Center Spread: The State of U.S. Immigration

Campo, California U.S.-Mexico border. Photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash

Root Causes of Mass Immigration
By Malcolm Peterson, age 10

More than 1 million immigrants arrive in the United States each year, according to the Pew Research Center. There are many reasons people choose or are forced to leave their home countries, including lack of resources, food insecurity, frequent natural disasters caused by climate change, or violence like war and gang violence. They come to the United States with hopes to start a new life with better jobs, opportunities and more safety.

President Biden pledged $4 billion to Guatemala, Honduras and El Savador in January with the goal of decreasing corruption, violence and poverty in these countries. The aim is to improve living conditions for these citizens so that they aren’t forced to flee, ultimately decreasing the number of migrants entering the United States.

But U.S. involvement in Central America started over 100 years ago, in 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt gave the United States international police power in Latin American countries. This led to U.S involvement in illegal government takeovers and economic and political instability. “For decades, U.S. policies of military intervention and economic neoliberalism have undermined democracy and stability in the region,” explains Mark Tseng-Putterman, a Ph.D. student in American Studies, on Medium.

For example, a free trade agreement between the United States and five Central American countries, as well as the Dominican Republic, has restructured the nations’ economies and caused massive economic dependence on the United States. According to the Nation magazine, in 2014, the number of Honduran children crossing the border increased by more than 1,000% within five years of the Obama administration aiding a coup against Honduras’s democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya.

In response to Biden’s plan, 70 human rights organizations wrote a letter to the federal government urging the administration to end security assistance, let the people know where the money will be going, stop all economic limits on Central American countries, and limit U.S. participation in their domestic politics.

Photo by Miko Guziuk on Unsplash

Biden Maintains Title 42 Order Rejecting Many Haitians
By Isabelle Pierre, age 12 and IndyKids staff

Biden’s decision to maintain Title 42 has disproportionately impacted the safety of Black immigrants seeking asylum in the United States, predominantly Haitians. 

Title 42, a public health order that was imposed during the Trump era in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, has been used as a means to close the border to refugees without due process. The program is based on a 75-year-old public health law that was, according to Human Rights Watch, never intended to affect immigration proceedings. Since the program was implemented last year, U.S. immigration agents have expelled more than 1 million migrants attempting to cross the border, according to Reuters.

Following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, there have been ongoing protests and worsening conditions in Haiti, including hunger, corruption, and gang violence that existed even before his assassination. Haitians attempting to escape the violence and seek asylum in the United States have been disproportionately rejected. Since the Biden administration took office, an estimated 2,000 Haitian asylum seekers have been deported back to Haiti, according to Al Jazeera, and about 5,000 to 10,000 were sent to Mexico during the Trump administration.

When serving as a California state senator, Vice President Harris opposed Title 42. Harris signed a letter along with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey calling for an end to Title 42 last year. The Biden-Harris administration has maintained the Title 42 program despite evidence collected by experts in ‘The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impact on Haitian Migrants’ report that there is no correlation between the entry of migrants and an increased risk of coronavirus infection. 

Under international and domestic law, migrants are entitled to make a claim for legal asylum regardless of how they enter the country. Title 42 ignores this right and simply expels them from the country. In response to Title 42, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Trump and now Biden administration on the grounds that “the illegal policy restricts immigration at the border based on an unprecedented and unlawful invocation of the Public Health Service Act, located in Title 42 of the U.S. Code.”

Ursula detention center, Texas. Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

What to Make of the Recent Surge of Migrant Children at the U.S.-Mexico Border
By Lucio Gamez Rios, age 16

The number of migrant children picked up at the U.S.-Mexico border has already surpassed 113,000 this fiscal year. The statistics, collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, reveal a startling rise in the number of children crossing the border unaccompanied. 

Honduras has faced numerous hardships, such as the two hurricanes that hit them back to back, as well as violence and poverty. Migrant children have begun making the treacherous journey to the Mexican border in record numbers since Biden took office with the belief that they will be accepted. Biden, unlike Trump, chose to exempt children from the Title 42 order, allowing them entry into the United States. Wishing to escape the poverty and violence they face at home is what prompts migrant families and individuals to make the trek in the first place. 

The United States is legally responsible for the care of unaccompanied migrant children from the moment they cross the border until they turn 18. Many of these children are placed in detention centers, like Fort Bliss, Texas. Detention centers like these, however, are often reported for their extreme heat, spoiled food, and lack of mental health assistance, according to the testimonials of 17 detained children as reported by Reuters in June.

Jonathan Ryan, a lawyer with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit organization that gives free legal services to migrants in Texas, told the New York Times that the children he met with felt “confined, distressed and like they are being punished.” All the while, the parents of some of these kids wait weeks to hear a response from them, according to attorneys that spoke with AP News, because the Department of Health and Human Services refuses to give out their location. 

Organizations such as Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area are working to expand their foster families in order to take in unaccompanied children and “signal to the Biden administration that they are able to accommodate more migrants.” Organizations like these help to provide a safe space for migrant children to live in the United States.

Seattle protest, photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Biden Finally Raises Trump’s Historically Low Refugee Cap
Bernadette Fraidstern, age 12

On May 3, President Biden raised the refugee cap from a historical low set by former President Trump. By raising the cap, Biden was fulfilling a campaign promise to admit 125,000 refugees in his first year in office; however, it was announced that the change would be from Trump’s low number of 15,000 to just 62,500. Biden said that Trump’s cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”

The number of refugees allowed to enter the country each year is regulated through a process called presidential determination, meaning that the president chooses how many people to admit each year. This is a precedent set by the Refugee Act of 1980.

Biden lowered the cap from 125,000 to 62,500 for this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 2020, after realizing this goal was impossible because of his predecessor’s actions. Trump didn’t just lower the refugee cap; his policies cut funding, laid off employees and closed over a hundred resettlement offices. “The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” Biden explained in his statement. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years.”

While Biden has now raised the cap, the change did not come until after a nearly four-month delay. He has been criticized by many Democrats in Congress and refugee advocacy groups for not raising it sooner, ultimately causing the delay of 30,000 pre-approved refugees from coming to the United States. According to Vox, only 2,334 refugees were admitted by April 30, a number much too low to meet 62,500 by Sept. 31, the end of this fiscal year.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on unsplash

Key Terms Explained


Someone who makes the decision to leave their home to live in a foreign country. Immigrants usually go through a very long immigration visa process, going from lawful permanent residents to eventually becoming citizens. These people are usually free to return home whenever they choose.


An immigrant begins their journey as a migrant, but not all migrants become immigrants. A migrant is someone who moves from one place to another. Economic migrants leave their homes in order to find a better life or better work opportunities, but do not necessarily settle permanently.


People who flee their country due to fear of persecution, for example, due to their race, religion, sexual orientation or political opinion. These people are unable or unwilling to return to their home countries. These people must apply for refugee status through the government or the United Nations Refugee Agency, who will determine if the person is eligible for refugee resettlement, before they are allowed to enter their new country. Oftentimes, they end up waiting for years in refugee camps.

Asylum Seeker:

Those seeking international protection due to dangerous living conditions in their home countries. These individuals, families, and even children, must cross an international border to apply for asylum. It is a person’s legal right to seek asylum through the 1967 United Nations Protocol, therefore the United States is legally obligated to provide protection to people who qualify.


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