A migrant caravan began moving toward America’s southern border after the Biden administration announced a pause in deportations for 100 days. 

A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday temporarily blocked President Joe Biden’s decision to suspend deportations, pending arguments. The president’s immigration policies, such as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, pose a grave threat to America, according to Ana Quintana, a Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere. 

Quintana joins the podcast to explain the likely impact of Biden’s changes to immigration policy. 

We also cover these stories: 

  • Biden signs four executive actions targeted at ending racial disparities and injustice.  
  • The Senate confirms Antony Blinken as secretary of state.
  • House and Senate Democrats reintroduce legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

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Virginia Allen: It is such a pleasure to welcome Ana Quintana to the show. Ana is a Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere. Ana, welcome back to the podcast.

Ana Quintana: Thanks for having me, guys.

Allen: There is a migrant caravan traveling toward America’s southern border as we speak. So let’s start there. Tell us what we need to know about this caravan.

Quintana: Sure. Yeah, so, I think the key thing to know is the timing of this. They set off a few days before the inauguration.

The curious thing about it is it happened a few days after [Vice President] Kamala Harris went on Univision, one of the largest Spanish-language channels, and essentially outlined the Biden administration’s amnesty plan. That they would be suspending deportations for 100 days, they would be granting green cards to TPS holders, outlining their pathway to citizenship for the 11-plus million [illegal immigrants] in the United States, etc.

And within three days, that’s when the 7,000-plus from Honduras started making their way to the United States.

Allen: A part of me has to think that the Biden administration knew that this would happen. If they’re out there touting, “We’re not going to be deporting individuals for 100 days,” I have to believe that they would have expected the natural response to be a lot of individuals thinking, “Now’s my shot to get to the states.”

Quintana: I think you and I have common sense and others have common sense in thinking, “Well, you outline an amnesty plan, clearly it’s going to lead to a border surge.”

And clearly about a month ago, their senior advisers even went on a major Spanish-language wire service and stated that they will not immediately, which, contradicting Kamala, they would not begin undoing [former] President [Donald] Trump’s immigration policies because they were getting word that there were going to be masses of people coming to the United States. But then Kamala, a few weeks later, completely undid the mitigation efforts that they put in place.

Allen: We’re going to dive a little deeper into the Biden administration’s policies on immigration, but let’s just chat a little bit more about how these caravans operate and how they work.

I know back in 2018, you traveled down to Mexico City as there was a caravan moving north toward the border. These were individuals mainly from the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. You sat with them, you talked with them, you saw the situation on the ground.

So can you just explain a little bit about what you learned on that trip back in 2018, regarding how these caravans form, how they operate, who’s driving them, who’s leading them?

Quintana: Sure. I think one thing to note is the caravans then are different than what’s happening now.

So the method of transportation is essentially the same because it’s just been learned that it’s cheaper and it’s safer to travel in large groups, and it’s also just far easier to get through border controls. If you are in a group of 1,000 something-plus people, you can easily just push past the National Guard and just push past the border control police.

So back then what was going on was it was largely these leftist political groups that were organizing these caravans, and essentially telling these people—and these are incredibly desperate people. I think that’s the one thing to keep in mind. So it’s really easy and unfortunate how easy it is to manipulate them.

They’re telling them that, “Well, once you guys got to the United States, the United Nations is going to be at the border to help adjudicate your case on your behalf.”

And I’m sorry, but anybody who tells me otherwise, I’m going to tell them to your face, “You’re lying,” because that’s specifically what the caravan organizers told me to my face and what some of the migrants told me to my face—that the U.N. would be there because, according to the migration protection, the global convention on immigration protection, something to that effect, … the United Nations would have to be there.

There were also various, like, leftist U.S.-based groups who were there essentially guiding people on the U.S. asylum process because it’s quite difficult to actually qualify for U.S. asylum.

You’ve always had this issue of so many meritless cases of people just floating around in the United States who claim asylum, but essentially, at the end, never qualify for asylum. And so there are people who guide and coach them there.

And so we were there in Mexico City for a few days. It was about 5,000-plus something people. And it was just very unfortunate to see all of these leftist organizers, leftist agitators who have a political objective. They want to undermine and destabilize the United States, and they want to agitate relations.

This time it was these groups from Honduras, these leftist political organizations from Honduras, and they would tell us how they would go from city to city and they would call the next city that they would go to.

And they would say, “Hey, we’re on the way with 5,000 whatever people. So have an area set up for us.” In this case it was a stadium. “Have food, have clothes, have whatever.” And the city would have to do that because otherwise they would get a lot of negative attention on them if they didn’t.

Allen: Wow. So it’s really strategic. This doesn’t really happen by accident. It sounds like it’s very well orchestrated.

Quintana: I mean, it has to be right, because how else do you move so many people from one point to [another?] These are countries. People are going from Honduras to El Salvador to Guatemala to Mexico. These are mass movements of people. And so this requires resources, this requires logistics. This requires a lot of methodical planning here.

And this is before there were stricter border control measures between Guatemala and Mexico, for example. And between, like, Honduras [and] between Guatemala’s border further, their southern border.

Allen: And what role do drug traffickers, human traffickers play within these caravans, or taking advantage of potential opportunities within a caravan like this?

Quintana: Oh, God, it’s so awful. …

One of the groups that we met had told us about, I think it was 100 of the people who were traveling with them had hitched a ride on some trucks, on like some 18-wheelers. And they went through—I forgot which drug cartel’s territory—and they were extorted by this one organization, and they didn’t have the sufficient amount of money on them. And they ended up [being] kidnapped and killed. Right? So that’s incredibly common.

And just a few days ago, when one particular part of Mexico called Tamaulipas, the Central Americas—I think there were specifically from Guatemala—they were killed. I think they were burned alive.

These sorts of things are common because, essentially, cartels and various other criminal organizations control the transportation networks. They control a lot of human smuggling as well. So if people don’t have the money to pay to transit, that’s what’s going to happen to them.

Allen: Wow. So, so sad.

So, we’re seeing that as President [Joe] Biden, he announced, “OK, we’re putting pause on deportations for a 100 days,” that promise, as we chatted about, seems to have brought on this flood of individuals who are now traveling toward the border.

Just talk a little bit more on your thoughts about this decision to pause deportations for a 100 days. What are the effects of that decision? Not only regarding the caravan, but then also for those individuals who are already in the states.

Quintana: Sure. So, think about this, this absolutely incentivizes people to make this incredibly dangerous journey. And I think we all should be incredibly livid with the Biden administration for their radical immigration policies and their lack of attention to border security.

But I think, also, at the end of the day, we should also have humanity toward the individuals who are putting themselves on this dangerous journey.

I think it’s awful that the Biden administration is dangling this carrot and saying, “Hey, by the way, we’re not deporting people for the next 100 days,” because they’re creating this false incentive to people to come to the United States. They should never do that.

At the end of the day, America is a country of laws. We’re a country who needs to maintain the integrity of our immigration system.

And we cannot do that if we have a president who’s saying, “Well, we’re not going to deport anybody for 100 days, guys, so, by the way, just come on over. Who cares?” Because we have people who are literally going to risk their lives and are going to risk their children’s lives and their wives … are potentially going to get raped and sexually assaulted on the way over here.

And then for the people who are inside of the country, if you’re already at the point where you are going to be deported, why give this impression that America is no longer going to uphold its commitment to keep the sanctity of its immigration system? It absolutely makes no sense.

At this point, it’s like, “Why are you going to selectively choose and selectively politicize which part of our criminal justice system you want to apply the laws to, just because it’s politically convenient for a domestic constituency that you are trying to appease?”

It’s illogical and it just shows that, again, the Biden administration is, one, they’re not focused on unity. They’re just completely focused on this hyper-radical perspective of just applying the law or whatever suits them politically.

Allen: I was reading today that before Trump left office, the Department of Homeland Security signed the Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment, or it’s also called SAFE. So this agreement says that Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas must be given an 180 days notice before the executive branch can actually make changes to immigration policy.

So could you just walk us through a little bit more of understanding this action by the Department of Homeland Security before Trump left office? And then the impact that that might have on what Biden is saying regarding pausing these deportations for 100 days?

Quintana: … Yeah, I think before Trump left office I think they put a host of these measures in place in order to prevent the federal government from coming in to adjust them so the states can have more of an active role in place.

A few days ago, for example, we saw El Paso issue an alert that they were anticipating a massive influx of migrants, and that would essentially give the state of Texas, again, more of an ability to exert the state’s powers. Again, under SAFE. But what we’ve now seen from the Biden administration is that they are going to overrule that.

So I think, again, while the Trump administration may have put the safeguards in place for border states and for states that are particularly more vulnerable to influxes of migration, I’m not necessarily convinced—and I think, also, we’re seeing the evidence—that the Biden administration is going to uphold them. Frankly, they’re absolutely not. So, frankly, I don’t think many Americans should have confidence in that.

Allen: So then what can we expect to see when these caravans do reach the border? What’s going to happen to these people?

Quintana: OK. So, what’s happened right now is, the caravan, the vast majority of it has been broken up inside of Guatemala.

And I think a lot of credit needs to go to the Guatemalan government for breaking it up because the transit route has been from Honduras into Guatemala, and then after Guatemala [it] would have gone through Mexico and then into the United States.

The Guatemalan government, again, to their credit, really did a lot because it’s completely unfair that Guatemala’s health protocols have been broken and Guatemala’s immigration protocols have been broken. This is a country who has been under, just like us, a very strict lockdown, and as a consequence, they’ve also experienced a massive economic downturn.

So why is it that just because the Honduran government did not stop their people from fleeing, that the Guatemalans should have to suffer from that as well?

And so I think it’s pretty great that the Guatemalans stopped them. But again, I think this is only for now. I think we should anticipate to see more individuals coming because this immigration bill will be put forth.

I think they’re now saying that they want to put it forth in piecemeals, and I think we should dive a bit more deeper into this because it’s not just the temporary pause on deportations. It’s so many more things.

It’s green cards for TPS holders, it’s the pathway to citizenship, rather, for 11 million. … It’s the most radical immigration bill that I think I’ve seen in my seven-plus years at Heritage, and there’s a significant amount of Democratic support for it that is quite concerning.

Allen: Let’s go ahead and dive into that. So, it’s called the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. Tell us what we need to know about this proposed legislation, Ana.

Quintana: Sure. Imagine, 11 million people who are here in this country illegally, … and frankly, I think that number is … not an accurate number. That number should be far higher, probably closer to 15 something million.

A significant chunk of these probably have already either been convicted of a crime, convicted of a felony. So in a normal situation if, let’s say they were here legally, they would not even qualify for citizenship.

The Biden administration is proposing that if they have been here for eight years, they can now apply for a green card. And then after they have a green card for five years, they can apply for citizenship.

So imagine, you come into this country illegally, you are now on a fast track for U.S. citizenship, when in comparison, so many people who I know who’ve gone through the process legally, it’s been far for them.

My parents, it took them far longer than that to become U.S. citizens, and they came to this country as political refugees. My friends who are living in Mexico, whose families have opened up businesses in the United States, who have visas, their process is far more costly and far slower.

And these are people who, again, did things the legitimate, the right way, and who are still going to have to wait far further behind in the line than individuals who came into this country illegally.

So now people with temporary protected status—this is a designation that’s given to individuals from a country that’s in the middle of a major catastrophe, a major political situation where they cannot go back for fear of their lives. So that’s for Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, there [are] a few countries for where these individuals have temporary protected status.

The problem is Democrats have always used TPS, as conservatives have alleged, as a backdoor amnesty. Because, for example, Nicaraguans have had TPS for about 20 years. Same thing with Salvadorans. There’s nothing temporary about a program that’s a 20-year-old program.

Now the Biden administration is saying, “Hey, you know what? You’ve been here so long, let me just give you a green card. After you have a green card, you can apply for citizenship a few years later.”

Again, what’s the purpose of anything called temporary if you can eventually become a citizen? There’s literally nothing about it.

Then there’s like what we were talking about, the pause in deportations, they want to add additional immigration judges because they say they want to relieve the backlog on the U.S. immigration system right now, which there’s about a million-plus cases held up in immigration courts.

Oh, and also they want to dramatically expand the U.S. refugee program, create [a] new Refugee Resettlement Program.

When [President Barack] Obama left office, for example, the U.S. was admitting about 118,000 refugees into the United States. And that’s essentially the highest point in U.S. history. And the United States is still processing refugee applications from the Obama administration era.

Biden wants to lift it to 125,000. So imagine, we’re still processing Obama-era refugee admission applications. Biden wants to expand it dramatically.

So every which way you look at this immigration proposal plan, it’s broad amnesties, it’s essentially not looking out for the American people or the American worker, and it’s appeasing a domestic constituency that he should not be looking out for.

Allen: It seems, in so many ways, going back to this fast track for citizenship, it just removes the incentive for individuals of, “Why would I go through the legal process? Why would I do it correctly when it’s going to be so much harder and take so much longer than if I just do it illegally?”

Quintana: This is the thing, though. People of integrity are still going to do it the legitimate way because it’s a matter of pride. People [who] have pride will never want to be known as, “No, I didn’t … ” It’s a matter of, like, “I’m not going to accept Biden’s handout.”

Allen: Yeah.

Quintana: But then again, it’s also a matter of, I think, of Americans who legitimately care about the integrity of just their country and the integrity of their immigration system should take a look and examine, “OK, do I want my schools right now to have … “

Right now, our schools are completely shut down. Our teachers are working from home because our teachers unions have just completely hijacked this entire system, and imagine the impact on our schools that this is going to have. Imagine the impact that this is going to have on our local communities.

And this isn’t a xenophobic argument. But this is an argument that we actually need to sit back and think about.

We have about 11 million Americans that are unemployed, and yet the priority for this administration in the first two weeks is to shut down the Keystone Pipeline and to push forward this massive amnesty bill that’s going to encourage a massive influx of people into this country.

Allen: Yeah. It doesn’t make any sense. You’re shutting down jobs and then you’re bringing in all these individuals that need jobs.

Quintana: Exactly.

Allen: Yeah. Just absolutely crazy. Talk a little bit about Biden’s … policy decisions around “Dreamers,” or [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients.

Quintana: … For them as well, it’s green cards as well. He wants to expand for DACA recipients. … That’s tied up with Texas right now is fighting the U.S. government, rather, they’re going to expand the fight with the Biden administration, kind of like Texas has been. They essentially [are] the major bulwark against the broadening of DACA.

But the Biden administration essentially wants to broaden the “Dreamers” who qualify for DACA.

So, “Dreamers” are essentially individuals who came into this country as youths, and who came into this country legally. And so, essentially, to qualify for DACA benefits, they would need to officially be enrolled, quote-unquote, within the DACA program. …

The Biden administration wants to make it easier for individuals who are “Dreamers” to enroll for DACA benefits. And again, this begs the question, well, who is the priority here for the Biden administration?

Allen: And then on top of all this, we also know that Biden is stopping funding to the border wall, correct?

Quintana: Yes. Yeah. … He has shut that down. The border wall construction is no longer. I’ve heard tangentially that sound like … it’s being phased out, just to phase out certain contracts. But yes, border wall construction is no longer.

And again, this is just him making political decisions, because if you speak to border agents, these are nonpolitical individuals, these are the men and women who are at the border every single day, and they just want it to be easier for them to stop anything that’s coming into the border—whether it’s individuals, whether it’s drugs, whether it’s even, honestly, diseased cows.

… That’s something that happens. You have diseased cows coming in from Mexico, going onto U.S. ranchers’ properties. And then imagine what happens to the herds onto American ranchers. That will then infect their entire herd, and there goes their livestock. And so it just makes it a lot easier for them to do their jobs.

Allen: So is there anything among President Biden’s immigration policies that we’ve seen so far that we can say is positive or that will benefit Americans in any way?

Quintana: I think it’s encouraging that he wants to add more judges to help relieve the backlog, but then you look at why these judges are being added. Why is the backlog being relieved? And it’s only to expedite the entry and expedite the processing of people who essentially are already here illegally, and to legalize their status in the United States.

So … essentially the objective of why he’s trying to do it is wrong. It’s just their philosophical outlook on what the U.S. immigration system is there for is unencouraging, to be frank.

Allen: Ana, we so appreciate all of your research and your work on this topic. Can you tell us how our listeners can follow your work?

Quintana: Sure. Our colleagues and I were just always on Twitter, we’re always commenting on this. … Also, you can find our work on Heritage.org. You just search our names. And yeah, we’re out there.

And I think trying to combat the Biden administration’s immigration policies and shine a light as to why this is not good for America, why this isn’t good for the border states, that’s going to be a top priority of ours this year.

Allen: Ana, thank you so much for your time. We so appreciate it.

Quintana: No, thank you. Really appreciate it. Have a good one.