Las Americas in El Paso, Texas
I recently spent ten days driving the southern border from San Diego, California to El Paso, Texas. I made sure to take the roads that are the closest to the wall so as to have a better picture of how the Border Patrol is enforcing deterrence policies under the new Biden administration. I spoke and listened to a former agent, current agents, asylum seekers who have been recently expelled back to Mexico, immigration attorneys, immigration rights advocates and even pro-Trump/pro-Border Patrol advocates.
Of all the things I learned, the most important was that the Border Patrol is continuing to separate families. They are doing it quietly, and in a different way under the Biden Administration.
There are several ways to separate immigrant families. It depends on where the person is in our so-called immigration system as to how that happens. Sometimes it occurs through ICE raids and deportations. Other times it happens at the ports of entry by CBP. For this blog though, I want to specifically address how the Border Patrol is currently still separating families.
In part, it is the Biden administration's insistence on keeping the Trump policy of expelling all migrants, even most asylum seekers, who are crossing the border. This policy is based on pandemic law and is often referred to as Title 42. Even though Trump initiated this policy and even though countless medical specialists have stated that it does nothing to prevent the spread of covid 19 within the U.S., Biden has chosen to continue this policy. While it is true that he has and continues to slowly roll back those who are being expelled and allowing more and more to file asylum claims, Title 42 is still being used to exclude and quickly expel the vast majority of those seeking asylum at our southern border.
The result of Title 42 has been that desperate parents are sending their children over without them. Often, children are intentionally being dropped right in front of a Border Patrol camera. Parents know that these cameras are supposed to be monitored 24/7, and although the agency likes to falsely claim that this shows that migrant parents don't love their children, it actually is the most loving thing they can do for their children. The violence that most of these families have fled is following them to Mexico and the refugee camps along the border. It even follows them into the U.S. where it is not unusual for them to receive phone messages that their tormentors know where they are.
Title 42 is forcing many families to separate on the south side of the border just to save their kids' lives. Whether the Biden Administration calls this "self separation" or something else, it is still family separations directly caused by continuing Title 42.
But this is not the only form of family separation that Border Patrol is engaged in. There is a more sinister separation going on that I doubt the Biden Administration even knows about. The Border Patrol is separating families after they enter and are apprehended by agents. I kept noticing vans and bus loads of recently apprehended migrants going back and forth all along the Arizona and Texas southern border. I thought this was odd because currently under Title 42, migrants are quickly processed and sent back over to Mexico at the nearest port of entry.
It is not uncommon for Border Patrol to do what is called a "lateral expulsion" which is sending migrant families from Texas to California to deport or expel them. The agency has done this for decades. Agents are trained to say that this disrupts smuggling patterns, but honestly it does not do this. What it does do is scare the hell out of the migrants because they are unfamiliar with the Mexican cities and do not know the groups or people they can trust. It is cruelty for the sake of being cruel.
Biden has allowed for these "lateral expulsions" to continue, however the Border Patrol has taken it upon itself to change up how these expulsions are done. From Tijuana to Nogales to Juarez, I heard the same story over and over from asylum seekers, attorneys and advocates: the Border Patrol is once again separating families. Only this time, they are using "lateral expulsions" to do it. Whether migrants are apprehended trying to run away from agents or just simply crossing and waiting for a Border Patrol agent to find them, agents are splitting up family groups and expelling them through different ports.
Men and women are being separated by gender, placed on different buses or vans. One vehicle takes the men, the husbands to Juarez. The other vehicle containing their wives, partners, spouses is sending the women to Nogales. This is a difference of 356 miles! They do not tell the migrants what is happening, where they are going and they often cruelly tell them they are taking them to go claim asylum and that they will soon be reunited with their families.
But they are not. They are dumped in a foreign Mexican town they do not know. They have no money, do not know anyone and most often do not have the means to find each other. If families have a cell phone, it is usually only one cell phone they share. It is common for agents to throw away or destroy migrant cell phones. (More about this in the next post.)
Here's the kicker: many of these forced "lateral expulsions" are happening to families where the female is pregnant! In Tucson, Arizona, this recently happened to a group of Indian nationals. First of all, they do not speak English or Spanish. The Border Patrol is not going to provide a translator for an expulsion. They will simply expel them. They do not care. Secondly, pregnant women who do not speak the language are being dumped in Nogales and their husbands are dumped in Juarez.
This is family separation. It is just executed differently and under a different administration.
I'm confident that like the last child separations where Border Patrol agents were verbally ordered to rip babies from their mothers' arms that there is no written directive or policy for this as well. This is how the agency does business. This is the brutality of our so-called immigration system. And whether you like it or not, it is being done under the Biden administration.