The United States has long branded itself as a safe haven for refugees fleeing war and persecution abroad. The current U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is actually a testament to that, with well over 100,000 people evacuated by the U.S. since mid-August. Despite this historic airlift, the Biden administration is being relentlessly criticized. The airlift continued despite a double suicide bombing at the gates of the Kabul airport on Thursday that killed at least 90 Afghans and 13 U.S. servicemembers, injuring at least 140.
Another exodus is happening halfway around the world as asylum seekers from Central America make the perilous journey to the U.S./Mexico border. There, they face draconian U.S. immigration policies that consign them to “Remain in Mexico.” Much like Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire of that 20-year war, these migrants live in constant danger in squalid, makeshift refugee camps in Mexican border cities, waiting for a chance at asylum in the United States.
If there is any chaos as U.S.-aligned Afghans scramble to flee their war-torn nation, blame lies primarily with the previous administration, and President Trump’s right-hand man, his racist, xenophobic advisor Stephen Miller. Miller’s anti-immigrant fervor was driven early on by listening to rightwing radio host Larry Elder, who is now the leading candidate to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election.
Olivia Troye, who was an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, tweeted recently:
“There were cabinet mtgs about this during the Trump Admin where Stephen Miller would peddle his racist hysteria about Iraq & Afghanistan. He & his enablers across gov’t would undermine anyone who worked on solving the SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] issue by devastating the system at DHS & State…Trump had FOUR years…to evacuate these Afghan allies who were the lifelines for many of us who spent time in Afghanistan. They’d been waiting a long time. The process slowed to a trickle for reviews/other “priorities”-then came to a halt.”
Miller also engineered the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” or MPP, better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Human Rights First recently issued a report, “Delivered to Danger,” that documented “at least 1,544 publicly reported cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers and migrants forced to return to Mexico by the Trump Administration,” A 97-page appendix accompanies the report, listing the crimes with chilling detail.
On Inauguration Day, President Biden issued several executive orders including one revoking the anti-immigrant executive order Trump issued during his first week in office in 2017. The Department of Homeland Security immediately suspended enrolling migrants in the MPP program. In response, the states of Texas and Missouri sued the Biden administration, and on August 13th, Texas Federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, ruled that the White House must immediately reimplement the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
The Justice Department appealed, and, within two weeks, a three-judge appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision. Two of those three appeals court judges were Trump appointees: Andrew Oldham, who was just 39 when confirmed to his lifetime appointment in 2018, and Cory Wilson, who is now 51. Both are fierce rightwing ideologues. A request for a stay pending further litigation was quickly rejected by the Supreme Court by 6-3.
While the Biden administration fights to shut down MPP against a federal judiciary packed with Trump appointees, it still uses “Title 42,” first deployed by Trump, allowing deportations and immigration bans in times of public health emergencies. Trump’s CDC issued the Title 42 order in March, 2020 as the pandemic swept the globe, and Biden renewed it on August 2nd.
The U.S. government reported a record 210,000 migrant apprehensions along the southern border in July. Many of these people hail from the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where widespread inequality, systemic corruption, food insecurity, gang violence and now climate change are forcing people from their homes. These problems have long been exacerbated by U.S. military, economic and political interventions in the region.
The United States engaged in “dirty wars” in Central America and has supported coups against democratically elected governments there, from overthrowing the government of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 to actively supporting the coup against President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009.
Likewise, the U.S. armed and supported the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union. Many of those armed mujahideen then aimed their American weapons at the U.S. This led to the disastrous, two decades-long U.S. war, with tens of thousands killed and millions displaced.
The United States has a responsibility to provide a safe haven for refugees, from Afghanistan, Latin America, or elsewhere, and to cease interventions that fuel these crises and displace so many.