Critics: Joe Biden Is Restarting ‘Hunger Games’ Migration Policy

migrant arrivals
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

President-elect Joe Biden is promising to aid Central American countries — but he is also promising to extract more of their valuable young workers and consumers for exploitation inside the United States via the semi-official “Hunger Games” obstacle course between migrants’ homes and U.S. jobs.

Biden’s promises to aid Central America obscure the damage and political risks of the Democrats’ extraction policies, which are extremely unpopular.

But Biden’s promises are just the latest stage in the multi-decade campaign by allied progressives and Wall Street investors to overcome the public’s migration preferences.

That long campaign has fractured and loopholed what once was expected by the public to be an orderly legal immigration system for legal migrants from south of the U.S. border.

What is left is a de facto obstacle course migration system for blue-collar migrants — a chaotic Hunger Games trail of loans, coyotes, cartels, rape, deserts, weather, border laws, barriers, rescuers, transport, judges, and cheap-labor employers.

The progressives’ Hunger Games also cripple the economies of migrant-sending countries because they are extracting workers, consumers, investments, political pressures, and expectations of growth. “The departure of people of working age reduces the labor force and weakens the growth of the home country, and this effect is likely to be strongest for countries facing a brain drain,” said a 2017 report by the International Monetary Fund.

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said:

The [progressives’] goal is increasing the number of people moving here. If that means that it has to be done in a way that is inconvenient and sometimes even cruel for the migrants, that’s okay because the objective is increased immigration at essentially any cost — even the cost to the migrants themselves.

“It is an obstacle course, a deadly obstacle course,” said John Miano, an immigration lawyer with the Immigration Reform Law Institute.

The chaos has become the immigration system because Congress has proven unable to restore order, said Miano. “Congress is involved in so many things now; it can’t deal with the things that it is supposed to do … Each time Congress touches immigration now, they make things worse. What we have done is set up a system of incentives for people to come here illegally.”

President Donald Trump essentially blocked southern migration in 2020 — three years after his inauguration — by making the obstacle course almost impossible to get through. But that win only came after he declared a national emergency and imposed an incomplete but wide variety of border reforms.

But the next wave of blue-collar contestants is rising, partly because they can catch watch a video from January 2020 of Biden welcoming many more migrants: “We could afford to take in a heartbeat another two million people. The idea that a country of 330 million people is cannot absorb people who are in desperate need … is absolutely bizarre.”

Biden is now offering to reopen the obstacle course, with some “humane” sections, even as he also promises to steer more aid and investment to Central America.

Meanwhile, most young white-collar immigrants enter via a years-long “pay-for-play” system of lotteries, employer abuse, payoffs to universities, kickbacks to managers, and years of bonded labor.

Biden’s Promises

President-elect Joe Biden said December 22:

We’re going to work purposely diligently and responsibly to roll back Trump’s [migration] restrictions starting on day one. We will institute humane and orderly responses. That means rebuilding the [legal] capacity we need to safely and quickly process asylum seekers without creating near term crisis in the midst of this deadly pandemic.

Biden was silent on many critical details. For example, he did not say how migrants would be judged as welcome for life in the United States — even though at least 150 million people want that prize. He was silent about how rejected migrants would be deterred from entering the obstacle course, and how they would be sent home — even though 11 million resident illegals are already refusing to leave the United States.

He also declined to offer assurance to Americans who are worried about their jobs and investment, even though millions of his fellow Americans are unemployed, and even though wages have been flat for decades– aside from a brief spike in Trump’s 2019.

Unsurprisingly, Biden declined to explain how his chaotic extraction of yet more workers and consumers from Central America could not contradict his promised economic development in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. His campaign platform declared:

As president, Joe Biden will renew a robust commitment to U.S. leadership in the region and pursue a comprehensive strategy for Central America by: Developing a comprehensive four-year, $4 billion regional strategy to address factors driving migration from Central America; Mobilizing private investment in the region; Improving security and rule of law; Addressing endemic corruption; Prioritizing poverty reduction and economic development.

The Hunger Games

The costs and the randomness – the carrots and the sticks, of progressives’ Hunger Games policy – were painfully exposed in a December 22 article by USAToday, headlined: “A Guatemalan father brought his 10-year-old daughter to the US-Mexican border and regrets it.”

The article showed how Francisco Sical and his wife, Maria Elvira Ramos, mortgaged their Guatemalan home and redirected the $3,000 microcredit loan from promised construction to a coyote.

Years before, Sical had been allowed into the United States as President George W. Bush pushed his “Any Willing Worker” cheap labor policy:

From 2003 to 2008, Sical had worked in Anaheim, California; Tampa, Florida; Washington, D.C.; and many places in between, laying tile and driving trucks for $12 an hour as part of a vast undocumented labor force that fueled the U.S. economic expansion of the mid-2000s.

But intermittently tighter rules unluckily blocked his attempted returns in 2013. And in 2018, President Trump’s consistent crackdown gave him 30 days for his felony re-entry.

In the summer of 2019, Sical told his wife that he could use one of their three under-18 children to get through Trump’s border like her brother and nephew had done shortly before. The brother and his child walked through a 2015 loophole created by a California judge who had ordered border agencies to release migrants with children after 20 days into the U.S. job market. USAToday reported:

“I told her, ‘Listen, lately the U.S. government is giving children priority.’” Ramos’ brother had reached the USA with a son a few months before. “Immigration visits him twice a week,” Sical said. “But they let him work in peace!”

But Sical was too slow.

Despite protests by progressives and the many businesses, Trump closed the 2015 loophole by creating the “Return to Mexico” program. The program stops migrants from getting U.S. jobs as they wait for asylum hearings, and Sical was one of the slower — or unluckier — migrants who were sent back to Mexico and then Guatemala.

The article also shows the sticks that pressure Latin Americans to head north.

Sical sees himself as a failure compared to his peers who got through the obstacle course to win jobs in the United States:

For Sical, the USA is always on his mind – “and in my heart.” But, he said, “you’re left with feelings of resentment. The families who have someone in the United States, every eight days, they go to the bank for the remittance. And us just watching, because there is nothing else we can do.”

Sical’s unpaid loan is a stick that pushes Sical to try again once Biden takes control of the border. USAToday reported Sical is trying to pay down the $3,000 construction loan “at $128 a month … [as he] struggled to bring home even $220 a month.”

Many progressives deny their cheap-labor migration has any harmful impact on Americans’ wages and rents —  and then insist that the public’s deep opposition to wage-cutting migration is bigotry and can be blamed for the Hunger Games.

The solution to Sical’s problem is more work permits for U.S. jobs, said Andrew Selee, the well-paid president of the pro-migration Migration Policy Institute, “The best way of dealing with irregular migration is not building walls but creating labor opportunities for people to work for periods of time in the United States,” he told USAToday. “Americans don’t want those jobs,” he insisted, without mentioning employers’ pay offers or the coronavirus crash.

“There’s no broad recognition of [migration-caused wage cuts] at all,” Tom Jawatz, the vice president of immigration policy at American Progress, a leading progressive advocacy group, told Breitbart News on December 28.

Yet decades of data and experiences have persuaded the vast majority of Americans — and many elite economists, lobbyists, and legislators — that migration moves money out of employees’ pockets and into the stock-market wealth of investors and their progressive supporters. The recognition comes amid perpetual insistence from business lobbies — and reporters — that supply and demand in the labor market are unrelated.

Progressives also insist they can select deserving Central American migrants with such care and justice that rejected migrants will somehow give up their illegal efforts to get themselves into U.S. jobs and their children into U.S. schools. For example, Biden’s 2020 platform says “Trump’s policies are actually encouraging people to cross irregularly, rather than applying in a legal, safe, and orderly manner at the ports,” and continues:

… each [asylum] case should be reviewed fairly and in full accordance with the law. Migrants who qualify for an asylum claim will be admitted to the country through an orderly process and connected with resources that will help them care for themselves. Migrants who do not qualify will have the opportunity to make their claim before an immigration judge, but if they are unable to satisfy the court, the government will help facilitate their successful reintegration into their home countries.

But that pablum promise sets no limit on the number of eligible migrants and is no deterrent for migrants who rationally — and decently — hope to walk, climb, talk, and lie their way into good jobs for themselves and good schools for their children.

Biden’s promise of a “safe and orderly” process at the border will just invite a repeat and an escalation of 2019, warned Mark Morgan, the acting chief of the Customs and Border Patrol agency said January 5:

If your strategy consists of releasing you into the interior of the United States once you’ve illegally entered and have been apprehended, protecting you from local deportation, and providing substantial rewards such as free health care, you have just created a complete system of incentives. Who wouldn’t try to enter with “Release, Protect, and Reward” being the new open border strategy?

In 2019, almost 1 million rational people entered the Hunger Games in the hope of winning the huge prize of U.S. residency.

The risk was rational. DHS data shows that roughly 8 percent of 2014-2019 contestants have won the first prize of legal residency. Roughly half of all contestants have won the second-ranking prize of at-least temporary residency, jobs, and wages.

The Damage to Central America

Progressives pretend remittances from migrants repair the damage done by the Hunger Games to the home countries.

But the migration-caused economic damage is widely recognized by left-wingers outside the progressive parish in Washington D.C.

“One of the effects of emigration is erosion of human capital, which can have a negative impact on the economic and social development of the countries of origin,” said a 2005 report by the United Nations. A 2020 report by a reporter for the Guardian for the Texas Public Policy Foundation spotlighted one example:

Alonso Benítez was considered a model farmer, growing organic coffee in Honduras’ western highlands. In recent years, he had switched to organic methods, planted timber-producing trees to diversify his income, and worked with a cooperative to earn a premium on the world price. Benítez also had a large extended family in the area, who pitched in with harvests and lowered his labor costs.

But Benítez vanished one day in April 2019 with his 17-year-old son, leaving an elder, 18-year-old son to oversee the farm. He paid a coyote 170,000 lempiras ($7,300) to take him and his son to the U.S. border, according to the elder son, Jordi Benítez. After spending four days in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the pair were released and went to Houston—where Benítez found work in a gravel pit.

All told, more than three million people from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala have moved into the United States, not counting the almost 1 million migrants who were counted crossing in 2019. Only half of the 3.5 million migrants who entered from 2014 to 2019 have been sent home.

The loss of skilled migrants “can compromise the ability of origin countries to develop their own human capital, especially when it involves teachers and health workers, or undermines development prospects as a result of the departure of persons trained in technical, engineering and scientific areas, crucial to domestic technological progress,” said a 2011 report by the Organization of American States and the OECD.

Despite “decades of agrarian reform, state-led development programs, and billions of dollars of foreign aid spent on international development schemes, remitted wages from people working in the United States have become the most important source of income for many rural communities,’ said a 2o13 report by Selee’s Migration Policy Institute. The report continued:

A new social order has emerged across Honduras. Many of the markers of status that defined life before the migration boom — such as land ownership, advanced age, education, and political connections—are being replaced by knowledge of how to migrate successfully to the United States and remit earnings to family members in Honduras. Migrants and returnees have become the very models of success for young people in rural areas. At the same time, new forms of social differentiation are emerging. The meaning and value of education, lawful citizenship, and family responsibility have been redefined in the context of the migration phenomenon.

“The remittances [from migrants] are not sufficient for compensating the negative impacts that emigration has on human development in the societies of origin, for example, the loss of the most entrepreneurial individuals,” said a 2012 report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“Migration, in many ways, underpins Central American economies and provides an escape valve for these countries,” said the 2020 report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which added:

Remittances sent from the United States prop up households, provide stability to national economies, and spur consumption. Migration has provided some ambitious Central Americans with an escape from poverty. But it has also enabled elites, who see no need to slow migration, as it is a status quo which works for them—and they are content to keep it intact.

As a Guatemalan think tank analyst said ruefully after President Trump demanded Guatemala sign an asylum cooperation agreement: “We continue doing everything except taking responsibility. …We’re not the victims and we need to assume our responsibilities because the United States is no longer going to cover the cost of Guatemala’s shortcomings.”

The Hunger Games migration is emptying many towns in Central America. On April 21, the Wall Street Journal reported:

COLOTENANGO, Guatemala—Gloria Velásquez is used to saying goodbye. Four of her six siblings have migrated to the U.S. and she, too, is thinking about heading north with her 9-year-old daughter.
[…]

Ms. Velásquez said her four siblings in the U.S. are encouraging her to join them. Her daughter Helen Ixchel likes to teach language and mathematics to fellow children. She wants to learn English and become a teacher.

“I’m a bit scared [about going to the U.S.] after hearing all the news about the suffering of migrants at the border. But it’s my daughter’s greatest dream,” Ms. Velásquez said.

“Exporting People: How Central America Encourages Mass Migration: The three Northern Triangle nations spend preciously little on the poor and then reap the financial benefits when they flee,” said a Bloomberg headline in 2019:

“Migration is part of the model,” said Seynabou Sakho, the World Bank’s director for Central America. “A country may not have a big deficit, but at the same time, the needs of its people aren’t being met.”

In a few countries, the remittances paper over the economic damage imposed by the progressives’ Hunger Games. “For Central American countries, the negative effects of emigration seem to be broadly (or more than) offset by gains from their higher remittance receipts,” the IOM reported in 2012.

Those remittances are huge: “Remittances sent to Guatemala represented 11 percent of GDP and 46 percent of household income in 2017 … [I El Salvador] Remittances reached $5.47 billion in 2018, amounting to roughly 20 percent of the country’s GDP,” said a 2020 report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Who gains?

Those remittances consist of wages taken from the hands of blue-collar American workers, including many black and Latino hands. Illegal migrant workers rationally take jobs at low U.S. wages, so exempting U.S. employers from the wage-raising pressure to make fair bargains with the tens of millions of Americans who are disabled, parenting, drugged, isolated, or unemployed.

Wealthy Americans also gain from the extraction of foreign labor and consumer demand, said a 2013 article titled “Dollars, ‘Free Trade,’ and Migration: The Combined Forces of Alienation in Postwar El Salvador.” It argued that “capitalists in the destination countries capture surplus labor and value from migrants by paying substandard wages, [as] capitalists in El Salvador also profit both directly and indirectly, from remittances.”

The deportation of migrants from the United States would shift wealth back to lower-skilled Americans, said a 2018 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute. “The trade compression caused by deportations [of lower skill migrants] suggests that the U.S. may experience losses of higher-paying export jobs. Based on the aims of the current U.S. administration, these potential losses must be compared with potential gains in jobs with lower skill levels,” said the report, which was validated by the blue-collar wage gains for Americans in 2018 and 2019. after 40 years of flat wages for men.

One example of the progressives’ harm to Americans is their quiet support for the flow of child laborers into the blue-collar jobs needed by lower-skilled Americans. In November 2o20, ProPublica reported:

“Honestly, I think almost everyone in the system knows that most of the [migrant] teens are coming to work and send money back home,” said Maria Woltjen, executive director and founder of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, a national organization that advocates for immigrant children in court. “They want to help their parents.”

But whether they stayed in a shelter in Florida or California or Illinois, the teens heard similar warnings from the staff: They had to enroll in school and stay out of trouble. The immigration judges who would decide their cases, they were told, didn’t want to hear that they were working.

“They would ask you: ‘Who are you going to live with? Is he going to support you financially?’” said one 19-year-old who spent nearly six months at a shelter in New York before a family friend in Bensenville agreed to take him in. “And you say yes. ‘Are they going to be responsible for you?’ And you say yes. ‘Are they going to take you to school?’ And you say yes.”

The child laborers can bypass part of the obstacle course because of a law passed unanimously in 2008. The law allowed the inflow of at least 315,000 Central American children and youths since 2013, who have reduced pressure on employers to offer higher wages or buy labor-saving machinery:

Around Urbana-Champaign, the home of the University of Illinois, school district officials say children and adolescents lay shingles, wash dishes and paint off-campus university apartments. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, an indigenous Guatemalan labor leader has heard complaints from adult workers in the fish-packing industry who say they’re losing their jobs to 14-year-olds. In Ohio, teenagers work in dangerous chicken plants.

ProPublica interviewed 15 teenagers and young adults in Bensenville alone who said they work or have worked as minors inside more than two dozen factories, warehouses and food processing facilities in the Chicago suburbs, usually through temporary staffing agencies, and nearly all in situations where federal and state child labor laws would explicitly prohibit their employment.

Though most of the teens interviewed for this story are now 18, they agreed to speak on the condition that they not be fully identified and that their employers not be named because they feared losing their jobs, harming their immigration cases or facing criminal penalties.

Some began to work when they were just 13 or 14, packing the candy you find by the supermarket register, cutting the slabs of raw meat that end up in your freezer and baking, in industrial ovens, the pastries you eat with your coffee. Garcia, who is 18 now, was 15 when he got his first job at an automotive parts factory.

But it must be the GOP’s Fault!

In their reports, tweets, and statements, Democrats progressives and executives recognize the obstacle course — but blame everyone else for the human cost of their worldwide invite.

Trump created “a horrifying ecosystem of violence and exploitation,” says Biden’s 2020 platform:

It is a moral failing and a national shame when a father and his baby daughter drown seeking our shores. When children are locked away in overcrowded detention centers … When President Trump uses family separation as a weapon against desperate mothers, fathers, and children seeking safety and a better life …  When children die while in custody due to lack of adequate care.

“In our own little ways—whether as employers, consumers, or homeowners—each of us has long counted on, and effectively encouraged, the development of this extralegal immigration system,” Jawetz testified in 2019. “At the risk of being provocative, the truth is that our arcane immigration system is so broken that it long ago abandoned the right to expect and deserve compliance and respect.”

“Plenty of people on ‘my side’ [of the labor and migration debate] lament the fact that the lack of adequate pathways to channel immigration through the system rather than around it has predictably led to immigration outside the law,” Jawetz told Breitbart News December 29. “The solution is better tailored and more realistic pathways.”

Biden, Jawetz, and other progressives disregard the public’s demand for jobs, decent wages, and Americans’ right to their own national labor market. Jawetz testified in 2019:

So, what would such an immigration system look like? For starters, it would have realistic, evidence-based avenues for legal immigration … [where migrant] Workers would be able to find legal pathways into the country to fill needed positions.

The contradiction between migration and development is not a problem for progressives, said Kirkorian. “Ideological libertarians and leftists look at it this way: That any way of getting here, under any circumstances, is better [for migrants] than staying where they are,” he said. The development damage done to the home countries is waved away as “brain gain or circulation or something like that,” he added.

And, of course, once the U.S. economy is flooded with rent-raising, wage-cutting legal (or illegal) immigrants, then blue-collar Americans are denied the right to a tight labor market where employees and employers can bargain as equals as they trade work for wages. Jawetz and other progressives would join with CEOs to steal that bargaining power and decide which jobs need to be filled by low-wage, compliant, and grateful migrants instead of well-paid, free-speaking, indepndent American citizens.

“I don’t think [progressives] feel a moral duty to fellow Americans,” said Rosemary Jenks, the policy director at NumbersUSA:

They are globalists … [They think] their duty is to focus on [poor foreigners], not focus on their fellow countrymen or on making this country better. They have no sense of what an average American’s life is like, but they can say, “Oh, I’m a good person because I’m helping these [foreign] people, you know, by bringing up illegal aliens from Central America, I’m reuniting families.”

Their migration strategy is “cruelty to ordinary Americans too,’ she added.

The fundamental problem is that Biden and his progressives see large-scale, wage-cutting migration as a “core value… the highest values of our nation” — and they view migration as far more important than economic development in Central America, Africa, Latin America — or in central Los Angeles, central Detroit, or anywhere else in Americans’ home country.

Biden’s campaign document says:

Joe Biden understands that [immigration] is an irrefutable source of our strength. Generations of immigrants have come to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs, the hope in their heart, and a desire to claim their own piece of the American Dream. It’s the reason we have constantly been able to renew ourselves, to grow better and stronger as a nation, and to meet new challenges. Immigration is essential to who we are as a nation, our core values, and our aspirations for our future. Under a Biden Administration, we will never turn our backs on who we are or that which makes us uniquely and proudly American. The United States deserves an immigration policy that reflects our highest values as a nation.

As long as Americans oppose the inflow of migrants into their jobs, communities, and futures, then progressives will cheerlead as millions more Central Americans — plus tens of millions of Africans, Indians, Latin Americans, and Asians — risk their lives and wealth in the progressives’ Hunger Games.

“Immigration [policy] requires making choices,” said Miano, “and because these progressives don’t want to make the choices, they let the coyotes and the desert make the choices for them.”

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