Threats and Resilience: Our Border Stories for 2023
At The Border Chronicle we’re ready to take on whatever 2023 has in store for the borderlands.
In the days leading up to President Biden’s visit to El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, asylum seekers were rousted by police and Custom and Border Protection agents from their makeshift tents on the street. Soon after, they were deported. In a video released by a volunteer at a Catholic-run shelter where migrants—many of them Venezuelan—sought protection, a man surrounded by other asylum seekers can be heard praying and calling to the U.S. agents for protection. “In the name of Jesus, sir,” he pleads. “They are people, sir, who are looking for your salvation, sir. They come looking for a better future, sir. We respect the laws, sir.”
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador deployed more than 200 federal agents to Ciudad Juárez to prevent asylum seekers from reaching the Rio Grande and El Paso, where Texas governor Greg Abbott has lined the U.S. side of the river’s embankment with razor wire, National Guard soldiers, Humvees, and shipping containers.
Meanwhile, migrants and humanitarian groups struggled to make sense of Biden’s immigration policy changes, announced on January 5, which expand Title 42 expulsions but offer wealthier migrants a chance for temporary U.S. status.
From El Paso, Biden flew to Mexico City to meet with López Obrador and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in the first North American Leaders Summit in five years. They will be hashing over everything from trade to energy regulation to climate change to the hemisphere’s growing migration and displacement crisis.
And this was just the first week of January. At The Border Chronicle we’re ready to take on whatever 2023 has in store for the borderlands.
We’re thankful that the U.S. survived the 2022 midterm elections, with a weak yet still functioning democracy. Election-denying authoritarians like Kari Lake—who ran for Arizona governor and campaigned relentlessly on fearmongering at the border—lost her election, as did Mark Finchem, who ran for secretary of state while touting the racist great replacement theory.
Arizona’s new governor, Katie Hobbs, is the first Democrat to run the state since 2009, when Janet Napolitano was tapped by former president Barack Obama to become secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. In New Mexico, Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham was reelected, and in California, Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, won reelection. This means three of the borderland states are now helmed by Democrats.
We hope this means less border bashing in 2023. For the last several years, as I wrote in September, the GOP and right-wing news outlets have invested heavily in great replacement and border invasion messaging, paired with election denialism, which stoked violence and endangered border communities. Much of this was spurred on by Trump and his former cabinet members, including Steve Bannon and Ken Cuccinelli with the financial backing of billionaires and millionaires like Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch and fascist MyPillow mogul Mike Lindell. With so many key electoral losses in 2022, you would think they’d reconsider their strategy.
But then there’s Texas. With the help of moneyed donors and gerrymandering, Texas reelected Republican Greg Abbott, who has spent more than $4 billion locking up immigrants and treating the border as a war zone.
As Biden descended the stairs of Air Force One in El Paso on Sunday, Abbott waited on the tarmac handing Biden a scathing letter that said his visit was “$20 billion too little, and two years too late.” The letter offered Biden five Republican solutions to stem migration, but immigration experts quickly pointed out that the solutions make no sense. “These ‘solutions’ ignore reality,” tweeted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council. “You literally cannot prosecute someone for illegal entry if you’ve expelled them to Mexico!”
Already, 2023 points to a continuing misinformation campaign from Republicans. Abbott and Florida’s reelected governor, Ron DeSantis—who callously bused asylum seekers across the country, stranding them in Martha’s Vineyard—continue their one-upmanship in cruelty and fearmongering over the border, competing for the White House in the 2024 presidential election.
Unfortunately, Democrats have done little to counter the misinformation campaign or defend U.S. asylum law. While pledging to terminate Title 42, Biden is also expanding it to include Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Cubans, in addition to Venezuelans. During the press conference last week, Biden said asylum seekers could download an app called CBP One to apply for entry to the United States.
Asking people fleeing for their lives to download an app and wait for months in their home country, where they are in mortal danger, is next-level cynicism. They’ll also need a valid passport, a plane ticket, and a lawful U.S. sponsor, and they will be “rigorously” vetted, Biden said.
To make it even more difficult, Biden proposed that migrants instead apply for asylum at the first country they enter, which revives the controversial “transit ban,” introduced during the Trump era. “It’s pathetic, and a complete violation of international and U.S. law,” said Amali Tower, director and founder of the nonprofit Climate Refugees.
Tower said it was good to see some form of protection offered under Biden’s new plan, referring to the 30,000 people a month the administration says it will admit into the United States under the app scheme. “But humanitarian parole is not refugee status,” Tower said. “It’s a temporary admission, which means they’re still in limbo.”
Meanwhile, the administration plans to ramp up the number of people it expels into Mexico, which has agreed to accept 30,000 people a month. “They’re going to continue to create this pipeline into Mexico, where there are spontaneous camps and disastrous humanitarian conditions,” Tower said.
Already, shelters in Ciudad Juárez report that they are at capacity. And as I wrote in December, shelters in Mexican communities along the border, started by U.S. and Mexican humanitarian groups, are expanding their services, adding new beds for all the people who will be stuck in limbo.
Republicans, including Abbott, have made much of Biden’s delay in visiting the border. But Biden served as vice president for eight years during the Obama years, when the migrant influx at the border began to increase exponentially. In response, the administration deported millions of people, so many that Obama was called “the deporter in chief.” The Obama administration also expanded family detention facilities.
The problems at the border didn’t start in 2020 with Biden’s election, as Republicans like to say. Any real solution has been neglected by both parties for decades.
More Pressure on Border Communities
Unfortunately, it’s border communities and migrants fleeing persecution and economic insecurity who pay the biggest price for this political inaction. And with the far-right wing of the Republican Party holding the GOP hostage—as demonstrated during the raucous, ridiculous bid by Kevin McCarthy for U.S. House speaker—I don’t see Congress addressing the problem anytime soon.
Which is why, in 2023, The Border Chronicle will focus on resilience and local solutions forged by border communities—stories like Todd’s November profile on the binational coffee cooperative Café Justo, which has given residents in Mexico’s coffee-growing region an opportunity to stay home and support their families, instead of being forced to migrate. In April, Todd will attend a borderlands youth climate summit in Presidio, Texas, and highlight the work of an impressive group of high school students in the face of the warming planet. He will also be looking at this sort of resilience around water issues along this stretch of the Texas/Chihuahua border as illustrated in our final post of last year.
We’ll also focus on the continuing threat of right-wing disinformation and growing fascism, which endangers border communities. As Biden touched down in El Paso on Sunday, right-wing supporters of Trump confidant Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently in Florida, violently trashed the Brazilian Congress, echoing the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The MAGA crowd has not dissipated. And it will continue to use fearmongering around the border and migrants as a catalyst to spread fascism. Already, groups are redoubling their efforts to foment violence against humanitarian workers and immigrants, as highlighted in a story by Texas Public Radio’s Pablo de la Rosa last week. The right-wing Heritage Foundation, de la Rosa reports, apparently tracked the cell phone data of migrants given SmartLink devices, owned by GEO Group, which are used by ICE to track their whereabouts as an alternative to detention while asylum seekers await their immigration court dates. The Heritage Foundation then falsely portrayed humanitarian organizations as human smuggling operations, which endangers volunteers and asylum seekers.
It’s this type of fearmongering and disinformation that aided outgoing Republican governor Doug Ducey in spending millions on wasteful shipping container walls in Yuma and the Coronado National Forest, which we documented, and which border residents ground to a halt. The ugly double-decker boxcar walls are now being removed at a cost of nearly $70 million to Arizona taxpayers—not to mention the irreparable harm to wildlife and public lands.
We’ll also continue to delve into the impacts of climate change and displacement, even beyond the U.S.-Mexico border, with upcoming dispatches by Todd from Kenya (in February), and then later from Oaxaca and Greece. And as always, we’ll continue to cover the multibillion-dollar border security business, including on-the-ground reporting at the Border Security Expo in May, which grows exponentially no matter who’s in the White House.
In short, we have ambitious plans for 2023, and we hope you’ll support us. As media outlets close and local reporting along the border continues to disappear, we want to increase our on-the-ground coverage and expand our podcast. In November, we shared with you our financial outlook, which was not great. We are pleased to report that we’re up to 576 paid subscribers now, which is an improvement but still not near the target of 1,000 paid subscribers we need to continue. We hope you’ll consider starting off 2023 by supporting The Border Chronicle and local border journalism with a paid subscription—just $6 a month, or $60 a year. And, as always, thank you for reading and listening to The Border Chronicle. Todd and I couldn’t do this without you.
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