.

“There’s help on the way, but now is not the time to make the journey,” the official added.

“We have to provide a message that help and hope is on the way, but coming right now does not make sense for their own safety … while we put into place processes that they may be able to access in the future,” the official said.

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The original article remains below as published:

As the incoming Biden administration prepares immediate action on the most far-reaching amnesty bill for illegal immigrants since the 1980s, a nearly 10,000-strong caravan of migrants in Guatemala could provide a quick object lesson in the consequences of those policies.

According to The New York Times, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 immigrants crossed the border from Honduras to Guatemala between Friday and Saturday.

This was after Guatemalan authorities arrested several hundred migrants and returned them to Honduras on Thursday and Friday, Reuters reported. Many of the migrants who entered Guatemala were able to bypass COVID-19 testing checkpoints, The Times reported.

In a statement, the government of Guatemala said it “regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on Central American governments to take actions to avoid putting their inhabitants, as well as the communities through which these people pass, at risk in the face of the pandemic.”

Members of the group, mostly Honduran nationals, have said they’re leaving because two hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic have wrecked the economy there.

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In this case, countries like Guatemala might stop the caravan more effectively than the United States would.

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the U.S. made deals with several Central American countries to provide more border security. On Friday, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, wrote in a Twitter post that “Guatemala continues to support the regional alliance committed to safe, orderly, and legal migration and protect public health during the global pandemic.

He added that the country “is already returning caravan members to Honduras after they illegally entered Guatemala.”

Given that the Trump administration only had five days remaining when Morgan published that tweet, Guatemala isn’t likely acting to please the White House.

Mexico, which has sent riot police to its border with Guatemala to deal with any potential incursion, also is unlikely to be doing it because President Trump might make tariff threats in the deep twilight of his administration, either.

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On the other hand, President-elect Joe Biden might not disapprove of these developments as much as you might think.

Reuters reported that Biden’s “aides have privately expressed concerns about the prospect of growing numbers of migrants seeking to enter the United States in the early days of his administration.” There’s a reason the illegal immigrants might want to do that, and it’s because Biden is about to try and push through the most sweeping changes to immigration law in over a generation.

A Politico report Friday said Biden told Latino and immigrant groups he plans “immediate” action on a series of proposals, including giving permanent residence status to up to 11 million illegal immigrants and allowing them to apply for citizenship after eight years. The Los Angeles Times reported, contrary to Politico’s report, the bill would only offer permanent residency after five years, with another three years’ wait until becoming a full citizen.

In either case, the actions would amount to amnesty for millions who have broken U.S. immigration laws.

While some advocacy groups had pushed for a five-year window for citizenship, other advocacy groups that viewed the plans “said they were stunned by the boldness of Biden’s plan,” according to Politico.

Hector Sanchez Barba of Mi Famila Vota, a Latino voting activist group, told Politico that Biden’s plan was “the most aggressive agenda that I have seen on immigration reform from day one — not only the legislative package, but also executive orders.”

And in terms of executive orders, expect that to be the route for a four-year extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The bill itself will provide a shorter pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients as well as immigrants covered under the Temporary Protected Status program, which gives residence in the U.S. for immigrants from countries afflicted by natural disasters or armed conflict.

“We were totally floored by the immigration plan and the level of clarity,” Jess Morales Rocketto, executive director of Care in Action, told Politico.

Biden told immigrant activists not to hold him to “100 days” to pass the legislation, arguing the Senate could be occupied up with an impeachment trial for current President Donald Trumpb and with COVID-19 relief, according to Politico. Some Democrats have argued that Biden should try to use the relief package to get some small pieces of legislation passed, while others are pushing a major overhaul.

Whatever the case, according to Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action and an activist who has been talking with Biden’s team, told the Los Angeles Times that the plan “will not seek to trade immigration relief for enforcement, and that’s huge.”

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it’s that it should now be clear to everyone that our system needs a massive overhaul and we can no longer lead with detention and deportation,” Praeli told the newspaper.

Unfortunately for her, Praeli apparently forgets the one silver lining of the Obama administration is that voters realized a laissez faire approach to border security was untenable. If the migrant caravan from Honduras manages to make it to the United States — and is successful enough it encourages other caravans — it’ll quickly present a public relations problem for a new administration that desperately needs smooth waters for this to become law.

The tacit assumption is that to get any change this sweeping pass, the filibuster will be nuked in the Senate, meaning the Democrats only need a party-line vote. That also relies on getting all 50 Democrats or picking off one of the members of the Republicans’ hemming-and-hawing caucus to get it through.

A 10,000-immigrant caravan headed to the southern border would galvanize Republicans in the upper chamber, however, and it could also get the Senate’s most centrist Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to back away from something so sweeping.

To a certain extent, Biden has been sending signals that he won’t be able to make immediate changes to Trump’s policies at the border. The New York Times noted that despite saying he would promptly reverse them as soon as he took office, Biden since said he would need “probably the next six months” to end policies like Remain in Mexico, in which asylum seekers who didn’t apply for asylum in their home countries were forced to stay south of the border until their case was processed.

That could be enough to head off any troubles from mass migration, particularly given pandemic worries, in Biden’s push to get the bill passed.

As for the amnesty legislation, we all get a look after Wednesday. As for the effect it’ll have if it becomes law, no matter what the specifics may be, all you need to do is look to Guatemala and the caravan it’s dealing with now.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture