Joe Biden has promised to help undocumented immigrants with the legalization of their status. This is an odd pledge, since during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency he supported mass deportations and war on the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the second presidential debate with Donald Trump, Democratic candidate Joe Biden pledged that one of his first initiatives would be sending a draft bill to the House of Representatives that would grant amnesty to immigrants in the United States without documentation. It is bizarre that the pledge comes from a man who was a member of an administration that was the most hostile to immigrants in the United States illegally in the history of the U.S.
With the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Department of Homeland Security implemented the Mérida Initiative, a program also known as “Plan Mexico.” The freshly-nominated secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, announced the program to provide training and equipment to Mexican police to combat drug trafficking. Between 2008 and 2010, law enforcement services from Mexico and seven other countries in Latin America received equipment and expertise from the U.S. worth $1.6 billion.
One of the main slogans of the Obama-Biden presidential campaign was “bring people out of the shadows.” Obama and Biden promised that migrants without documentation would be able to receive American citizenship on the condition they pay back taxes and master the basics of speaking and writing English. The promise was mainly made to the 6.5 million Mexicans in the U.S. without documentation.
On June 28, 2008 in Naleo, Sen. Obama assured the voters that Latin immigrants were not to be feared since they would build the future of America. “For all the noise and anger that too often surrounds the immigration debate, America has nothing to fear from today’s immigrants. They have come here for the same reason that families have always come here — for the hope that in America, they could build a better life for themselves and their families. Like the waves of immigrants that came before them and the Hispanic Americans whose families have been here for generations, the recent arrival of Latino immigrants will only enrich our country,” he claimed. “Because we are all Americans. Todos somos Americanos. And in this country, we rise and fall together.” Obama won the presidential election and his party won a majority of seats in Congress.
Latinos had reasons to expect amnesty for immigrants, something they coveted for years. Instead, Latino communities received a wake-up call from a new president in the form of Napolitano’s nomination as secretary of homeland security. The 25th governor of Arizona became famous for making several anti-immigration decisions. Among others, she announced a state of emergency along the southern border of Arizona, introduced English as the official language of the state, and limited access to official information in Spanish. She also signed a bill that barred Arizona firms from employing immigrants in the U.S. illegally, under the penalty of losing their business licenses.
Napolitano undoubtedly took her dislike — or rather, hatred — for immigrants to Washington, D.C. One of the first tasks of the department she headed was the implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a project authorized by Congress in 2007 that initiated cooperative efforts between the Department of Homeland Security and the police agencies of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama to combat marijuana and opiate trafficking on U.S. territory. The Merida Initiative did not include providing arms or financial aid. Support to Latino partners was supposed to consist of providing equipment, worth $1.6 billion, and training. Preliminarily, they were to receive eight Bell 412 helicopters, two Cessna 208 aircraft and telecommunications monitoring technology. Besides that, the countries’ security services were to be provided with special X-ray scanners, audiovisual equipment and information technology resources. Additionally, the U.S. was to support the reform of the Mexican justice system with a $400 million infrastructure investment.
The American Trojan Horse
It was expected that the Merida Initiative would meet with high public approval from the countries it would assist. In fact, the American initiative sparked a huge wave of criticism from the governments that had initially agreed to participate. The concept of the Merida Initiative was modelled on ideas from Colombian President Andrés Pastrana Arango, who wanted to implement “Plan Colombia” between 1998-1999. The Colombian initiative met with sharp criticism from South American media, which accused Bogotá of subservience to the United States. Illegal coca crops were to be eliminated by American herbicides sprayed from airplanes. The side effect was the destruction of legal crops and an increase in the incidence of cancer and lung disease among local inhabitants. “Plan Colombia” has never been fully implemented.
The Mérida Initiative, however, turned out to be primarily a legalized hunt for Mexicans crossing the U.S. border without documents. And though it seemed like the right way to fight drug cartels, it was met with a wave of criticism from supporters of the open border between Mexico and the U.S. North American Union supporters watched in horror as Napolitano sent an additional 360 Border Patrol agents south as part of the Merida Initiative. The vehicles of the new divisions patrolling the U.S.’s southern border were equipped with X-ray and night vision equipment and scanners. The 3,218 km (approximately 2,000 mile) border was divided into 100 sections monitored by the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Napolitano turned the region into a war zone.
The Merida Initiative began during George W. Bush’s administration, but it aimed to help the police and Mexican forces fight drug smuggling cartels. Obama’s administration used the program to turn the Rio Grande into a Maginot Line against immigrants in the U.S. without documents. How did this square with the promise to improve the plight of immigrants made by Obama during his election campaign?
Excessive Waste of Money or Defense of the National Interest?
Americans started to ask themselves whether the Mérida Initiative was not a huge waste of public money. The fight against trafficking of hallucinogenic drugs – especially dried cannabis, widely recognized as a controversial soft drug – took on absurd proportions during Obama’s presidency. Despite the public financial crisis, his administration sunk huge sums of money into combating the smuggling of drugs, for which there is a huge demand in the American market. Clearly, the 13 years of prohibition did not teach Americans that the best way to control the production and distribution of hallucinogenic drugs is legal trade on a free market. That is why after Obama’s presidency ended, so many states legalized marijuana. On a federal level, America has plunged blindly into a war it cannot win. At the same time, it limits the freedom of choice for its citizens in breach of the Bill of Rights.
In Mexico, the Merida Initiative is seen as “Yankee interference” with the sovereignty of the republic. As a result of the 1846-1848 war, the United Mexican States lost almost half of its territory to its northern neighbor. Many of the representatives of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies and the Senate wrote letters to Obama, reproaching him for the double moral standards that the Merida Initiative brought into bilateral relations with the U.S. On one hand, their northern neighbor offered generous aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars to reform Mexico’s justice system, build new judicial infrastructure and promote human rights. On the other hand, despite the economic commonwealth under NAFTA, the U.S. sought to turn its border into a new iron curtain. And it all happened with huge support from Biden, who, during his visit to Mexico in February 2016, announced, “Through the Merida Initiative, we’re investing in building up Mexico’s capacity to dismantle drug routes, target cartels and transnational criminal organizations. And today, we discussed the importance of protecting human rights and ending the culture of impunity for thugs who seek to enforce their own will through violence and intimidation. These are tough challenges. And we discussed how tough they are. They won’t be solved overnight. And we’re going to have to take risks, and it will take risks here to solve them. It will take a sustained commitment the part of both of us, both parties.”
The problem was, however, that Mexicans did not see themselves as a party to this initiative. The Mexican press stressed the fact that Napolitano thought her main job was to strengthen the southern border against immigrants in the U.S. illegally, not defending the country against drug trafficking. She even demanded that the governors of Texas and Arizona use National Guard troops to patrol the border with Mexico. Even when she was the governor of Arizona, she supported the use of the National Guard to hunt newcomers without documentation from the south. The U.S. National Guard is the force that supports the U.S. Army only in emergency situations and reports to state governors only in situations that pose a direct threat to the lives of their citizens. During peacetime, National Guard troops usually help the police and law enforcement only in cases of natural disasters. Using the force to patrol the border against an influx of immigrants in the U.S. illegally showed that all the promises that Obama made to the Latino community during his presidential campaign were not worth a red cent.
The Wall Is Simply Profitable
If the United States had a unified and orderly immigration policy, the problem of illegal immigration would be almost marginal, just like it is in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Unfortunately, the American political class is sending conflicting signals that encourage Latinos, mostly, to storm the U.S. southern border in any way they can. Since the second Bush administration, the Democratic Party has repeatedly made campaign promises to give amnesty to immigrants without documentation and to make reforms that would be highly beneficial to newcomers. It is hardly surprising that thousands of people have stormed the southern border hoping to take advantage of the benefits of such promises. The promise that Biden made during his presidential campaign only added fuel to the fire. It sounded almost like a call to come to America, as he would soon ask Congress to provide everyone with American passports no matter how people arrived in the U.S. What a cynical thing for the former vice president to do, given that his boss allowed for the deportation of the largest number of immigrants in the history of the U.S.
“Todos somos Americanos.”Those words from Obama during his first presidential campaign undoubtedly sounded like he was encouraging votes from Latino families broken up by immigration laws, whose children were often born U.S. citizens and whose parents still did not have legalized immigration status. Each day, around 500 people make it from Mexico to the U.S. Only one in five is caught by the National Guard patrol. But it doesn’t matter much since the majority of the people deported to Mexico try to illegally cross the border a few days later. What has been needed was a solid border wall. And it was Trump who built it.
The cost of such a fence, four meters (approximately 13 feet) high, was estimated at around $2 billion in 2008. Electrifying the fence was estimated to cost a further $362 million. By comparison, Congress spent $1.6 billion on implementation of the Merida Initiative over three years. Napolitano convinced Obama and Biden that the plan would pay off. The only problem was that it did not. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that each year $12 billion to $15 billion is transferred in cash from the U.S. into the pockets of drug cartels and Latin American politicians.
The amounts wired electronically would probably be far greater, but the Trump administration kept a close watch on such transfers. In January 2018, it submitted a bill to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Trump asked Congress for $18 billion to be spent within the next 10 years on the border wall. By September 2017, almost 1,560 km (approximately 970 miles) of wall was yet to be built, covering almost half of the Mexican border.
The ineffective Mérida Initiative project cost American taxpayers a total of around $4.1 billion. The wall was meant to restore peace and pay off after just a year. And now it is questionable that any further construction will take place.