“There’s the crisis of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S., of too few beds to house them and of family separations happening in Mexico. There’s the crisis of an asylum system that’s broken, and that has become, with most other legal routes into the country severely restricted, America’s de facto immigration system. There’s the crisis of overflowing communities on the Mexican border, populated by people expelled from the U.S. There’s the crisis of immigration courts that take too long; of virtually no work visas available for Central Americans; of economies in Honduras and Guatemala that have been ravaged by Covid-19, a recession, and two hurricanes within the past year; of the misconception all this can be solved by better enforcement at the border; of a political system in the U.S. that seems unable to rise to the enormity of the challenge.
Right now, the number of unauthorized immigrants crossing the border is lower than it was in the early 2000s. It’s lower than in 2019”
“What there is not is a crisis of migrants — at least not yet. There’s not a crisis of large numbers of unauthorized migrants staying in the U.S., as we saw in 2019, 2016 and 2014. There have been periods where the government took people in and released them into the U.S. in large numbers. That’s not happening right now because of the [pandemic-era] public health order, which allows the U.S. to expel people more quickly.”
“Every time we beef up enforcement, or do something slightly more draconian, it works for a while, and then, sooner or later, people find a way around it. Enforcement works if it pushes people into real legal [immigration] channels. But if there are no legal channels, then people will just keep finding their way around enforcement.”
“Every two or three years, we get a spike of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet we deal with this each time as though it’s a separate incident that can be controlled, rather than looking at the larger forces at play. There’s something long-term here that we should deal with. So maybe it is a crisis, but it’s within a larger crisis that needs to be managed and has been going on for a long time.”
“the immediate crises. Unaccompanied minors: [The federal government] made the decision to allow them in without yet having the capacity to be able to house all of them. In the immediate term, they just have to figure out bed space—it’s literally that. They can figure that out, they just haven’t yet in ways that meet the needs of a vulnerable population. That’s resolvable. There’s also a really big policy question with long-term play-out: An open-ended policy of taking in any minor and putting them in the long-term process in the U.S. is likely to encourage even larger flows [of unaccompanied minors] in the future.
[The federal government] needs to make sure they can continue to expel newly arriving families and adults to Mexico. Even though the Biden administration doesn’t want to, they need to do it to buy time. There are a lot of things they’d like to be doing on immigration policy that have nothing to do with the border. But as long as there’s a perception that they can’t control the border, they’re not going have the political space to do anything else. They need to be “tough” at the border right now and return adults and families to Mexico in an efficient way.
We need legal pathways for workers, and an asylum system that works, because we know some people are legitimately fleeing from violence. Those two things alone would make an enormous difference.
Our asylum system has become the catchall for everything. Either you can get to the border, convince people you’re being persecuted, and stay in the U.S., or nothing: You stay home, because there’s not a line for you to get into if you’re from Central America and want to come and work. That makes no sense. Asylum shouldn’t be used [to give] labor pathways. Where we should be headed is creating two different paths: one for people who clearly are motivated by the need to leave their home country because of safety, and another for people aspiring to make their lives better by making more money.
The way you fix the asylum system is by taking it out of the hands of the immigration courts and putting it in the hands of asylum officers at the border. Immigration courts are actually quite uneven because they’re political appointments, so their decisions tend to be all over the place depending on which judge you get. Asylum officers can make decisions quickly, tend to be fairly consistent, are efficient, and you can hire them much more easily.”
“we also need a legal pathway for people who want to come and work. For Mexicans who want to work in the U.S., there’s an actual line to get into. We don’t have that for Central Americans.
One of the reasons why Mexican migration [to the U.S.] went down so much after 2007 is that there are about 260,000 people every year who come from Mexico to work legally in the U.S. and go back home. In 2019, the comparable number [for Central Americans] was 8,000; last year, it was about 5,500. There really is no line for a Central American to get into. But people are coming anyway, so let’s give them a chance to come legally—at least some of them. It’s what we did with Mexico, and that has kept numbers [of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico] low because they’re getting what they need: a chance to make money.”
“The demand is constantly there for people to leave and come to the U.S., but the huge surges happen when people either have a greater motivation to leave or they think they have a greater opportunity of getting into the United States. In this case, those came together.
Over the past year, there were two hurricanes in Honduras and Guatemala, plus the collapse of fragile economies because of Covid. And that created a huge demand for people to come north to the U.S. There was also an expectation around the transition to the Biden administration that made people believe that they could get in. And—probably more important than that—there is a reality that the U.S. does let some people in, particularly unaccompanied minors and some families.”
“At the border, our options are either you send people back quickly or you release them into the U.S. for the next two or three years, during which time their case goes through a very slow process in the immigration courts. What ends up happening is that if you’re released into the U.S., you almost certainly never go back [to your home country].
There’s a very reputable study that the [Department of Homeland Security] did where they looked at what happened from 2014 to 2019 with Central American and Mexican migrants. The Mexican migrants mostly got sent back pretty quickly. But 72 percent of the Central Americans who arrived between 2014 and 2019 were admitted into the U.S., and there’s no record of their departure. And if, in fact, you’re being allowed into the U.S. and there is no real process to figure out what happened to you, that’s a lousy system.”
“the administration has tried to send a message to migrants: don’t come.
The Biden administration has been clear from the outset that the border is “not open” and that migrants should not come in an “irregular fashion.” The US continues to turn away the vast majority of arriving migrants under Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act, with exceptions for unaccompanied children, some families with young children, and people who were sent back to Mexico to wait for their court hearings in the US.
In recent days, the message has gotten even sharper: “I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” Biden said in a recent interview with ABC. “Don’t leave your town or city or community.”
The White House has been amplifying that messaging with more than 17,000 radio ads in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras since January 21. The ads have played in Spanish, Portuguese, and six Indigenous languages, reaching an estimated 15 million people. There have also been ad campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, including one that features a Salvadoran who made the dangerous journey north in 2010 at age 19 and was eventually deported after arriving in Texas”
“US messaging may play some role in determining whether people migrate, but it’s only one factor among many sources of information.
Migrants typically get information about the conditions on the border from people in their network who have successfully made the journey, rather than from top-down declarations from US officials. Smugglers have also sought to spread misinformation about the Biden administration’s plans to process asylum seekers. Immigrant advocates on the border have reported hearing rumors spreading that migrants staying in certain camps will be processed or that the border would open at midnight.
These rumors have survived on the hopes of people who have long aspired to migrate. Many of the people arriving on the southern border are fleeing dangerous or unlivable conditions and felt they had no choice but to leave their home countries.
They are primarily coming from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which for years have been suffering from gang-related violence, government corruption, frequent extortion, and some of the highest rates of poverty and violent crime in the world.
The pandemic-related economic downturn and a pair of hurricanes late last year that devastated Honduras and Guatemala in particular have only exacerbated those more longstanding problems.”
“Biden’s critics say his messaging is squarely to blame for the thousands of migrants coming now: But more than half a dozen asylum-seekers interviewed by POLITICO said they would make the trek regardless of who was in the White House. Some of their reasons: lack of job opportunities, concern for the safety of their family and devastation from last year’s back-to-back hurricanes that walloped parts of Central America.
For Reyes, the decision came after she received threats that Meylin and Freddy would be kidnapped and killed if she didn’t pay a fee to keep them safe. She said she knew the threats were real because her husband’s friend recently was kidnapped, tortured and killed even though his family paid the ransom. (Reyes did not discuss her husband’s whereabouts.)”
“It’s also clear that the number of migrants crossing — including unaccompanied minors — has increased sharply with the start of the Biden administration.”
“This isn’t the first surge of migrants arriving at the border. It happened in 2019 under Trump. It also happened in 2014 under former President Barack Obama.”
“Last year, citing the pandemic, the White House strong-armed the Centers for Disease Control to invoke Title 42, an order that closes the border in times of emergency. Though for many classes of people the border has remained totally porous —businesspeople, vacationers and even many immigrants have crossed it freely for most of the pandemic — asylum seekers and refugees have been blocked. In the months since, a record-low number of refugees have been resettled, and just about every asylum seeker arriving on the southern border, except for some unaccompanied children, has been turned away or summarily deported.
While Biden has started to reopen those processes — people in refugee camps in Mexico as part of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” plan have begun to enter the U.S. to make their cases for asylum — there are reasons to believe that on this front, Trump’s presidency will have a much longer-lasting effect. While Trump and Miller attacked immigration in all its forms, no would-be immigrants received more attention or provoked more action than refugees. And in turning asylum seekers into political ammunition in the American fight over immigration — conflating them with illegal border-crossers — Trump broke a fragile but powerful consensus that had lasted through Republican and Democratic presidents and had kept America open as a nation of refuge for more than a generation.
Biden may yet repeal Title 42, the order closing the door to refugees and asylum seekers, though the White House has said it will remain in place while it figures out how to implement an improved processing system. But that order was not the only way Trump damaged the system. He was the first major party candidate to run on an explicitly anti-refugee platform. And he continued to wage a campaign unapologetically against asylum seekers after taking office, putting through a barrage of rule changes, regulations and legal decisions that hobbled the system before he shut it down altogether in the pandemic.”
“Since Trump mainly used executive action — circumventing Congress — to change policy, it may not be hard for Biden to reopen the U.S. to refugees and asylum seekers over the next four years. But in the longer term, closing the political divide that Trump widened on asylum will prove much more challenging. Thanks to the last administration, asylum in the U.S., once globally reliable, has become like the carpeting in the Oval Office: something that can be torn up and remade from president to president.”
“More than most members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) understands the desperation of individuals fleeing autocratic communist regimes.
Cruz’s father, Rafael, fled Cuba in 1957 with little more than a student visa and $100 sewn into his underwear—an oft-repeated detail that effectively conveys both the fear and hopefulness of the refugee experience. The other details in the story are familiar to anyone who has followed Cruz’s career, even in passing, given the prominence of those personal details in the senator’s speeches. Rafael bribed his way out of Cuba, reached the United States, enrolled in college, worked as a dishwasher, earned his degree, and eventually started a successful business. Importantly, he was granted political asylum when his student visa expired.
If not for that last detail, it’s highly unlikely that Rafael’s son would have ever had the chance to stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and declare, as he did on Friday, that America ought to make it more difficult for individuals and families to flee other oppressive communist regimes. In blocking the passage of a bill that would have granted political asylum to anyone fleeing Hong Kong due to the Chinese government’s takeover of the formerly semi-autonomous city, Cruz not only dimmed America’s status as a bastion of freedom for the world’s oppressed people, but spat upon his own heritage as the son of a political refugee.”
“In remarks delivered on the Senate floor Friday, Cruz outlined two objections to the bill. Both are misleading, at best.
First, Cruz politicized the attempt to provide an exit strategy for Hongkongers, calling the bill a Democratic plot to “advance their long-standing goals on changing immigration laws.” But the bill has a bipartisan list of cosponsors and passed the House earlier this month by a voice vote—usually an indicator of such broad support that no roll call is demanded.
Second, Cruz maligned Hong Kong refugees as potential spies, arguing that China would use the special immigration status to slip its agents into the United States. Except, well, China doesn’t seem to have any trouble doing that already, and recipients of political asylum would have to undergo a background check before their status is granted. If anything, the bill’s passage would ensure that immigrants from Hong Kong to America are subject to more vetting than they might otherwise receive.
Again, Cruz’s father’s story stands in stark contrast. Prior to fleeing to America, Rafael Cruz had worked for the Castro government in Cuba. If Ted were a member of the U.S. Senate at the time, would he have viewed his own father as a potential spy who should not be trusted with political asylum?”
“Cruz’s biography aside, there is a more important and obvious point. Granting political asylum to Hongkongers looking to flee China is absolutely the right thing for the United States to do, politically and economically.
Politically, the image of tens of thousands of Hongkongers fleeing China’s takeover of the city by relocating to the United States would be an international humiliation for the regime in Beijing. That’s why China has tried to stop the United Kingdom from extending special immigration status to residents of Hong Kong—and the U.K. has responded, correctly, by turning its passport-making machines up to 11.
Economically, China’s loss would be America’s gain. An influx of people from Hong Kong—and the knowledge, skills, money, and entrepreneurship they would bring—would be an economic boon for the United States, particularly if they resettle in areas where the population is stagnant or declining.”
“Some 28,000 asylum seekers — primarily Cubans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans — have active cases in former President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. It is one of many interlocking Trump-era policies that, together, have made obtaining asylum and other humanitarian protections in the US next to impossible.
On Friday, the Homeland Security Department announced that it had allowed 25 of those asylum seekers to cross the US-Mexico border at the San Ysidro port of entry, which connects the city of Tijuana with San Diego, California. International organizations, including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), had registered the asylum seekers in advance and given them an appointment to show up at the border during which they verified their eligibility to enter the country on a US Customs and Border Protection mobile app and tested negative for Covid-19.
“Today, we took the first step to start safely, efficiently, and humanely processing eligible individuals at the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Friday. “It is important to underscore that this process will take time, that we are ensuring public health and safety, and that individuals should register virtually to determine if they are eligible for processing under this program.””
“The Trump administration is holding unaccompanied migrant children in hotels before rapidly expelling them from the US under a new policy that allows officials to turn away anyone who poses a risk of spreading coronavirus — even if they show no symptoms and are seeking asylum.”
“It’s just the latest in a long line of Trump administration policies designed to gut the asylum system on the southern border. Before the pandemic, officials were turning away tens of thousands of migrants at the southern border through the “Remain in Mexico” program, under which asylum seekers were forced to wait in Mexico, often for months at a time, for their immigration court hearings in the US. The new expulsion policy has largely replaced that program as a mechanism for keeping migrants out.
According to court documents, the administration had expelled about 2,000 unaccompanied children under the policy as of June. Though the government has not released more recent data on unaccompanied children specifically, CBP reported expelling more than 105,000 migrants total under the policy by the end of July.
“They’re coming here because they have legitimate claims for humanitarian protection,” Steven Kang, an attorney for the ACLU, said Friday. “For this country turn them right around is not only wrong — it’s not what Congress wanted. This whole shadow deportation scheme bypasses and ignores all the important rights that Congress gave them.””
“Though overcrowding of such facilities was a concern at the outset of the pandemic, HHS shelters are now operating at 5-to-10-percent capacity — well below normal, Kang said. That suggests that there is plenty of room to safely enforce social distancing and quarantine anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 or develops symptoms.
The lawsuit also argues that children have the right to an attorney and a full immigration court hearing to determine whether they are entitled to protections that would allow them to stay in the US, which is required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA).
The government has argued that it has the authority to reject any migrant who poses a risk of spreading communicable disease under Title 42, a federal public health provision. Mark Morgan, the acting CBP commissioner, said earlier this month that the policy helps mitigate the risk of spreading the virus to anyone the migrants might come into contact with while being processed and in HHS shelters.”
“About 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or who were previously released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings over the last year, according to new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts.
Studies from previous years have also disproven the idea that most migrants will choose to live in the US without authorization rather than see their immigration cases through. But it’s nevertheless a central idea in Trump’s immigration policies, including those that aim to keep migrants in Mexico rather than letting them walk free in the US.”
“Data from the DOJ suggests that the rate at which migrants overall show up for their immigration court proceedings is lower than the rate TRAC cites. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, about 75 percent of migrants showed up for their court hearings in 2018 — similar to rates over the previous five years. The DOJ has also reported that the number of migrants and asylum seekers who fail to show up for their hearings is on the rise.”
“There are comparatively low-cost alternatives to keeping immigrants in detention or sending them abroad, including the now-defunct Obama-era Family Case Management Program. Under that program, which Trump ended in June 2017, families were released and assigned to social workers who aided them in finding attorneys and accommodation and ensured that they showed up for their court hearings.
The program was small in scale, with no more than 1,600 people enrolled at any one time, but appeared to be successful in ensuring that 99 percent of participants showed up for their court appearances and ICE check-ins.”
“The primary driver of this crisis is that President Donald Trump’s policies are sending thousands of migrants back to Mexico, where there isn’t enough safe, temporary housing in which they can stay.
In 2018, US Customs and Border Protection officials started limiting the number of asylum seekers it processes at ports of entry each day. Those waiting had to do so in Mexico, where migrant shelters are at capacity. Many have been forced to sleep on the streets. The amount of names on lists of those waiting to be processed exceeded 26,000 in August.
Once they are processed, though, they may quickly be returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). More than 56,000 migrants have been sent back to await decisions on their US asylum applications.”