WASHINGTON — President Biden has repeatedly pledged to work with China on issues like climate change while challenging Beijing on human rights and unfair trade practices.
But those goals are now coming into conflict in the global solar sector, presenting the Biden administration with a tough choice as it looks to expand the use of solar power domestically to reduce the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions.
The dilemma stems from an uncomfortable reality: China dominates the global supply chain for solar power, producing the vast majority of the materials and parts for solar panels that the United States relies on for clean energy. And there is emerging evidence that some of China’s biggest solar companies have worked with the Chinese government to absorb minority workers in the far western region of Xinjiang, programs often seen as a red flag for potential forced labor and human rights abuses.
This week, Mr. Biden is inviting world leaders to a climate summit in Washington, where he is expected to unveil an ambitious plan for cutting America’s emissions over the next decade. The administration is already eyeing a goal of generating 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from carbon-free sources such as solar, wind or nuclear power by 2035, up from only 40 percent last year. To meet that target, the United States may need to more than double its annual pace of solar installations.
many of which are imported from Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
China also supplies many of the key components in solar panels, including more than 80 percent of the world’s polysilicon, a raw material that most solar panels use to absorb energy from sunlight. Nearly half of the global supply comes from Xinjiang alone. In 2019, less than 5 percent of the world’s polysilicon came from U.S.-owned companies.
“It’s put the Democrats in a hard position,” said Francine Sullivan, the vice president for business development at REC Silicon, a polysilicon maker based in Norway with factories in the United States. “Do you want to stand up to human rights in China, or do you want cheap solar panels?”
The administration is increasingly under pressure from influential supporters not to turn a blind eye to potential human rights abuses in order to achieve its climate goals.
“As the U.S. seeks to address climate change, we must not allow the Chinese Communist Party to use forced labor to meet our nation’s needs,” Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., wrote in a letter on March 12 urging the Biden administration to block imports of solar products containing polysilicon from the Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang is now notorious as the site of a vast program of detention and surveillance that the Chinese government has carried out against Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups. Human rights groups say the Chinese authorities may have detained a million or more minorities in camps and other sites where they face torture, indoctrination and coerced labor.
In a report last year, Horizon Advisory, a consultancy in Washington, cited Chinese news reports and government announcements suggesting that major Chinese solar companies including GCL-Poly, East Hope Group, Daqo New Energy, Xinte Energy and Jinko Solar had accepted workers transferred with the help of the Chinese government from impoverished parts of Xinjiang.
Jinko Solar denied those allegations, as did the Chinese government. Zhang Longgen, a vice chairman of Xinjiang Daqo — a unit of one of the companies cited by Horizon Advisory — said that the polysilicon plants were not labor intensive, and that the company’s workers were freely employed and could quit if they wanted, according to Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper. The report said that only 18 of the 1,934 workers at Xinjiang Daqo belonged to ethnic minorities, and that none were Uyghur.
a sweeping ban on cotton and tomatoes from the region. Those restrictions have forced a reorganization of global supply chains, especially in the apparel sector.
The Biden administration has said it is still reviewing the Trump administration’s policies, and it has not yet signaled whether it will pursue other bans on products or companies. But both Mr. Biden and his advisers have insisted that the United States plans to confront China on human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said that the draconian treatment of Uyghurs “cannot be ignored,” and that the administration was “studying ways to effectively ensure that we are not importing products made from forced labor,” including solar products.
a pledge of 236 companies to oppose forced labor and encouraged companies to sever any ties with Xinjiang by June.
Some Chinese companies have responded by reshuffling their supply chains, funneling polysilicon and other solar products they manufacture outside Xinjiang to American buyers, and then directing their Xinjiang-made products to China and other markets.
Analysts say this kind of reorganization is, in theory, feasible. About 35 percent of the world’s polysilicon comes from regions in China other than Xinjiang, while the United States and the European Union together make up around 30 percent of global solar panel demand, according to Johannes Bernreuter, a polysilicon market analyst at Bernreuter Research.
John Smirnow, the general counsel for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said most solar companies were already well on their way toward extricating supply chains from Xinjiang.
also been reported in Chinese facilities outside Xinjiang where Uyghurs and other minorities have been transferred to work. And restrictions on products from Xinjiang could spread to markets including Canada, Britain and Australia, which are debating new rules and guidelines.
Human rights advocates have argued that allowing Chinese companies to cleave their supply chains to serve American and non-American buyers may do little to improve conditions in Xinjiang and have pressed the Biden administration for stronger action.
“The message has to be clear to the Chinese government that this economic model is not going to be supported by governments or businesses,” said Cathy Feingold, the director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s International Department.
Chinese companies are also facing pressure from Beijing not to accede to American demands, since that could be seen as a tacit criticism of the government’s activities in Xinjiang.
In a statement in January, the China Photovoltaic Industry Association and China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association condemned “irresponsible statements” from U.S. industries, which they said were directed at curbing Xinjiang’s development and “meddling in Chinese domestic affairs.”
“It is widely known that the ‘forced labor’ issue is in its entirety the lie of the century that the United States and certain other Western countries have concocted from nothing,” they said.
mothballed a new $1.2 billion facility in Tennessee in 2014, while REC Silicon shut its polysilicon facility in Washington in 2019.
China has promised to carry out large purchases of American polysilicon as part of a trade deal signed last year, but those transactions have not materialized.
In the near term, tensions over Xinjiang could be a boon for the few remaining U.S. suppliers. Ms. Sullivan said some small U.S. solar developers had reached out to REC Silicon in recent months to inquire about non-Chinese products.
But American companies need the promise of reliable, long-term orders to scale up, she said, adding that when she explains the limited supply of solar products that do not touch China, people become “visibly ill.”
“This is the big lesson,” Ms. Sullivan added. “You become dependent on China, and what does it mean? We have to swallow our values in order to do solar.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting.
Thousands of children, most from Central America, are making their way to the border, many hoping to meet parents in the United States. But for those caught in Mexico, there is only near-certain deportation.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The children tumbled out of a white van, dazed and tired, rubbing sleep from their eyes.
They had been on their way north, traveling without their parents, hoping to cross the border into the United States.
They never made it.
Detained by Mexican immigration officers, they were brought to a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez, marched in single file and lined up against a wall for processing. For them, this facility about one mile from the border is the closest they will get to the United States.
“‘Mommy, I have bad news for you,’” one of the girls at the shelter, Elizabeth, 13, from Honduras, recalled telling her mother on the phone. “‘Don’t cry, but Mexican immigration caught me.’”
a growing wave of migrants hoping to find a way into the United States. If they make it across the border, they can try to present their case to the American authorities, go to school and one day find work and help relatives back home. Some can reunite with parents waiting there.
But for those caught before crossing the border, the long road north ends in Mexico.
If they are from elsewhere in the country, as a growing number are because of the economic toll of the pandemic, they can be picked up by a relative and taken home.
But most of them are from Central America, propelled north by a life made unsustainable by poverty, violence, natural disasters and the pandemic, and encouraged by the Biden administration’s promise to take a more generous approach to immigration.
They will wait in shelters in Mexico, often for months, for arrangements to be made. Then, they will be deported.
by the thousands.
“There is a big flow, for economic reasons, and it will not stop until people’s lives in these countries improve,” said José Alfredo Villa, the director of the Nohemí Álvarez Quillay shelter for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez.
In 2018, 1,318 children were admitted into shelters for unaccompanied minors in Ciudad Juárez, the local authorities said. By 2019, the number of admissions had grown to 1,510 children, though it dipped to 928 last year because of the pandemic.
But in the first two and a half months of this year, the number has soared to 572 — a rate that, if kept up for the rest of the year, would far surpass 2019, the highest year on record.
When children enter the shelter, their schooling stops, the staff unable to provide classes for so many children coming from different countries and different educational backgrounds. Instead, the children fill their days with art classes, where they often draw or paint photos of their home countries. They watch television, play in the courtyard or complete chores to help the shelter run, like laundry.
71 percent of all cases involving unaccompanied minors resulted in deportation orders. But many never turn up for their hearings; they dodge the authorities and slip into the population, to live lives of evasion.
Ecuadorean girl who died by suicide at another shelter in Juárez in 2014 after being detained. She was 12, and on her way to reunite with parents who had lived in the Bronx since she was a toddler.
In mid-March, two weeks after her arrival, Elizabeth celebrated her 13th birthday at the shelter.
As shelter staff cut the cake for Elizabeth — the children are prohibited from handling sharp objects — three more children were dropped off by the immigration authorities, just hours after the eight who had arrived that morning. They watched cartoons as they waited for shelter officials to register them.
Elizabeth’s best friend since she arrived, Yuliana, 15, was by her side, apprehended by the Mexican authorities in December when she tried to cross the border carrying her 2-year-old cousin and tugging on the hand of her 4-year-old cousin. Yuliana is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, one of the most violence-wracked cities in the world.
Both girls said they had seen a parent struggle to put food on the table before making the tough decision to migrate to the United States. And both felt that their failure to cross had upturned the tremendous expectations that had been placed on them: to reunite with a lonely parent, to work and to send money to family members left behind.
For the girls, home is not a place — Honduras or the United States. Home is where their families are. That is where they want to be.
“My dream is to get ahead and raise my family,” Yuliana said. “It is the first thing, to help my mother and my brothers. My family.”
The day she left San Pedro Sula to join her father in Florida, she said, her mother made her promise one thing.
“She asked me never to forget her,” Yuliana said. “And I answered that I could never, because I was leaving for her.”
Mexico is struggling to deal with a new wave of migrants expelled from the U.S. while even more come north hoping to cross. Shelters that were empty four months ago are now having to turn many away.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The migrants’ hopes have been drummed up by human smugglers who promise that President Biden’s administration will welcome them.
Instead, the United States is expelling them back to Mexico, where they wait along with tens of thousands of others hoping to cross. The pressure, and desperation, is quickly building among families stuck in Mexico, as shelters and officials struggle to help them.
In the United States, the federal authorities are scrambling to manage a sharp increase in children who are crossing the border on their own and then being held in detention facilities, often longer than permitted by law. And the twinned crises on both sides of the border show no sign of abating.
Near the crossing with El Paso, Texas, a group of mothers and fathers clutching their children were sobbing as they walked back into Mexico from the United States on Saturday. They walked unsteadily, in sneakers too loose after their shoelaces were confiscated and discarded along with all their other personal items when they were detained by the United States Customs and Border Protection.
natural disasters in Central America wiped away livelihoods.
the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who are filling up detention facilities after Mr. Biden said, shortly after taking office, that his administration would no longer turn back unaccompanied minors.
Mexican officials and shelter operators say the number of children, with parents or unaccompanied, is reaching levels not seen since 2018. Late that year, tens of thousands of migrants headed for the border each month, prompting Mr. Trump’s administration to separate families and lock them up. Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents to this day.
as it did during the Trump administration, officials said.
A Mexican Foreign Ministry official said the government was within its right to deport illegal migrants but did not comment on whether raids had increased in recent weeks or whether the Mexican government was responding to a U.S. request.
At the international bridge on Saturday, Dagoberto Pineda, a Honduran migrant, looked shocked as he discreetly wiped away tears and held his 6-year-old son’s hand. He had thought he was entering the United States, but here he was in Ciudad Juárez, crying underneath a Mexican flag. He asked Mr. Valenzuela and New York Times journalists for help: Was he allowed in or not?
massive hurricane hurtled through Mr. Pineda’s town late last year, destroying the banana plantation he worked on, owned by Chiquita Brands International. After years of paying Mr. Pineda about $12 a day to help fill American grocery stores with fresh fruit, the company laid him off. When coyotes offered him a chance to cross into the United States for $6,000 — more than his annual salary — he took it.
Mr. Pineda had crossed from Tamaulipas State into southern Texas, where he was detained by American officials for several days. When he was flown 600 miles to a second detention center in El Paso, Texas, he thought his entry into the United States had finally been granted.
Instead, on Saturday, border patrol agents released him on the Paso del Norte bridge, linking El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, and told him to walk in the direction of the Mexican flags.
Over the past week, Mexican officials and shelter operators like the International Organization of Migration said they had been surprised by the Department of Homeland Security’s new practice of detaining migrants at one point of the sprawling border only to fly them hundreds of miles away to be expelled at a different border town.
The United States is doing this under a federal order known as Title 42. The order, introduced by Mr. Trump but embraced by Mr. Biden, justifies rapid expulsions as a health measure amid the pandemic. But cramming migrants into airplanes and overcrowded detention facilities without any coronavirus testing defeats the purpose of Title 42, observers say.
Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said that the American authorities had seen “an increase in encounters” but that to adhere to federal guidelines for Covid-19, border officials were “expeditiously” transferring migrants out of their custody.
“Trump got his wall, it’s called Title 42,” said Rubén Garcia, the founder of Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter networks in the United States, based in El Paso.
Still, the new surge of migrants is straining resources throughout the system. Last Sunday, Mr. Garcia said, he was left with barely 30 minutes to prepare after being told by the authorities that 200 migrants were about to be deposited at his shelter, none of them tested for Covid-19.
“I’m on calls with staffers at the White House and D.H.S. and when I’m on those calls I say: ‘You’re not prepared. You’re not prepared for what is about to happen,’” Mr. Garcia said in an interview, using the acronym for the Department of Homeland Security.
Across the border, Mexican officials are also ill-prepared to handle the rising number of migrants, with shelters at a breaking point.
If Mr. Valenzuela’s daughter had not looked up from her book to spot the families crossing the border, all 19 migrants would have been dumped in downtown Ciudad Juárez, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, at the mercy of the cartels or human traffickers.
The night before, Mr. Valenzuela welcomed 45 families with little time to prepare.
Under Mr. Trump’s Remain in Mexico Policy, which deported migrants to Mexico to wait out their court cases for asylum in the United States, communication and coordination was better between the various organizations operating along the border, shelter operators and Mexican officials said. Mr. Biden ended that policy in January and promised to start processing some of the 25,000 migrants enrolled in that program. In recent weeks, hundreds have been let in.
Jettner, 29, a migrant from Honduras, is one of those who was allowed in to the United States. After waiting for nearly two years on the border with his wife and two daughters, it took them barely an hour on Friday to be processed and let in. He swiftly went to his sister’s house in Dallas.
As he walked up the bridge, leaving Ciudad Juárez behind as he strode toward El Paso, he was confident. “My life is going to change 180 degrees,” said Jettner, who asked that only his first name be used, fearing reprisals for his family back home. “I am going to a place where I will be well and have a decent roof over the heads of my daughters.”
Though American officials insist that the border is closed to new migrants, that has not stopped thousands from making the dangerous journey north, most from Central America.
Just four months ago, the Filter Hotel shelter in Ciudad Juárez was so empty that they used several rooms as storage. The shelter, run by the International Organization of Migration, now has signs on its door declaring “no space.”
Of the 1,165 people the Filter Hotel has processed since early May, nearly 39 percent were minors, most of them younger than 12, employees said. Its staff often has to shoo smugglers away when they loiter around shelter entrances.
Gladys Oneida Pérez Cruz, 48, and her 23-year-old son, Henry Arturo Menjívar Pérez, who has cerebral palsy, came to the shelter after being expelled from the United States late last month. Shortly after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, smugglers began cruising her neighborhood in Honduras for business, falsely putting out the word that the United States border was open.
Ms. Pérez hoped to join her sister in Maryland, and to find work that would help her afford medicine for her son.
A coyote charged her $9,000 for the trip — a steeper price than she expected, but it came with the promise she would travel by car and his colleagues would help her carry her son across the border, as he had to leave his wheelchair behind. Her sister wired the money. She and her son embarked on the dangerous trek on Feb. 7, she said. Nearly two weeks later, the smugglers dumped them at the border and said they would have to cross on their own.
They managed to cross after hours of effort, but were quickly detained by American border patrol agents and expelled back to Mexico. She has decided to return to Honduras, preferring to face poverty rather than risk being killed or kidnapped in Mexico.
“I apologize for having tried to enter the United States like this, but it was because of my need and my son’s illness,” she said through her tears.
“Biden promised us that everything was going to change,” she said. “He hasn’t done it yet, but he is going to be a good president for migrants.”
Albinson Linares contributed reporting from Juárez, Mexico.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in processing an increasing number of children and teenagers who have filled detention facilities at the southwest border, as criticism mounts over the treatment of young migrants.
FEMA, which normally provides financial assistance during natural disasters, will help find shelter space and provide “food, water and basic medical care” to thousands of young migrants, Michael Hart, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.
The administration also asked officials in the Homeland Security Department to volunteer “to help care for and assist unaccompanied minors” who have been held in border jails that are managed by Customs and Border Protection.
Previous administrations have also dispatched FEMA to help process migrants during surges in border crossings. However, the Biden administration cannot use disaster aid funding to support the processing of migrants in Texas after they cross the border without the consent of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. States must request the funding from the federal government.
9,457 children, including teenagers, were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January.
The Biden administration has so far failed to quickly process the young migrants and transfer them to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, where they are held until the government matches them with a sponsor. The administration has struggled to expand the capacity of those shelters, where roughly 8,500 migrants were held this week. The Biden administration recently directed the shelters intended to hold the children to return to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
surge of crossings is adding new pressure in a divisive policy fight that the last three administrations have also confronted.
Mr. Biden’s critics have moved quickly in recent days to blame him for the increase of arrivals that they say threatens the country’s safety, economic recovery and health as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim thousands of lives.
Many of them appear eager to shift attention away from the president’s handling of the pandemic and his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which has been well received by the public, and toward an issue that could unite the Republican Party in opposition to Democrats.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called the influx of migrants, particularly children, “a humanitarian challenge to all of us.” But she was determined to cast blame on Mr. Trump and his policies, and longstanding unrest in Central America that had driven waves of migrants north.
“What the administration has inherited is a broken system at the border, and they are working to correct that in the children’s interest,” she said on “This Week” on ABC.
Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, who had also pointed to the Trump administration, said she found the situation at a processing facility that she had toured in El Paso on Friday “unacceptable.”
Nicholas Fandos and Chris Cameron contributed reporting.
Republicans are framing the situation as a crisis of Mr. Biden’s making, signaling an aim to use his immigration agenda as a political weapon against him in 2022. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, is planning to lead other Republicans on a trip to the border to highlight the issue. Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky, on Wednesday called the increase in migration a signal “to the world that our immigration laws can be violated with little, if any, consequence.”
Mr. Biden, however, has continued to use a Trump-era rule to rapidly turn away most migrants at the border, with the exception of unaccompanied minors. The administration last week directed the shelters designed to hold the children to return to their normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
In the scramble to find additional space for the children, the Biden administration is considering housing them at unused school buildings, military bases and even a NASA site, Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, Calif., according to a memo obtained by The Times. The NASA site would “remain unoccupied but available for use if H.H.S. has an urgent need for additional shelter space,” the memo said.
Darryl Waller, a spokesman for NASA, confirmed in a statement that the administration was considering sheltering migrant children at “currently vacant property” at the site. “This effort will have no impact on NASA’s ability to conduct its primary missions,” he said.
The Health and Human Services Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Biden campaigned on a more humane approach to immigration at the border, one that would prioritize investing in Central America to deter illegal immigration. But it has had the effect of drawing more people who see a better chance to enter the United States than they had under the Trump administration.
“One of the things I think is important is we’ve seen surges before,” Ms. Jacobson said. “Surges tend to respond to hope. And there was a significant hope for a more humane policy.”
One part of the Obama administration’s response was creating the program that allowed Central American children to apply for protection from their home countries.