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Dec. 6, 2018 – The Trump administration has expressed no qualms with spending more than $200 million to deploy the National Guard and the U.S. military to the border, where tear gas was used, even on children. It has also used Presidential and agency resources to develop and defend an unlawful regulation to limit asylum seekers to official border checkpoints, notwithstanding clear law that allows for asylum applications to be made by those who arrive on U.S. soil in between checkpoints.
Meanwhile, DHS has limited the number of asylum applications heard at the San Ysidro border checkpoint to just 40-100 per day, claiming resource concerns. Within six months of Trump’s presidency, his administration ended the Central American Minors (CAM) program that enabled young people with strong claims for refugee status to apply in their home countries rather than take the dangerous journey to the border in search of protection. Furthermore, efforts by the Obama administration in 2016 to work with the UNHCR (the UN High Commission for Refugees) to set up refugee reception and processing centers in the region have dried up under Trump, with just 525 refugees resettled in the U.S. from all of Latin America in fiscal year 2018. With respect to root cause alleviation, the U.S. government has made matters worse; it has reduced aid to the northern triangle countries of Central America by 40%.
The result: a humanitarian crisis at the border with desperate asylum seekers perceiving no avenue to safety except to take the dangerous journey to cross in between border checkpoints.
According to the Washington Post, “Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns…about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant.” The New York Times reported that rains turned the migrant camp into a “fetid misery” where thousands are waiting to apply for protection and “[o]nly 40 to 100 people a day are being processed.” At this rate, it could be months before people even have a chance to start the long and arduous asylum application process.
Feigning interest in an orderly asylum process and the safety of asylum seekers, the Trump Administration’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told the Associated Press (AP):
[T]he U.S. was trying to deter illegal crossings by issuing the proclamation [to deter asylum applicants from crossing in between official border checkpoints]. The U.S. has an established process for asylum seekers to present themselves in an “orderly” manner at a port of entry, [CBP spokesman] DeSio told AP via email. “When people choose to ignore that process, they put themselves in danger and, in the case of families, they choose to put the lives of their children at risk.”
If a safe and orderly asylum process is truly of concern, then the policies and administration of the asylum program by the Trump administration have thoroughly failed.
While Central American asylum seekers are waiting in “fetid misery,” the Associated Press (AP) found: “Frustrated with the long wait to apply, with the U.S. processing just 40-100 requests each day, some migrants are trying to cross over clandestinely,” exactly what the Trump administration claims it is trying to prevent. This finding is similar to that reported by the DHS Inspector General in September:
OIG saw evidence that limiting the volume of asylum-seekers entering at ports of entry leads some aliens who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally. According to one Border Patrol supervisor, the Border Patrol sees an increase in illegal entries when aliens are metered at ports of entry. Two aliens recently apprehended by the Border Patrol corroborated this observation, reporting to the OIG team that they crossed the border illegally after initially being turned away at ports of entry. One woman said she had been turned away three times by an officer on the bridge before deciding to take her chances on illegal entry.
Indeed, according to the AP, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday that the San Diego sector has experienced a ‘slight uptick’ in families entering the U.S. illegally and turning themselves in to agents since the caravan of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana two weeks ago.”
The Smart, Humane, and [Truly] Orderly Solution
A smart, humane, and orderly process requires:
- A major infusion of resources to swiftly hear and review many more asylum claims at border checkpoints, not just 40-100 per day.
- Parole into the U.S. and monitoring with alternatives to detention programs for those with credible fears of persecution.
- Increased immigration judges to hear asylum claims so cases can be heard within a reasonable period of time within a fair asylum determination process that protects those needing it and ensures the integrity of our immigration system.
- The U.S. working together with humanitarian aid organizations to immediately address the humanitarian crisis at the border.
- A long-term approach to address the root causes of migration by supporting public safety and sustainable economic development efforts by governments and NGOs in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
- The U.S., working with UNHCR, to develop a regional refugee response that includes refugee resettlement to the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, and other Latin American nations.
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said: “Trump has not hesitated to spend millions of dollars to militarize the border, continues to insist on a multi-billion dollar wall between border checkpoints, and has used resources to develop and defend radical and unlawful policies and regulations to slow legal immigration and drastically limit long-existing programs that protect people from persecution. He has done the exact opposite of what is needed to address root causes of migration and to process refugee claims in the region rather than at the border. Meanwhile, thousands of Central Americans in search of protection and a better life are languishing in ‘fetid misery’ at official border checkpoints waiting for a handful of slots — just 40-100 per day — to have their requests for protection heard. It is time for the Trump administration to embrace real solutions for an orderly process, not just empty rhetoric backed by policies and actions that clearly contradict the rhetoric.”
David Leopold, Counsel to DHS Watch, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “The law is clear: families fleeing horrific violence in Central America have the right to apply for asylum in the U.S. Instead the Trump administration has concocted a recipe of legal restrictions designed to prevent people from applying for asylum at the ports of entry and, effectively, force them to choose between living it fetid squalor in Tijuana or embarking on a dangerous, life threatening attempt to enter between border checkpoints. The law says that the asylum process should be safe, orderly and fair. But the Trump administration has created an asylum process fraught with malodorous chaos.”