Who needs a wall? US-Mexico Immigration during a Pandemic

Covid Anniversary Blog

`Never say never’ … the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico has fallen.

Well, not literary, but since the inauguration of Joe Biden, they have stopped building it. Yet this is largely symbolic, as due to pandemic, the U.S.-Mexico border continues to be closed. In fact, since March 2020 the US-Mexico border has been closed to all but essential crossings. All immigration procedures were put on hold and asylum seekers desperate to reach the U.S. were told to wait in Mexico, living in shelters under inhuman conditions.

Yet there is an even darker side to this story. With no hope of the border re-opening, migrants have turned to the people smugglers. The pandemic has also made it more difficult for the US authorities to infiltrate such smuggling rings; and economic deprivation brought about by the pandemic has increased incentives for Mexicans to participate in people smuggling. The pandemic has created a circle of migration error.

Most of the undocumented Mexicans enter the U.S. to provide for their families back home. 3% of Mexico’s GDP was attributed to such money flows in 2019. This has increased during the pandemic, with Mexico recording a record 4 billion dollars in money transfers in March 2020. This contrasts with the majority of other Latin American countries who have experienced a fall in the bank transfers from the U.S in 2020.

Many Mexican immigrants are also ‘critical workers’ in construction, food services, manufacturing industries, making them more vulnerable to Covid-19. They pay taxes, add to the U.S. economy, but many of them cannot enter healthcare system and they are afraid of being caught by the authorities; increasing their risk during the pandemic, and the risk of others.

Yet with the Biden administration comes a new approach. Deportations have been halted for 100 days. ‘Dreamers’- immigrants who came to the U.S. with their parents illegally have had their protection from deportation reinstated. Asylum seekers no longer need to wait in Mexico to be allowed to enter the U.S., and the U.S. is now doing everything possible to reunite detained migrant children, separated from their family as a result of policies pursued by the Trump administration, with their parents.

There are ways to cross the border; asking for asylum, migrant smugglers, temporary work VISAs, sending children. The pandemic, and not the wall, changed is how to get to the ‘promised land’; but if the socio-economic situation in Mexico does not improve, there will incentives to find a way – legal or illegal – to cross.

And the wall is still standing…

Katia Adimora is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of English, History and Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. Twitter: @AdimoraKatia

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Biden, Trump and the Lessons of the Past

In recent weeks media commentators have dubbed the 2020 U.S. election ‘historic’. It’s understandable.

The campaign was fought in the midst of a global pandemic. By election day over 9.5 million Americans had contracted COVID-19 and more than 235,000 had died.

The contrasting responses of the candidates towards the epidemic, and their competing visions of the future, reflected deep, troubling, divisions in American society. The enmity between the two sides led to a voter turnout of more than 150 million. Win or lose, both candidates look set to receive more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history, surpassing the record of 69.4 million set by Barack Obama in 2008.

The high turnout and closely contested nature of the race means the outcome has remains in doubt. Given pending legal challenges it could be weeks, if not months, before the result is known.

It is an election unlike any other, and yet there are historical precedents for all the current circumstances.

Bitter rivalries are rooted in the American political tradition. In a 1796 letter to George Washington, the radical political thinker Tom Paine denounced the nation’s hallowed founder as ‘treacherous in private friendship and a hypocrite in public life’. The ‘world will be puzzled to decide, whether you are an apostate, or an imposter. Whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any’.  

Contested elections are also nothing new. In 1824 Andrew Jackson won 11 states with 41.4 per cent of the popular vote to 7 states and 30.9 per cent for John Quincy Adams. Unfortunately for Jackson he failed to secure a majority in the electoral college. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution the outcome of the election was decided by the U.S. House of Representatives, with each state casting one vote. Viewed by some as a dangerous demagogue, Jackson lost 13 – 7.

Albeit impressive, the projected 67 per cent turnout of eligible voters in 2020 is eclipsed by the 81.2 per cent turnout of 1860. In that contest the United States was even more divided than it is today. The election of Abraham Lincoln plunged the nation into civil war.

There is even a precedent for a pandemic election. The 1920 campaign coincided with the final months of a global flu epidemic. Between 1918 and 1920 more than 100 million Americans were infected, including outgoing president Woodrow Wilson. Some 675,000 Americans died from the contagion.

It’s a sobering thought that whoever wins the 2020 election, if it takes place, the large crowds attending their inauguration on 20 January has all the potential to turn the day into a super-spreader COVID event. Notwithstanding Trump’s claims to the contrary, there is no guarantee that prior illness with the virus provides lasting immunity against re-infection. Given this he and Biden might do well to reflect on the fate of William Henry Harrison. Sworn in as President in March 1841, on a cold, wet, day in Washington DC, the 68-year old unwisely gave a two-hour inauguration address. Within days he developed a bad cold that turned into pneumonia and died a month after taking office.

Kevern Verney is Associate Dean Research and Professor in American History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Edge Hill University.

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And the winner is…

We may not know yet who will win the Presidential Election but, as Edge Hill programme leader for Politics Paula Keaveney, argues, some people have “won” already.

I am constantly amazed by the speed with which US commentators switch from the results of an election to the question of who will run next.  Sometimes there are just a few months.  Sometimes we don’t even get to the inauguration before the talking starts.

And this year there are likely to be more politicians than ever pondering what this month’s results mean for them and their ambitions.

If Trump wins, he can only serve one more term. There is a legal limit.  And if Biden wins, his suggestion of a single term Presidency becomes very relevant.

This means that, more than ever, the focus will switch almost immediately to what comes next.

Ambitious Republicans will be working out whether distancing from Trump or appearing to hug Trump close will help their prospects.

But it is within Democratic hearts that hope, and ambition is likely to beat most strongly.

The general wisdom is that it is better to be a challenger than follow an incumbent.  But electoral trends in the US have shown a strong incumbency factor when the party is in its first term.  In other words, it is easier for that party to win another four years.  Reasons for this vary but it is argued that voters tend to pin blame on previous administrations for the first few years.  A Biden Presidency then could run into economic difficulties but avoid economic blame.  This in turn means that being selected as the Democratic candidate to follow a President Biden is a very attractive prospect.

So, although we don’t have a winner yet, we do have winners.  These are individuals well positioned to make a run to become the next nominee.

Top of this list must be Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris.  Harris has achieved that key political combination of ability and luck.  The Senator from California’s run for the nomination ended early.  But timing is all.  And her selection by Biden has propelled her to national prominence in a way her primary rivals can only envy.  If Biden wins, and sticks to his one term idea, she will be front runner for the nomination.  If he loses, her profile and campaigning must give her the edge (as long as no blame for the loss attaches itself to her) Kamala Harris then is my winner of the night.

My runner up, another Democrat, is former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  Mayor Pete did well initially in the primaries but then stopped campaigning and endorsed Biden.  His media appearances as a Biden surrogate in recent weeks, including taking the fight to the usually hostile Fox News, have positioned him well for another run.

Politics never sleeps in the US.  It is always worth watching out for who is on manoeuvres.

Paula Keaveney is a senior lecturer in Politics.  US Politics is one of the subjects covered on Edge Hill University’s Politics degrees.

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