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US Should Stop Scapegoating Migrants

Biden's Misguided Praise for Abusive Policies Disregards Lives Lost

A man shows a portrait of Wilmer Tulul in Tzucubal, Guatemala. Wilmer and his cousin Pascual, both 13, were among the dead discovered inside a tractor-trailer near auto salvage yards on the edge of San Antonio, Texas, in what is believed to be the nation's deadliest smuggling episode on the U.S.-Mexico border, June 29, 2022. © 2022 Moises Castillo/AP Photo

US President Joe Biden and members of the House of Representatives repeatedly scapegoated migrants during both this week’s presidential State of the Union address and during a hearing on the US-Mexico border held by the House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

At both events, politicians wrongly conflated the opioid crisis and border insecurity with migrants. They also praised migration deterrence policies, which aim to stop migrants and asylum seekers from reaching the US border and have led to tens of thousands of deaths and enabled countless abuses.

In reality, almost all illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is trafficked across the US-Mexico border by US citizens at legal ports of entry and then purchased by US citizens.

During his State of the Union speech, Biden lauded policies violating the right to seek asylum under US and international law. He also called for additional agents for Customs and Border Protection without offering a plan to hold it accountable for repeated abuses.

Policies focusing on deterrence are ineffective and make migration deadlier by pushing migrants and asylum seekers to try more dangerous routes. And people are dying. The Trump administration averaged about 300 deaths each year– an already unconscionable number – but that number skyrocketed in fiscal year 2022, when, under the Biden administration, more than 850 people died while crossing the border to seek safety, reunite with family, return home, or improve their lives.

In fact, migration deterrence policies, including the abusive Operation Lone Star in Texas, strengthen criminal organizations by driving up the demand and cost for smugglers. Deterrence policies that involve sending migrants to dangerous Mexican border cities – as opposed to allowing them to seek asylum in the US – have fueled a booming criminal market for kidnapping migrants and extorting their US-based families.

The opioid crisis is terrible, with more than 107,000 people dying between December 2020 and December 2021, including a disproportionately high increase among Black and Indigenous populations. The Biden administration deserves credit for being the first administration to support access to funding for harm reduction services. But if Biden and Congress are serious about addressing drug trafficking and overdose deaths, they should look closer to home and prioritize drug decriminalization and funding for more health-based solutions that respect human rights, such as drug testing and safe usage sites.

At the same time, they should protect migrants and asylum seekers by creating legal pathways for immigration and humane border policies.


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