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Biden Must End Racist, Detention-First Immigration Policies

Dig deeply into the moral foundations of the United States’ immigration policy and you’ll unearth its nasty undergirding of racial capitalism, a concept civil rights and constitutional rights law professor Nancy Leong defined in her 2013 Harvard Law Review article as “the process of deriving social and economic value from the racial identity of another person.” Racial capitalism saturates our collective American subconscious. On the surface, we’re taught that good people work hard and bad folks are freeloaders who deserve to be punished. It’s baked into our raced-based social hierarchy. White people are on the top and Black people are on the bottom—economically, socially, and morally. Therefore, those closest to the bottom are more likely to be judged, sentenced, and punished by default.

Sadly, this belief is exactly why Black and brown immigrants seeking asylum are often imprisoned rather than welcomed with open arms. White Americans warm up to a Ukrainian refugee seeking asylum from war more easily than to someone from, say, El Salvador.

Biden announced in March that the United States would accept 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. If given the choice, white Americans consider the Ukrainian a much more desirable asset to this country. The Latino immigrant triggers a much chillier response based on the presumption that they will be a burden to our education, health care, welfare, or criminal justice systems.

Take Yuliana Melchor, whose husband was deported to Mexico nearly eight years ago. She became a single mother in her longtime home of Gettysburg, Pa., where she remains for the sake of her two teenage children, despite the risk of deportation . Her oldest is enrolled in college and her younger child has a learning disability. As a result of her immigration status, she has been forced to support them on below-poverty wages, working as a housekeeper, waitress, cashier, and now a farmworker. Still, by American moral standards, she’s a good person who’s pulling her own weight. She’s a leader in CASA, an immigrant advocacy network, and a Center for Popular Democracy Action affiliate. Nonetheless, her character bears one stain in the eyes of anti-immigrant Americans: She’s undocumented.

In recent weeks, a fresh wave of Black and brown asylum seekers have sought refuge through our southern and Canadian borders, a month before the expiration of Title 42, the Trump-era emergency Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that allows the CDC to immediately expel migrants from so-called “Coronavirus Impacted Areas.” The May 23 deadline for this Covid-evoked rule, which allows for immediate expulsions under the guise of an emergency national health event, may be extended by the Biden administration to quell the border crossing crisis. Although the administration has signaled that it would end the policy, it has expanded its use in recent weeks. The elimination of the policy also faces legal challenges.

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