Over the past few weeks, President Joe Biden’s ‘turn to the right’ has become clear in the face of two issues that have a high impact in the United States and have profound connotations for bilateral relations with Colombia: immigration and trafficking. of drugs.

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On the one hand, various media outlets in the US —information confirmed by this newspaper— have reported that his administration is considering reinstating the practice of jailing entire families of migrants, including minors, who cross the border illegally.

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And 15 days ago, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new rule —which is in its public consultation process—, which, in practice, closes the door to thousands of people, including Colombians, who request asylum or refuge if on their journey to the US they did not do so before in transit countries.

At the same time, the Democratic administration is seeking an agreement with Mexico that would allow it to massively deport undocumented immigrants from third countries.

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The certain measures have provoked a deep discontent in sectors of his own party that The changes end with a return to the worst years of the Donald Trump administration and a breach of his campaign promises, when he resolved the idea that under his mandate the US would adopt a more humane policy towards this population.

“We are returning to draconian measures that go against international agreements and do not seek substantive solutions to the problems but rather ‘water cloths’ to address the crisis,” said Melissa Crow, an expert lawyer on immigration issues at the Center for the Study of Refugees.

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We are returning to draconian measures that go against international conventions and do not seek substantive solutions to the problems, but rather ‘water cloths’ to address the crisis.

The administration, of course, defends them. He insists that they are transitory measures —two years— with which he seeks to best deal with the avalanche of registering people who arrive at the border (2.5 million last year) and bring order to the system of asylum and refuge applications. They also allege that they are very different from those of the Trump era, when they sought to put a lock on immigration but from a nationalist and xenophobic perspective. And while they do have a point, as Trump tried to ban entry of people from certain Muslim-majority countries, there is no question that there is more stick than carrot in his new approach.

In the case of drugs, something similar happens. Although Biden came to the presidency with a speech that favored treatment and prevention as a strategy to deal with consumption, and development to combat production, both political and on-the-ground reality have forced him to ‘pull out his teeth’. The US is once again going through an epidemic of opioid use. According to the authorities themselves, the fourth wave in the last 30 years but one more lethal than all the previous ones.

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According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the last 20 years deaths from opioid overdose have multiplied by five. From less than 20,000 in 2001 to more than 106,000 in 2021. And much of that increase has occurred in the last five years. The horrifying of those deaths (more than 50 percent) is attributed to fentanyl, a synthetic drug up to 50 times more powerful than heroin that is produced in China and Mexico and is routinely mixed with other substances.

One of the groups in the gang produced and marketed 2CB, a synthetic opioid, which was shipped to the United States and Costa Rica.

Photo:

Supplied by authorities

But cocaine would also be contributing, and in an important way. According to the CDC, in 2021 some 30,000 people grew up in the US for reasons related to its consumption. In this case, deaths would have multiplied by six: from around 5,000 in 2001 to almost 30,000 now.

Biden in his State of the Union address last month promised a crackdown on traffickers and an increase in criminal penalties, which must be approved by Congress. At the same time, he has raised his rhetoric against China, which he demands to do more, and he did the same with Mexico.

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But his Republican rivals, who now control the House of Representatives, criticize him daily and even blame him for the current crisis. The issue became ant-colored this week after the kidnapping and murder in Mexico of two Americans at the hands of alleged drug traffickers.

Voices are growing in Congress for the US to use its military to stem the flow and punish those responsible. Senator Lindsay Graham, for example, is preparing a bill that would declare the cartels terrorist organizations and would open the door for the use of uniformed personnel even in Mexican territory.

“I don’t see how this movie ends without the military getting involved to protect Americans who are being poisoned. Here 70,000 people a year are dying from fentanyl. But if a terrorist organization like ISIS will launch a missile from Mexico and kill 10, we will have already pulverized them. This must be called for what it is. Mexico is a failed narco-state and we have to act,” Graham said.

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In the case of coca, given that Colombia produces, according to the State Department, 97 percent of that consumed in the US, the issue is also beginning to heat up.

In the most recent US report on the subject —published exclusively by this newspaper— Washington calls for «maintaining a robust crop eradication program» and expanding voluntary eradication. Something that has not been happening to this escalation since Gustavo Petro became President and put forced eradication to the test in certain areas of the country. In Washington the concern is enormous. Many expect a historic increase in illicit crops of more than 300,000 hectares of coca to be confirmed in 2022.

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Illicit crops in Colombia.

Photo:

Juan Pablo Rueda. TIME

Although the administration has shown patience while Petro develops a new anti-narcotics strategy, the enormous number, added to the increase in overdose deaths, could put an end to that «honeymoon» in the coming months, especially as the pressure grows. of the republicans now that they control part of the legislature and that they do not commune with the Colombian president of the left.

Although the two crises are very real—migration and drugs—their management is also being marked by political calculations.

Both issues will be the ‘workhorse’ of the Republicans during the electoral campaign for the legislative and presidential elections of 2024, which is already starting engines. Biden, who will probably seek re-election, is well aware that these are explosive issues and that the ‘stick’, as a strategy to deal with them, sells more. By enduring his stance, analysts say, he is trying to neutralize the arguments against him even if it costs him a bit with the Democratic Party base.

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In any case, this mix between reality on the ground and internal politics is already causing a noticeable change in the tone of the president and the atmosphere that is breathed in Washington. And this will worsen with each passing day.

SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
TIME CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON