By Arab News
By Dalia Al-Aqidi*
Since the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January, a dramatic humanitarian crisis has arisen on the US southern border, where thousands of people are trying to enter the country illegally, driven by several statements made by Biden when he was the Democratic presidential candidate.
Waves of men, women and children have been arriving at entry points in several states. In March, about172,000 people, including more than 18,000 unaccompanied children, attempted entry to the US — a 71 percent increase on the previous month, according to US Customs and Border Protection. As of early May, 22,500 unaccompanied minors were being held by the authorities.
Security experts are estimating that, by the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30, up to 800,000 people will have crossed the border in the space of 12 months.
The main winners from this chaotic situation are the smugglers, human traffickers and cartels that have turned US border cities into small oases for their illegal activities. Nonofficial estimates indicate that the cartels are making about $14 million a day by smuggling humans. What is more concerning is that nobody will be able to uncover the number of unaccompanied minors who have been sexually assaulted, groomed or victimized by these cartels.
As the political pressure on the Biden administration grew, with the White House being urged to address the surge in unaccompanied, undocumented migrant minors, Biden announced on March 24 that he had appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead efforts to stem migration across the US-Mexico border.
At a White House immigration meeting, Biden explained his VP’s new task of launching a diplomatic discussion with the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in a bid to restrain the flow of migrants and to adopt long-term strategies that would address the root causes of the problem. At this meeting, Harris expressed her desire to work with the private sector, civil society and members of Congress who share the administration’s vision.
But working on such long-term goals will obviously not solve the current border crisis or provide protection for the children who have been sent alone to face an uncertain fate.
Maybe the president has forgotten that the Obama administration, in which he was the No. 2 man, tried through its Strategy for Engagement in Central America program to promote economic prosperity, improved security and strengthened governance in the region, only to fail. So why repeat the same strategy and expect different results?
It is naive to think that a few meetings and a couple of grants will change the nature of these troubled countries and convince many of their citizens not to flee. Until Washington finds and fixes the root of the problem, how many children will be dropped off that tall wall?
Two months on, Harris is nowhere to be found. The vice president has not toured the US-Mexico border region since accepting her special assignment; nor has the president himself for that matter. When would be a good day for Harris to make the trip and witness first-hand the tragedy, the threat and the consequences of the situation?
When asked about that, the White House emphasized the importance of Harris’s diplomatic role in reaching out beyond the border, instead of responding to the southern border crisis itself, adding that she has held calls with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
It seems that the vice president has already found the solution, following a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to discuss options for micro-lending and digital banking technology in Central America’s Northern Triangle to help address the core of the crisis, according to Axios.
“In light of the dire situation and acute suffering faced by millions of people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Harris announced an additional $310 million in US government support for humanitarian relief and to address food insecurity,” the White House said on April 26.
Until this administration realizes that the termination of the “Remain in Mexico” policy — which was implemented by Donald Trump and required Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases were reviewed by the US courts — was a mistake, no crisis will be solved and Harris’s mission is doomed to failure.
While the vice president may be terribly busy with more urgent issues that have prevented her from taking a comfortable flight to the border, a copy of her children’s book made it to a group of unaccompanied children in a migrant shelter in California; business is business, after all.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi