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 crisis is in Washington’: Overwhelmed border officials urge D.C. to act

“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.”

Biden Brings Back Family Separation—This Time in Mexico

“The door to the U.S. has been shut tight to asylum seekers since last March, about the time when Janiana first arrived in Tijuana, when the Trump administration issued an order at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that every migrant — child or adult — would be immediately “expelled” back to Mexico or their home country if they attempted to cross the border, without even a chance to make a case that the persecution they face qualifies them to stay. After he took office this year, Joe Biden kept the policy largely in place, but began to admit unaccompanied minors even while continuing to expel both adults and children who enter with families. Since the shift in policy, some parents and guardians have made the devastating decision, calculated only out of desperation, to send their children off ahead of them, alone, to cross the border.

The result is a new form of family separation — but instead of happening at the hands of federal agents in American government facilities, it’s taking place, family by family, in camps like the one Janiana lives in. The fact that minors won’t be expelled like everyone else has rapidly spread by word of mouth across the length of the border. And while many families choose to stick together, the pressure to separate weighs heaviest on the most vulnerable — families who fear death, whether from persecutors who have followed them to the border, or from extreme hunger.

For Janiana, the possibility of being sent back to Honduras reads as a death sentence. She shows me the scars from her torture at the hands of a powerful gang back home that her family got on the wrong side of. Fearing further reprisals, Janiana fled with her sister’s children”

“When the Trump administration implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols — better known as the “Remain in Mexico” program — in December 2018 to force asylum seekers to wait for their hearings outside of the U.S., the policy exempted unaccompanied minors, and many parents released to Mexico with their children made the same decision migrant families are making today: to send their children to cross the border alone so they at least could wait in the U.S.
Then the pandemic hit. In March 2020, the White House strong-armed the Centers for Disease Control to invoke an obscure public health order, Title 42, which gives the executive the power to close the border in a time of health emergency. Citing Covid-19, the U.S. began to immediately turn away thousands of people who would normally be able to make their asylum cases in court — including unaccompanied children.”

“The White House has, as its spokesperson indicated, repeatedly told migrants that “now is not the time to come.” But for would-be asylees like Janiana, the act of leaving home to travel thousands of miles northward in a perilous journey in search of safety isn’t something they can just delay for a more convenient time in the calendar. And, like her, many didn’t leave recently. They’ve been waiting at the border for months.”

“In Tijuana, Janiana says she’s grappled seriously with the idea of separating from her niece’s son. (Her niece, who is too old to be considered a minor, wasn’t available to comment for this story.)

“It is a truly heartbreaking choice to make,” she says, as tears start to well in her eyes. “After everything they have gone through with me. We have gone days without food, together.” On a bus ride to Tijuana, she says the baby went three days without anything to eat or drink besides flour tortillas and bottled water that a kind Cuban migrant shared with them. Sometimes, when she’s feeling at her lowest, Janiana says she has been most tempted to send the baby to cross the border alone, but she remains resolute for now that they must remain together. However, she can understand how others have made the decision already.”

The growing number of children in custody on the US-Mexico border, explained

“Administration officials have urged patience as they review the dysfunctional system under which migrants are currently processed at the border, and as they seek to dismantle former President Donald Trump’s complex web of policies that put asylum and other humanitarian protections out of reach for most people. For now, that means that the vast majority of migrants are still being turned away.

Though the White House has declined so far to call it a “crisis,” the situation is increasingly dire: As of Wednesday, more than 3,700 children were reportedly being detained in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) temporary holding facilities designed for adults for longer than legally permitted — a record high. These are the same facilities that generated widespread outrage under the Trump administration, where children slept with nothing but mylar blankets to keep them warm at night on concrete floors.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Saturday that a CBP facility is “no place for a child,” but that border agents are “working around the clock in difficult circumstances to take care of children temporarily in our care.”

CBP officials are struggling to quickly transfer them to state-licensed shelters for migrant children, which have had to drastically slash their capacity amid the pandemic, and where beds are now full. That has forced the administration to reopen temporary tent facilities in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which are costly and not subject to the same level of oversight as permanent shelters.

On Saturday, the administration also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would help “receive, shelter and transfer” unaccompanied children over the next 90 days. The agency is now working to expand the capacity of shelters designed to administer care to children.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the same crisis has been playing out cyclically since at least 2014, when the US saw a dramatic shift in the kinds of migrants who were arriving at the southern border, from primarily single-adult Mexicans to families and children from Central America’s “Northern Triangle”: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

In the years since, the federal government has failed to adapt to ensure that children and families are treated humanely. That burden is now on Biden.”

“While most migrants are still being turned away at the border, the Biden administration began accepting unaccompanied children in February in a reversal of Trump-era policy. Most of them have been stranded in Mexico for a year under that policy, despite their right to seek protection under federal law, and are now seeking to reunify with family in the US.

Since 2014, the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the southern border has remained above 40,000 annually, peaking at more than 72,000 in 2019 under Trump.”

“The administration also announced Wednesday that, in an effort to reduce the pressure on resources at the border, it is restarting the Central American Minors program, which allows children in danger to apply to come to the US from their home countries instead of having to come to the US-Mexico border to do so. Trump had ended the program after taking office, leaving around 3,000 children stranded who had already been approved for travel.”

“Biden has kept in place a Trump-era policy that has allowed the US to expel nearly all migrants arriving on the southern border with no due process on the grounds of curbing the spread of Covid-19.”

“Biden has created narrow exceptions to the policy for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers who were sent back to Mexico to await their day in court in the US under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols. Last month, Mexico also stopped accepting some families with children under the age of 12 due to a change in its laws concerning the detention of children, so they have been released into the US instead.

But the vast majority of migrants still can’t enter the US under the policy.”

“the Biden administration’s message to migrants is, “The border is not open,” and “Do not come in an irregular fashion.” But there is hope among migrant communities in Mexico that the new administration will eventually offer them protection given that Biden has sought to pursue more immigrant-friendly policies than his predecessor.”

“Smugglers have also been spreading misinformation about the Biden administration’s plans to process asylum seekers in an effort to profit from it.”

Biden to begin admitting migrants forced by Trump to wait in Mexico

“The Biden administration will soon begin allowing migrants into the U.S. who, because of a Trump-era policy, have been forced to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are processed.

As part of the new administration’s efforts to overhaul the immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security, starting next Friday, will begin the first phase of a program to gradually let in migrants with active cases under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.”

“There are about 25,000 migrants with active cases under MPP, but the new program will first focus on those who have been waiting in the program the longest and vulnerable populations”

“Migrants being processed through the program will be tested for Covid-19 before entering the U.S. And once here, they will be enrolled in an “alternative to detention program” to track them and their cases will be routed to the appropriate court tied to where they settle in the country”

“Biden has long vowed to end the program, which has resulted in tens of thousands of asylum seekers being forced to stay in Mexico, often under poor living conditions and facing danger. On Biden’s first day in office, DHS announced that it would not enroll anyone else in the program.”

Breaking the Bloody Mexican Drug Cartels

“When the Mexican legislature meets this fall, it is poised to pass a marijuana legalization bill. The legislation will legalize cannabis for all uses—recreational, medical, industrial—and will create a Mexican Cannabis Institute to grant licenses for the cultivation, processing, sale, import, export, and research of marijuana. The country’s president and ruling political party have both endorsed the initiative, and it has already been approved by three Senate committees.

The bill’s backers hope it will curb the influence of Mexico’s drug cartels. Marijuana accounts for upwards of half of the cartels’ revenues, which are estimated to range between $20 and $50 billion dollars annually.

The past year has been the bloodiest yet in Mexico’s war against the cartels. When security forces in the city of Culiacan tried to arrest the son of drug lord El Chapo Guzmán in October 2019, they found themselves outnumbered and outgunned by the Sinaloa Cartel. In June, gangsters ambushed Mexico City’s police chief with 400 rounds of ammunition from semi-automatic rifles; in July, cartel gunmen massacred 26 residents of a drug rehab center in Guanajuato.

In the past decade, Mexico has suffered 250,000 homicides because of the drug war. Whole swaths of the country are now controlled by organized crime, including the states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Morelos, and Tamaulipas. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) has killed more than 100 officials in the state of Jalisco alone, including federal, state, and local policemen, soldiers, mayors, and city council members. In June, it killed a federal judge and his wife. A U.S. Army Intelligence report estimates that over a six-year period, 150,000 of the Mexican army’s 250,000 soldiers deserted, finding higher wages in the drug industry.”

“When Prohibition ended in 1933, so did much of the criminal violence that haunted the United States during the Prohibition era. Latin Americans have good reason to think the same thing will happen in their countries if they end narco-prohibition.”

USMCA, Trump’s new NAFTA deal, explained in 600 words

“The United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) is an updated version of the nearly 25-year-old, trillion-dollar North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It includes major changes on cars and new policies on labor and environmental standards, intellectual property protections, and some digital trade provisions.”