Levels of poverty and crime not seen in a generation are driving millions of Latinos toward the U.S. The crisis will determine whether Joe Biden remains in the White House for a second term.
The #titulo42 hashtag has been viewed 96 million times on TikTok in recent weeks. From Brazil to Venezuela, from Colombia to Mexico, internet users are trying to determine what their chances are for remaining in the U.S. after last Friday’s expiration of Title 42 of the U.S. Code related to immigration law. This was a provision that allowed for immediate deportation during the pandemic without the possibility of applying for asylum.
Now everyone will be able to apply for asylum, although the Biden administration introduced a number of restrictions intended to discourage those wishing to migrate to the U.S. One of them stipulates that, even before crossing the Rio Grande, an asylum seeker must apply for a date to meet an official within the U.S. who accepts asylum applications. So far, very few people have received a response.
At the same time, Americans are creating a network of approximately 100 offices in Latin America to accept applications for asylum. Another condition stipulates that those on the way to the U.S. who are fleeing countries where there are no civil liberties, such as Venezuela or Nicaragua, must show that they have sought asylum in a country considered safe (e.g., Mexico) but were denied. People who cross the border without fulfilling these conditions may be detained or placed in prison. In addition, they may be banned from entering the U.S. for the next five years. Washington has established the number of people who might be entitled to legal settlement in the U.S.; however, it is a small number at 30,000.
Nevertheless, experts doubt the U.S. will stop the migration wave. Suffice it to say that the number of illegal immigrants in America is estimated at 11 million. Only 70,000 were deported last year. The risk of detention and expulsion from the U.S. for those already on the other side of the border is, therefore, relatively small.
As a result, the first few days after the new regulations were in force, the U.S.-Mexico border was tense with expectation. So far, there have been no mass attempts to cross. Authorities fear that when the big wave begins, Biden’s system will collapse and it may be difficult to modify given deep polarization between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
Latinos are being forced from their homes by an unusually unfortunate coincidence of events. “You couldn’t come up with a worse set of facts to leave tens of millions of people with no choice but to move. It’s inevitable that you’d have massive displacement, it really is a perfect storm,” Dan Restrepo, President Barack Obama’s top adviser on Latin America, told The New York Times.
The pandemic pushed this vast region into the arms of a serious crisis. It has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine: The price of necessities has skyrocketed. There has also been a shortage of fertilizer imported mainly from Russia and Ukraine. In Brazil, where, at the beginning of the 21st century under President Ignacio Lula da Silva, around 40 million people were lifted from despair, the poverty level has returned to its earlier level. Massive poverty also struck in Argentina and Colombia. One-fourth of Venezuela’s population, 7 million people, have left their country during the last eight years; the average salary in Venezuela is less than $100 per month.
The economic collapse has triggered a familiar tragic cycle in Latin America. The rate of crime, drug trafficking, and corruption has gone up. Tension is also rising between the U.S. and Latin America. The relationship with Mexico’s leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is particularly poor. In many cases, he refuses to admit immigrants turned away by the U.S. Washington, in turn, believes Mexican authorities are doing too little to stop mafias from smuggling opioids to the U.S. The deaths of more than 100,000 Americans per year are attributed to the use of Fentanyl, yet the trafficking of that drug is a livelihood for many Mexicans.
Mass migration can permanently change the ethnic and cultural demographics of America and make it a bilingual country; it’s already happening. There are 62 million Latinos legally residing in the U.S., one-fifth of the population. However, since 2010, that number has increased by 19% (10 million people), twice as fast as the growth of the entire American population. The vast majority of Latinos are from Mexico (37 million), Puerto Rico (6 million), El Salvador (2.5 million), and Cuba (2 million), with a new wave arriving from other countries in the region, including Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.