Institute of Politics

The Human Costs of U.S. Immigration Policy at the Southern Border

  • Date & Time

    Feb 15, 2022

    5:30 PM-6:45 PM CST

  • Location

    Ida Noyes Hall Cloister Club

    1212 E. 59th Street Chicago, IL

For decades, the United States has struggled with how to humanely and equitably address unauthorized immigration. Forty million immigrants call the United States home and of that 23 percent are living in the country without a legal status.

During his administration, former President Barack Obama implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave thousands of young undocumented immigrants the opportunity to remain in the country. When former President Donald Trump took office, he seized on his plans to build a wall and send more troops to the southern border. Trump also implemented a “Remain in Mexico” policy that requires asylum seekers to wait outside the United States while they are processed - a policy that the Biden Administration revived in December 2021. During his first year in office, President Joe Biden asked Vice President Kamala Harris to take the lead on addressing the root causes of the migration crisis.

As Congress has thus far failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the country has continued to face an influx of immigrants looking to come to the United States along the southern border and via other methods like overstaying visas. Federal officials reported more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the southern border in fiscal year 2021, the highest one-year total on record. Of those, 63 percent involved people traveling from countries other than Mexico. Law enforcement encounters with adults, unaccompanied children and accompanied minors along the southern border have hit new records, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In August, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas noted the 212,000 apprehensions at the southern border the month before was “unprecedented.” Along with the rise in encounters, deaths along the southern border have climbed, with at least 650 recorded in 2021, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In the absence of federal action on immigration, migrants at the border face more danger and violence. Critics attribute the fallout in part to restrictive U.S. immigration policies that have left tens of thousands of migrants in limbo along the border, lingering in dangerous Mexican towns where they can easily fall prey to emboldened criminal groups who have become more intimately involved in the increasingly lucrative business. With the stalemate in Washington, migrants, local officials and nonprofit organizations have been thrust to the center of grappling with effects of the crisis at the southern border.

Joining us for this conversation will be:

Roberto Velasco Álvarez, MPP ‘17, chief officer for the North America Unit at the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs Oscar Carrillo, sheriff of Culberson County, Texas Tania Guerrero, Catholic Legal Immigration Network attorney Roberta Jacobson, former US Ambassador to Mexico, senior advisor at the Albright Stonebridge Group

The conversation will be moderated by former IOP Pritzker Fellow Alfredo Corchado, the Mexico City bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

This convening is open to all invitees who are compliant with UChicago vaccination requirements and, because of ongoing health risks, particularly to the unvaccinated, participants are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures (masking and social distancing, etc.) appropriate to their vaccination status as advised by public health officials or to their individual vulnerabilities as advised by a medical professional. Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures.

If you are not currently affiliated with the University (enrolled student, faculty, or staff) it is expected that you review the University’s COVID mitigation efforts. The University expects every person who comes to a University facility, whether as an academic appointee, postdoctoral researcher, staff member, student, volunteer, contractor, or visitor, to adopt precautions designed to mitigate the risk of viral transmission.

To request an accommodation or for inquiries about accessibility, please contact Christine Hurley, Director of Production & Special Events at or (773) 834-3481.

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