Before being elected into office, President Joe Biden promised to bring urgent change to America’s broken immigration and asylum system. In short, our current president pledged to the public that within his first 100 days, he could undo the cruel and senseless policymaking of the prior four years. Very high on his laundry list of commitments was the termination of the Migrant “Protection” Protocols, better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which bars many asylum seekers from entering the United States while waiting for their cases to be processed. The implementation of Remain in Mexico in 2019 resulted in nothing short of a crisis — a constant state of affairs the Trump administration seemed more than happy to create — as asylum seekers packed into unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane tent cities at the border. At the same time, the cogs of law and bureaucracy determined the fates of these migrants.
For many, the facade that Biden could move mountains of discriminatory migration policy came crashing down with thecourt-ordered revival of “Remain in Mexico” in late August.As the case has often been for immigration policy, this will most likely mark the beginning of a long and sluggish battle fought in unassuming courtrooms, largely at the whim of executive orders and Homeland Security directives.
There is no doubt in my mind that Biden has good intentions when it comes to migration, and I do not dismiss the president’s promises to continue the fight for fundamental human rights at the border. But his initial willingness to minimize the complexities of our border crisis into campaign slogans and simple talking points just provides false hope. Not only that, but it enables the conformity of the “aww, I feel for them” voters whose words will always speak louder than their lack of actions.
The oversimplification and false promises are just examples of the president's catering to his audience. It is we, the American people, that demand that our politics be this devoid of nuance. In order to be intrigued by politics, our ever-decreasing attention spans demand more grandiose narratives. These tall tales of superhero candidates allow us to believe that presidents and parties can transform every inch of the country every four years. We choose not to see the overcomplicated and stagnant nature of government. Instead, we treat the minutiae of bureaucracy, policy and law as a black box in which presidents and parties supposedly can move heaven and earth with a Thanos-esque snap of a finger.
It is no surprise then that attentiveness to politics has lessened since so many voters, Democrats in particular, are willing to believe our government is suddenly “good” again. If we were more inclined to read between the lines, it would become clear we still very much are in Trump’s America.
The "Remain in Mexico" tent cities are still standing as a result of the ruling of a single Trump-appointed federal judge and upheld by a Trump-designed Supreme Court. This judge is just one of the former president’s 226 appointees. And this is not the first time the judges kept alive Trump’s legacy while hidden behind the murky veneer of the federal system.
Last February, another Trump-appointed judge derailed Biden’s deportation moratorium, upholding an agreement between the Department of Homeland Security and the State of Texas that prevented changes in executive branch migration policy without prior consultation. This arrangement between Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott was quietly signed during Trump’s last weeks and is yet another example of the spider webs of Trump’s legacy that still hold a grip on our immigration policy.
And Biden knew this would be the case. He knew this wouldn’t be easy. Instead, we have been blinded from the plight at the border and expected to enjoy oblivion’s bliss. We let ourselves be sedated by simple dichotomies and thrilling storylines — Biden vs. Trump, Democrat vs. Republican, good vs. evil — which led us to ignore the parts of government that actually make things happen.
I had hoped that the calamitous last days of the Trump administration would’ve catalyzed the end to this civic slumber. Many people frantically wondered why we had anew secretary of defensea week after a presidential election, which Trump administration officials wereresigning from after the Jan. 6 insurrection, what theGeneral Services Administration was and why its director was causing problems for Biden’s transition team.
Nevertheless, it should not take the United States hitting the edge of democracy for us to care about bureaucratic policy and judicial battles. We have let our government run on autopilot for far too long, which has led us to the continuation of policies like “Remain in Mexico” and ultimately contributed to the rotting of our national values from the inside out.