There is nothing new in the Biden immigration ‘crisis.’
The American political system and mass media have transformed the subject of immigration into déjà vu: This recurring feeling like the United States political economy reproduces the same simulated crises even as new language is remade from remade ideologies (the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year added the phrases “cancel culture,” “performative disapproving,” “BIPOC” and “digital blackface” to its official index), and emerging industries like cannabis, cryptocurrency, and biohacking continue gaining traction.
The déjà vu is a perpetual storyline lacking any conclusion because to produce ending would be to produce ending for the totality of the system. The public instead remains trapped in a movie script that continually repeats itself with different star actors tasked with the same scenario: Latin American migrants are arriving at the border, what should we do about them?
Although immigration remained the most contentious policy debate during the Trump years, the form of the issue remains very much the same under Biden: Those in power struggle to contain migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, and try to frame their response favorably to the public by allowing certain media outlets select access to policymakers, while limiting the access of media outlets which question the response.
Rather than “children in cages” under Trump, the United States now has a “first migrant facility for children” under Biden. There are differences in approach between the Trump and Biden administration’s handling of immigration (the latter emphasizes welfare services over the construction of a physical barrier), but the issue, like healthcare and perpetual war in the Middle East, remains unfixable by design, a matter of aesthetic differences and political theatre.
There is hardly any difference in form between Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez staging a photo-op in front of a migrant detention center’s chain link fence during the Trump years, and Senator Ted Cruz romping through the jungle last week with a camera crew to film himself in front of migrant encampments. In both cases, an American politician is framed as the central character, while detention centers and the U.S.-Mexico border function primarily as backdrop settings in a staged production distributed through traditional and social media; migrants play the part of extras.
— Newsmax (@newsmax) March 31, 2021
Those calling this a false equivalency (because either Ocasio-Cortez or Cruz maintain a respective moral high-ground) miss the fact that immigration as a “crisis” is perpetual in the United States and unlikely to change during any administration. The Déjà Vu is that the public is still sold the same policy conundrum almost two decades since the Bush administration established the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Earlier this month, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the Biden administration is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” while the Border Patrol’s chief in the Rio Grande Valley wrote on Twitter there is “no end in sight” to the problem.
“This election is our last chance to secure the border, stop illegal immigration, and reform our laws to make our life better,” said Trump during the 2016 campaign cycle.
Just when immigration fades from the news cycle, it reenters with newfound urgency, causing the usual political actors, or reincarnations of them, to reinsert themselves back into the all-too familiar debate. If Biden cracks down on immigration, then he is framed as a hypocrite by his political opposition; if he eases restrictions, then he is labeled by them as a radical open borders absolutist. No response is ever enough to satisfy any party, so the crisis persists and reinvents itself over each subsequent administration, existing as a default of the political system that opportunists continually seize on to amass power and become temporary figureheads.
Like perpetual war in the Middle East, the “crisis” of immigration is by design of the system’s totality, and collateral for the creation of the system. Without the United States backing anti-communist forces throughout Latin America in the 1980s, many of which would commit war crimes like the Atlacatl Battalion in El Salvador, the system would not exist in the form of Global Capitalism, its aesthetic American hegemony, its star actor Joe Biden.
“You are talking about problems that have been here in El Salvador and a lot of countries in Latin America for decades. This immigration thing is just feeding on dependency on immigration in the countries that drive it,” El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele told Fox News host Tucker Carlson this month. “You’re not exporting products or services, you’re exporting people. So that makes your economy dependent on that, because then those people send money back to their home country…the economies are dependent on each other.”