Immigration Policies like Title 42 Have Long Encouraged Abuse and ExploitationRoundup
tags: immigration, migrants, Border Enforcement
Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez is a postdoctoral research associate and an award-winning immigration historian at the University of Illinois Chicago. Outside of the academy, she has conducted research on immigration for the federal government and non-profits in the U.S. and Mexico.
The Supreme Court recently kept in effect a policy that expels asylum seekers at the border under the Title 42 public health authority, as litigation on the matter continues. In response, the Department of Homeland Security said it would continue to expel asylum seekers at the border and work toward expanding the nationalities that can be turned away under the policy.
Because the pandemic-era Title 42 policy closes ports of entry to asylum seekers and enables quick expulsions without the opportunity for entrants to ask for asylum, migrants become easy targets for smugglers waiting on the other side of the border. DHS has warned that “people should not listen to the lies of smugglers who take advantage of vulnerable migrants, putting lives at risk.”
But the reason smugglers can endanger and exploit migrants in the first place is because of policies like this one, which increase — rather than decrease — border-crossers’ vulnerability. Restrictive immigration policies and long-standing immigration-deterrence strategies — which study after study show don’t actually deter anyone from migrating — funnel child and adult migrants into clandestine routes of entry that force migrants to turn to smugglers for aid. When poor migrants, especially unaccompanied children, cannot pay the high price tag of smugglers’ services, they sometimes get coerced into forced labor schemes to pay back their debts, just as they have in states like Alabama, Ohio and Illinois.
These human rights dilemmas are not aberrations or exceptions. They are the outcome of border enforcement schemes that, for decades, have eliminated safe and legal avenues for migration and intensified border policing, making migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
After 1965, the U.S. government significantly militarized the U.S.-Mexico border and closed off several lawful routes to entry for Latin Americans. The termination of the decades-old guest worker Bracero Program, the imposition of numerical limits on Latin American immigration and the preferential treatment for refugees fleeing communist countries made unauthorized entry the only option for millions of Mexicans and Central Americans during and after the late 1960s.
A punitive approach to border enforcement pushed migrants into hidden routes of entry and led to an explosion of the human smuggling business between the 1960s and 1980s. By 1975, over 70 percent of migrants purchased the services of a smuggler to transport them across the increasingly hardened southwestern border. After being recruited in northern Mexican border cities and charging anywhere between $150 and $1,500, smugglers delivered undocumented people to rural farm fields in cramped buses, trailers, rental trucks and camper vans, without proper ventilation, heat or food.
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