There’s an Immigration Crisis, But It’s Not the One You Think

“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 US is telling migrants “don’t come.” They might not be listening.

“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.”

Migrants are heading north because Central America never recovered from last year’s hurricanes

“the current wave of migration at the southern border is the result of a humanitarian crisis in Central America that has been years in the making.

Citizens of the “Northern Triangle” region — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — have long suffered from gang-related violence, frequent extortion, government corruption, and high levels of poverty. Over the past few months, though, another factor has added an additional push to make the dangerous journey north: continuing devastation from back-to-back hurricanes.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota, both super-powerful Category 4 hurricanes, made landfall in November 2020 within a two-week span, ripping through Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. The storms brought torrential rain and resulting flash flooding and landslides. They left more than 200 people dead and another 5.3 million people in need of assistance, including more than 1.8 million children, according to Unicef’s estimates. Many families lost their homes, their belongings, and access to water and livelihoods.

The hurricanes delivered yet another shock to a region that already experienced the highest levels of violence and poverty in the world and was facing an economic downturn from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“In the four months since the hurricanes, recovery has been slow. Most families have left official shelters to return to their communities where rehabilitation work has started but living conditions and access to services and income have heavily deteriorated. More families continue to be pushed into poverty and, absent urgent action, more children are likely to become malnourished and drop out of school. Agricultural communities hit by the storm are also only beginning to see the impacts of last season’s crop failures.

All of this, experts say, is helping push migrants out of their home countries and toward the US.”