Interview
"Organized crime groups have strengthened in northern Mexico as a result of the harsh policies on the border"
In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, immigration expert Denise Gilman analyzes Biden's new policy after the end of Title 42 and explains why cartels multiply their profits.

Like few others, Denise Gilman is an authoritative voice to talk about the immigration issue. She is a renowned researcher who has studied migration flows between the United States and Mexico for more than 15 years. She is also the director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, and she spoke with LPO after the end of Title 42, the policy that Donald Trump imposed at the beginning of the pandemic and that Joe Biden held for almost two and a half years in office. Gilman explains why the crossings fell with Biden's new regulations, she highlights the similarities with Trump-era politics, and she says that the president is trapped in the logic of border control imposed by the Republican discourse. In addition, she explains why drug cartels make huge profits every time government measures stop the arrival of migrants.

How do you assess the end of Title 42 after so long?

It was time for Title 42 to end. The program was not well justified, it was supposedly an instrument to prevent the epidemic and from the beginning those who work in public health in the United States said that it was not necessary or good. But assuming that at some point it was useful, when all the other instruments for the control of the pandemic had already ended, it was completely out of the legal and justifiable to continue automatically expelling people for reasons related to COVID. Otherwise, you have to follow the normal lines of asylum legislation, which do not allow the automatic expulsion of a person.

What does this change mean?

What we have seen is that, more than anything for political reasons, what the Biden administration has done is replace Title 42 with new mechanisms that are also very strong exclusion for people requesting asylum. In these first days, what we are seeing is that the interviews that must be done under the normal set of rules at the border are being done in 24 hours, including Sunday mornings, without an interpreter, without access to lawyers, within the same border facilities, and if you do not pass that interview, you go back. While this is technically a bit more comprehensive, it is actually quite similar to Title 42. There are also other mechanisms for those who somehow manage to pass that first part and not be returned automatically. Many are going to be prevented from seeking asylum because of this new rule that says that if you did not apply for asylum in any of the countries you crossed, you do not qualify.

What the Biden administration has done is replace Title 42 with new mechanisms that are also very strong exclusion for people requesting asylum.

Critics say that, with other ways and other gestures, Biden continues the guidelines of Trump's policy on immigration. What is your vision?

Unfortunately, I totally agree that Biden's policies in relation to asylum and border are very similar to those Trump had. Title 42 was an instrument implemented by Trump and it is only being removed in the third year of the Biden administration. So, it is not that they are the same, they are exactly the same instruments up to this moment. Now we are seeing that something is changing, but too little and too late. For example, the new rule that says you have to have claimed asylum in other country while transit to the United States in order to qualify in the United States is the same rule that Trump had. So, in very very specific things, the policies are very similar. And I would say that, almost worse, the more general philosophy on the border has not change either.

Which is that philosophy?

It is an approach that is all about border control, spreading the idea that there is a lot of fraud at the border, there is a lot of threat to the security of the United States and, therefore you have to stop people from seeking asylum, when we know that the countries from which most of those on the border are arriving are countries with serious human rights problems. It is a flow of people who are requesting asylum, shelter, who fit into that. It is not a matter of crisis, of threat to security.

"Biden busca restaurar la política migratoria de los días más oscuros de Trump"

Why do you think Biden decided to cancel Title 42 now?

No other measures have to do with COVID. He did it because there was no way to justify it anymore. Regarding electoral issues, Biden wanted the congressional elections. If he had canceled Title 42 as soon as he was elected president, it would have been easier. But since he did not do so because there was not enough political pressure, it took time to deal with the issue and the congressional elections were coming up soon. It was too late to do it quickly and well, so he did it halfway and the Courts said no, so it was all mixed up. And to do it forceful, he wanted to wait for the midterm elections to pass.

"Organized crime groups have strengthened in northern Mexico as a result of the harsh policies on the border"

Mayorkas said that crossings have been cut by more than half, and the White House says the policy change is paying off. Is that so, or is it too early to tell?

It is early to say it definitively, but there are several things to take into account. Title 42 was illegal, cruel, it violated human rights, and it was also ineffective as a border control measure. People crossed 100 times, so the numbers were very high, a bit falsely high because the same people crossed many times. Seeing the numbers go down partly has to do with it. And even if it takes 24 hours to interview a person and reject him or her, that means that at least it is not two hours and you lower the number a bit.

Is it the only reason to explain the drop in numbers?

The other thing is that fewer people are getting the opportunity to be processed under the new system, they are forcing people who want to apply for asylum to use the App and the App limits the number of people who can apply. So people are fighting with that App, trying to be well so they'll let them in because that is what the government said they must do. That is not working properly, and it is a limited capacity, so the numbers are going down. It is not that there are fewer people who need to be processed for different asylum cases, but that there are new impediments. There are a lot of problems, not surprising. It's like with the first Covid vaccines. It is a system of limits, of preventing people to request asylum.

Title 42 was illegal, cruel, it violated human rights, and it was ineffective as a border control measure. People crossed 100 times, so the numbers were very high.

All the time, Republicans accuse Biden of having a dangerous open borders policy. To what extent does that speech complicate Biden? To what extend does it benefit him?

It does not benefit him. He cannot do anything. It is impossible with the Republicans. If he takes on border control measures, they never recognize him. And if he doesn't, they also criticize him. But for non-Republicans, that means Biden is still trying to be strong on the border to reply to criticism from Republicans, and that puts him off with those of us who do want a more humanitarian reception. It is not good policy because it does not have the impact of stopping arrival or efficiently processing people.

What should it be the government way out?

Biden could accept that the Republicans will never recognize what he does and that, therefore, there is no point in playing that game and that other policies would have to be adopted. More than anything, this means that there will be arrivals of people requesting asylum at a time when there are serious violations of human rights in several countries of the hemisphere, not to mention the most distant ones. Public health resources and social workers must be sent to process the cases and thus obey with the law.

"Los republicanos están aprovechando al fentanilo para avanzar en su agenda política"

Faced with the fentanyl crisis, Republicans are putting pressure for the United States to get involved in controlling Mexican territory. Do you think there are grounds for that preaching?

There is no evidence that what is happening at the border has anything to do with the fentanyl crisis - which does exist - in the United States. It is a way for Republicans to generate fear and ask for support, trying to say that the border issue interacts with the fentanyl issue, and it really does not. In terms of the cartels, of organized crime in northern Mexico, it is connected to the fentanyl issue. I am very convinced that organized crime groups have been strengthened as a result of the harsh policies on the border.

The expulsions of people to the north of Mexico create a vulnerable population, trapped in northern Mexico, a population - and the cartels know this - with a connection with the United States. So, they know that they can kidnap those people and demand money from their relatives, they know they can charge them a lot to try to cross the border and that they will be willing to pay more than they paid before, because it is much more difficult to cross the border and enter the United States. There are thousands of documented cases of sever harm done to people who were kicked out, basically leaving people in the hands of the cartels. I do think we have invented a new profit center for the cartels and new vulnerabilities for the objects of cartel actions, which is really very serious.

The expulsions of people create a vulnerable population, trapped in northern Mexico. Cartels know they can kidnap those people and demand a lot of money from their relatives to cross the border. We have invented a new profit center for the cartels.

You say that harsh politics on the border is what benefits the cartels.

Definitely. Now we are starting to study the growth and strengthening of the cartels in recent years a little bit seriously, since we have adopted the strongest border control policies such as Title 42 and the Remain in Mexico program. Honestly, I have been seeing it for at least a decade. Every time there is a new border policy that makes it more difficult to cross, it benefits the cartels.

It is the opposite of what is said, that over-tolerance favors the cartels.

It is just that it does not make sense. The cartels benefit from the fact that it is difficult to cross the border and that people have to pay them.

"Organized crime groups have strengthened in northern Mexico as a result of the harsh policies on the border"

The discussion seems to be in the logic of the Republicans, Biden recently sent word to the Republicans that the limits on spending were going to worsen the fentanyl crisis.

Yes, it is really impressive to see Biden's speeches during the campaign and the words that come out of his mouth now. The difference is really impressive.

Texas governor Greg Abbott is one of the toughest on border talk and draws a permanent electoral benefit.

For Abbott, it is a political question of knowing that in this way he can win elections. The people who are affected, the migrants, do not vote, they do not have voice. For him, there is very little to lose in trying to show himself strong and also in generating that fear that makes people vote for him, thinking that they are not at risk, causing insecurity for the State and for his family. I do not think Abbott thinks that. Because it is not like that. Without any doubt, throughout the history of Texas there has been irregular migration that has benefited the State. DACA for children who came here, the statistics show they contribute 6 billion dollars to the State of Texas every year. Migration is not a problem for Texas at all. It is not.

For Abbott it is a political question of knowing that in this way he can win elections. I do not even think he thinks that. Because without any doubt, throughout the history of Texas irregular migration has benefited the State.

What about the Latino population and these discussions, the border and the limits?

The most affected Latino population are those who live on the border and there are obviously many Latino populations on the border, citizens and non-citizens who witness a state of war on the border. I go to the border a lot, we went with a group of students in March to Laredo, and you see the police, the National Guard, the Border Patrol, there is a patrol every three cars, it is almost a state of siege for the population that lives there. The Texas legislative body is now discussing other bills that could impact the entire state so that the Latino population feels very marginalized and very threatened. For example, this new state-sponsored private border patrol that is being signed into law right now and other projects as well.

"Everyone understands that we need migrants, including the racist politicians who use them for campaign"

The discussion is also taking place among the Democrats with power. Senator Bob Menendez presented Biden an immigration plan and he complains that he has not been heard.

I think it is not a question of who has power within the Democratic Party in Congress because the Congress is lost. The question is who in the Biden administration can get him to pay attention to a more generous policy for immigrants. Several of those who were there at the beginning have left and I do not know if there are many now. He is with those who are more heavy-handed within the administration.

The United States has the lowest fertility rate in its history and it needs more migrants for the economy to grow again. Do economic arguments weigh in the political discussion?

Unfortunately, the participants who benefit from migrant labor are not concerned with regularizing that workforce, because it would be more difficult to exploit them there. In general, in the economy, I think that we do benefit a lot from regularizing and it may be with an asylum policy or it may be creating new paths. But those interested have economic interests, migrants arrive every day and there are work opportunities for them, but in vulnerable conditions, they pay them less.

The role of Kamala Harris in the immigration issue. Some people say that she could not solve it on her own and others are disappointed. What is your impression?

It was an impossible role, I totally agree. Immigration concerns to every department on government agencies, it has an effect on political issues, on realities, flows, migration and conditions in countries, that is not possible for a single person to take care of. There should be a strong team working on that issue, she could have led a whole committee. But there is also disappointment. She lost the chance of having an important role when, in the first months of the administration, she went to Central America and said: "beware, don't come." That was her answer to some very difficult challenges. It seemed that she did not understand what the reality was and therefore she was not going to be able to offer leadership and solutions.

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