A Biden Effect would look like a sustained migrant crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Central Americans and others from around the world, who have by now fully absorbed Biden campaign promises, would storm through Mexico once again in vast human caravans.
By Todd Bensman as originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies
A few months after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, official Texas State business brought me to two ICE immigration detention centers in South Texas. As manager for the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, I had been coming to these normally noisy, filled-to-capacity facilities for years to interview detainees.
But the South Texas ICE Processing Center in Pearsall stood about as empty and silent as a ghost town, besides the Pakistanis and Somalis I’d come to see who’d been in for a while already. Same situation at the larger, always packed-to-capacity Port Isabel center near Brownsville a few weeks later.
The empty hallways and cells at that moment were stark manifestation of a phenomenon that became known as “The Trump Effect.” ICE intelligence officers at the facilities explained it to me at the time: Populations throughout Latin America, after hearing candidate Trump swear to hike deportations, build a wall, and otherwise crack down on illegal border entries, chose to shelter in place rather than cross the border … the so-called “Trump Effect.” Apprehensions fell more than 70 percent for a time.
But now, the nation must brace for the coming of the equal but opposite “Biden Effect” should the Democratic nominee win the White House on November 3.
A Biden Effect, should a Joe Biden presidency be declared, would look like a sustained migrant crisis of the sort the United States and Europe have already suffered in recent times. In this case, hundreds of thousands of Central Americans and others from around the world, who have by now fully absorbed Biden’s campaign promises, would storm through Mexico once again in vast human caravans. The first caravan waves – importantly, unopposed – would swamp U.S. border asylum systems, and detention facilities, which is hardly without recent precedent (the 2014-2015 unaccompanied minor crisis, and the 2018-2019 Central American caravans crisis).
Successive population waves, seeing the vanguard caravans succeed unhindered, would pour through the breach for as long as those too are unopposed, perhaps for the years of Democratic control over illegal immigration enforcement. The swell – nearly a million came over just in 2019 before Trump tamped it down with policies Biden promises to reverse – would take up permanent illegal residence in cities across the country. They will do so knowing the new administration that openly welcomed it would do nothing to deport them and everything to sustain them indefinitely until eventual amnesty-citizenship.
An unreasonable dystopian prediction?
If the Trump Effect proved anything, it was that economically distressed foreign populations closely monitor a humming social media communications grapevine about when and how American policies and practices make illegal immigration easier or harder, therefore whether their chances to embed inside the U.S. higher or lower. Economic migrants are more willing to join caravans or pay big smuggling fees if they feel they can both get in and stay in. They stay home if they perceive they probably will be thrown back, their effort and payments for naught.
While Trump did much to decrease the chances for U.S.-embedding success, Biden has messaged policies that all but guarantee embedding success starting with the reversal of all Trump immigration policies with executive orders, and go even further. One promissory message heard very loud and clear was his March 2020 promise of a deportation moratorium on all illegally present aliens – to include even most criminal aliens – during his first 100 days in office, to be followed by a permanent extension for everyone but the most hardened criminal alien felons (“I don’t count drunk driving as a felony,” he even said).
Biden’s online immigration platform offers irresistible and powerful incentive for resumptions of mass-migration caravans that brought a million migrants in during 2018-2019 before Trump finally broke their momentum with a slew of different policies. Biden promises to end Trump’s highly disincentivizing Remain in Mexico pushback policy that prevents largely ineligible asylum claimants from disappearing forever into the American interior after they lose and abandon their petitions. Conversely, Biden promises to rush “humanitarian” food and shelter resources to the border and open the welfare spigots to feed and shelter illegal entrants who will be let in to wait on those ineligible asylum claims, and to provide for speedy releases from detention into the interior, if they are detained at all.
During one primary debate, Biden was among those who raised his hand when the moderator asked which of them would favor providing illegal immigrants with free access to the nation’s medical care system. His hand was seen worldwide.
The shiniest bauble Biden has dangled to Latin America’s poor is no doubt his promise to prioritize “a roadmap to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants.” A desperate crush of humanity is in the offing with this one, as anyone who can manage to get in over the border would stand a pretty good chance of securing permanent American citizenship ala 1986.
All of this is much more than pleasant music to ears of Latin America’s poor populations aspiring to live and work in the United States, legally or illegally, and also among human smugglers and caravan organizer only too happy to facilitate. Taken altogether, the sparkling medley of Biden promises (and those from VP nominee Kamala Harris too) can reasonably predict a desperate mass scrabble fairly soon after a November 3 Biden victory.
I reported early clues suggesting this prognosis during a January 2020 reporting trip to the Mexico-Guatemala border, where I interviewed migrants who, to my surprise, told me that, because their chances of reaching the U.S. and staying had fallen to unacceptable lows under Trump, they would wait in Mexico for a Democrat to win and remove all the barriers. Tens of thousands like them were applying for Mexican asylum at the time because Mexican National Guard blocked all the roads north (at Trump’s insistence) and Mexico was threatening to deport them unless they applied for Mexican asylum. As one of many of the Central American migrants and Mexican officials told me during my trip of the life choice hang out in Mexico until a Democrat wins: “I’ll wait for that because it would make things easier to get in.”
An El Salvadoran woman coming to Mexico with a child said she’d chosen to live in Mexico too on the gamble that “Once Trump is defeated and the Democrats take over, things are going to get better.”
Alma Delia Cruz, head of Mexico’s asylum office in the southern state of Chiapas, told me she knew the majority of 70,000 asylum applicants her office was processing (up from 76 the year before) had no intention of staying in Mexico for long.
“This is just their first chance to get into the United States, of course,” she told me. “I don’t know what’s on the minds of these people exactly, but the threats from Trump can’t deter them from eventually getting into the U.S.”
Other reporting has since confirmed the use of Mexican asylum as a temporary tactic, such as this April 2020 El Paso Times report quoting migrants equivocating as to whether they’ll settle for the great Mexican Dream or head to the U.S. border even if they get Mexican asylum.
The tide of Central Americans applying for Mexico asylum continues to build as the American election draws nearer. And the applicants are not only Mexican but from all over the world. Thousands of Haitians, Africans, Cubans, and Middle Eastern migrants also are applying for Mexican asylum, building the pressure cooker of migrants who will explode over the southern border the moment Biden wins and the Trump defenses begin to falter.
The Thin Membrane Holding Back a Restive Sea of Caravans, Gone Overnight
In June 2019, Trump threatened Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador with ruinous economic trade tariffs on all U.S.-bound exports if he did not halt the mass caravans pouring in through his country’s southern border with Guatemala. Obrador complied by deploying some 6,000 Mexican National Guard troops on more than 50 roadblocks throughout Mexico’s border states, severely thinning northbound migrant traffic.
Caravans have regularly battered themselves apart against the bulwark of the rather implacable Mexican National Guard troops, who rounded them up by their thousands and bused them back to Central American countries. But the caravans keep forming, then probe and test this one most effective National Guard perimeter, nuzzling for a moment of opportunity.
That moment very likely arrives on the day Biden wins or soon after. This is because Biden would never maintain Trump’s tariff threat; Mexico knows the threat walks out of the White House exits with Trump. Soon after a presidential victory for Biden, Mexico likely will redeploy its troops elsewhere, and the way will be finally open.
Overnight, Mexico would return to its traditional role as a migrant-transit superhighway to the U.S. border. Look for caravan formations immediately after a Biden election win to take a test run and then ever more behind, pulled hard by the promise of certain entry into the United States with full benefits, the promise of legal residence, public assistance, resettlement, and even eventual citizenship.
The upcoming national elections offer the stark choice between this Biden Effect and The Trump Effect.