There Is A Crisis At The Border. But It’s Nothing A Wall Would Fix.
Trump’s Saying Record Number Of Families Trying To Enter The Country At The Southern Border Proves He’s Right About Declaring A National Emergency. But That’s Not Remotely What His National Emergency Is About.
His emergency is solely to get the money for his wall he wants, and Congress denied. So Trump is now trying to conflate two very different issues: people trying to sneak into the country (where a wall might help), and families turning themselves in at the border, which is mainly what’s happening right now (and a wall wouldn’t make much difference at all).
In fact, as the Texas Tribune illustrates in the photo at the top (click on it for related story), the biggest increase in attempts by families to enter the U.S. has been in the area around El Paso, Texas, where there already is a lot of wall. And El Paso’s a city Trump often points to as proof a wall works. Just yesterday, Border Patrol says it took 700 people into custody in the El Paso area, mostly in groups “comprised primarily of Central American families and unaccompanied juveniles”.
As the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff Tweets, the recent increase is so large, it’s sneaking off the top of the graphic he links to. (It’s the red line).
We should point out the total number of people detained is only about half of what it was at its peak in the early 2000s. At that time, most of the people apprehended were single men. Now, it’s families. So while the number of individuals trying to come in is far short of historical highs, the number of families is at a record.
Also, back then, most of the people who were apprehended were trying to sneak into the country (which might be curtailed by a wall). Now a high percentage of those families are simply turning themselves in at the border and eventually requesting asylum (which a wall wouldn’t remedy not one bit). Not sneaking in, but turning themselves in.
Like it or not (and Trump doesn’t like it), U.S. asylum law states:
“Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum….The applicant must establish that race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.”
In other words, if someone’s persecuted or in trouble right now, and can make it to this country, U.S. law allows them to apply for asylum. Especially if they are in mortal peril. Especially if they are from the same hemisphere.Many in the latest group come from Guatemala.
And there’s no doubt it’s overwhelming border agents, especially at remote, smaller border crossings, as well as hospitals, churches, and charity groups that assist refugees and take them in. In addition, according to the New York Times, there are already a record number of adults detained by Customs and Immigration: more than 50,000, and the government does not currently have the facilities to take any more into custody.
Congress did put significant money into the budget Trump just signed for increased personnel and equipment at border crossings. And they authorized more immigration judges (even though they didn’t authorize much money for the wall Trump wanted). The administration should be prioritizing putting that money to use, and fast.
And asylum laws probably do need to be revised. Or at least the ways in which people can apply for asylum. At least some of the ideas out there could probably be accomplished with bipartisan support. For instance, expanding a program where asylum seekers wait in Mexico during the time their claims are processed. (Trump announced that with great fanfare, but in practice the scope has been very limited). Or reviving an Obama-era program focused on protecting children, where asylum seekers were allowed to apply from their home countries, and if the threat to their safety was immediate and severe, could move temporarily to someplace safer in the region. (In the case of that program, Costa Rica). Except Trump killed that program. Instead, the Trump Administration has proposed something that looks similar but really isn’t: it wants to require asylum seekers to apply from their own countries, and makes no attempt to guarantee their safety in the interim. Which would probably reduce numbers of applicants, but also leave people in perilous situations. (If a gang was threatening to kill you, you might not want to sit around with your family waiting for an application to process).
Of course, the long-term solution is increased stability and prosperity in the region. Trump has threatened to take all U.S. aid away from Central American countries if they don’t shape up, or “STOP (END)” it as he says. And he’s already moved to slash aid significantly (for instance to Guatemala by 43%, even before his new threats). Most of U.S. aid for the region is designated for fighting drug trafficking.
Another thing that’s not really related, but keeps nagging at us anyway: when the issue was refugees from Syria, Trump made it a point to prioritize Christians when deciding who could come to the U.S. (although the Trump Administration still cut way back on the number of refugees admitted overall). Most of the families arriving at the border now are Christian. So if they’re from the Mideast it’s O.K., but from Central America no?
We believe the U.S. is a wealthy and caring enough nation that it shouldn’t just slam the door on people if they’re really in trouble. Walls are easy. They’re just concrete and steel. Take no courage to put up at all. Meaningful, compassionate policy change involving real people is hard.
Congress has come close a couple of times though. Most recently 4 years ago, with a bipartisan bill that flew through the Senate, but got killed in the House. That bill included a surprisingly large number of things Trump wants: an end to the “visa lottery” and what Trump calls “chain migration”, a new system for basing immigration on merit, hiring of tens of thousands of new border agents, and yes, $7.5-billion for a border fence (which is pretty close to what he’s expecting to get through his national emergency declaration). At the same time, that bill included a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country, a big expansion in the number of immigrants admitted every year through proper channels, and streamlining the asylum process to make it much easier for refugees to get in too. Is the level of compromise required to start discussing that kind of thing even remotely possible these days?