- - Monday, March 29, 2021

Facing the biggest migrant surge in 20 years, the Biden administration is not only struggling to cope with the influx. The president is also seeking to deflect responsibility for enticing Central American parents to send their kids on the dangerous trek, after ordering border agents not to expel unaccompanied children under a federal health order related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond its immediate causes specific to Biden administration policy, this border surge is part of a larger historical pattern fueled by varying “push” and “pull” factors and created by decades of political corruption, U.S. interventionism, civil war, and economic dislocations, according to Julia Young, a historian of migration, Mexico and Latin America at the Catholic University of America.

“Each time that it happens it generates headlines and attention, so I would say over at least the last five years I’ve been invited to comment on the crisis at the border. It happened under Obama, it happened under Trump, and it is happening now under Biden,” said Young in the latest episode of History As It Happens podcast.

Mr. Biden tasked Vice President Harris to work with Mexico and the “Northern Triangle” nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to deal with the root causes of migration, namely endemic violence and poverty, that have caused repeated border crises, most recently in 2014 and 2019.

“The migrants themselves are telling border patrol agents and other law enforcement officers who are catching them along the border, ‘We’re coming because we think we’re going to get better treatment,’” said Washington Times assistant managing editor Stephen Dinan, referring to Mr. Biden’s policy change. “Those messages are amplified by the smuggling organizations that essentially control the flow of people.”

As of this writing, more than 18,000 unaccompanied migrant children are being held by federal authorities. The Trump administration, under the Title 42 health order, had expelled almost all migrants, regardless of age, back to Mexico. At his first formal press conference, President Biden said the U.S. is expelling most migrants under the pandemic emergency — except for the children.

“Under the Trump administration, ninety-five percent of migrants were immediately expelled. Within two hours, they were processed, fingerprinted and then turned around and pushed back across the border because of coronavirus fears,” said Dinan, who has reported several exclusive stories on the border surge for the Washington Times.

“These [migrant children] are responding to the fact they are no longer being expelled,” Dinan said.

By focusing on illegal immigration as a law enforcement problem that must be stopped with harsh policies, the U.S. has consistently failed to honestly reckon with the root causes, Professor Young said. As long as the U.S. shares a border with poor, unstable countries — some of which were ruled by right-wing juntas who came to power in CIA-supported coups d’etat — people from the south will continue to migrate toward the Mexican border.

Moreover, said Young, the U.S. service economy continues to be “addicted” to cheap migrant labor, one of the most potent “pull” factors for generations. Many of the unaccompanied children reaching the border now are seeking to reunite with family members already living in the U.S. illegally, who were drawn here by higher wages than they could find in their home countries.

For more of Stephen Dinan’s and Julia Young’s thoughts on the border surge, both its immediate causes and historical precedents, listen to this episode of History As It Happens.

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