President Trump’s announcement that he is prepared to use military resources to deal with a long-simmering border crisis is a welcome response to the vexing influx of illegal arrivals, including those hoping to take advantage of our broken system for handling asylum seekers. Some Democrats are already describing the president’s announcement as an act of hate: “President Trump’s statements about deploying our military to the U.S.-Mexico border and downplaying the strength of our laws do little more than stoke anti-immigrant hate,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who is ranking member of the Homeland Security committee.
On the contrary, this is a necessary move in the face of rising apprehension over illegal crossers, and the pending arrival of an unusually large, organized “caravan” of more than 1,000 Central American migrants working its way through Mexico, which has declared its intention to gain entry to the United State. The caravan leaders, who are with the U.S.-based migrant solidarity group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, say they are assisting the migrants in asserting their “right” to enter the United States to settle as asylum seekers.
The caravan is clearly a political stunt on one level, designed to test immigration controls as well as draw the attention of the news media. They initially met no resistance after crossing into Mexico without visas. But after President Trump suggested by tweet that it was decidedly un-neighborly to just wave them through, especially in the context of the ongoing trade talks, Mexican authorities soon stepped in, stopping the caravan just south of Mexico City, and suggesting that the caravan “dilute” itself to avoid attention. They offered humanitarian asylum to 168 of the migrants, while most of the rest apparently have been issued 10-day transit visas to regularize their presence. Reportedly, hundreds have broken off from the group to proceed north separately.
There is no doubt that the group intends to make a scene when it gets to the U.S. border. But the migrants have not walked hundreds of miles with children just to make an ideological point about open borders. No, they are marching because they expect to be allowed to enter and settle in the United States. Along the way they have met with human rights lawyers, who are coaching them on what to say when they arrive.
Asylum applications have risen an astonishing 1700 percent from 2008 to 2016. It’s out of control.
Reportedly, last year’s caravan succeeded in gaining entry for more than 100 migrants whose asylum claims are now pending in U.S. immigration courts, so their expectations are not unreasonable.
The migrants are planning to replicate the experience of hundreds of thousands of others who have arrived before them and successfully taken advantage of multiple layers of dysfunction in our immigration system. This dysfunction is the result of disastrous policy changes under the Obama administration, outdated laws, interference from a federal judge, and most recently, the failure of Congress to provide immigration agencies with sufficient resources to address what has become a chronic problem of an endless stream of migrants claiming a need for asylum.
In December 2009, less than a year into office, Obama administration immigration officials issued a policy change on asylum seekers that upended reforms dating back to the Clinton administration, which had succeeded in reining in rampant abuse of our system. The new policy ordered the release of newly arrived asylum seekers after a cursory screening of their claim, rather than holding them in custody pending a decision, as the law provides. This greatly reduced the incentive to make a frivolous claim just to gain entry, and then disappear.
In addition, very lenient standards for reviewing these claims were adopted. Under Obama, about 90 percent of border asylum seekers were found to have a “credible fear” of persecution and were released and allowed to apply for a work permit while awaiting a final decision on their case.
Word got around. The smuggling organizations that organized and controlled the flow told their clients what to say. Their service was popular and lucrative (although often dangerous). Asylum applications have risen an astonishing 1700 percent from 2008 to 2016. It’s out of control.
Meanwhile, very few applicants actually end up qualifying for asylum – only about 15 percent each year, according to immigration court statistics. A large percentage – at least half of the total pool, and more than 80 percent of parents and kids released after arriving from Central America -- never bother to attend their hearings in immigration court. They simply disappear and join the larger population of illegal aliens.
The American communities that have had to absorb the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers over the last few years are now saddled with an enormous burden for schooling, health care and other services, not to mention violence from the gang members who were resettled alongside the families.
When things got out of hand, immigration authorities tried keeping some of the newly arrived Central American families in custody, so they would not skip out. A federal judge intervened, ruling that the government could not detain children, even with their parents.
Regardless, the government lacks sufficient facilities to detain even the adult asylum seekers; all of the funded detention space is full. The Trump administration asked Congress for more detention funding, and for additional personnel as well, but Congress declined.
President Trump and his national security team have decided that despite all these hurdles, the United States cannot simply give in to caravans of migrants demanding entry under the gimmick of seeking asylum. The American communities that have had to absorb the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in the last few years are now saddled with an enormous burden for schooling, health care and other services for these new arrivals, not to mention horrific episodes of violence from the gang members who were resettled alongside the families.
The country can’t wait for Congress to pass new laws. The president has the authority to use other national security resources, such as the National Guard and the law enforcement resources of states along the border, to prevent illegal breaches of our border. And, we have no obligation, legal or moral, to let migrants enter through the legal ports of entry to pursue asylum claims when they have just been offered safe haven in Mexico.
The caravan leaders announced that they intend to target the legal crossing point between Tijuana and San Ysidro, rather than the ports of entry in south Texas, which are much closer. No doubt Pueblo Sin Fronteras expects that if they are refused entry, as they should be, it would be better to have it happen in California, where they might find a sympathetic judge to intervene.
Rather than wait for them to arrive, the president should direct the immigration agencies to try to work with Mexico to meet the migrants before they get to our border, jointly examine their cases and identify anyone truly in need of asylum and resettlement. Those who do not qualify should be given food, clothing and medical attention, and then transported home. We all sympathize with migrants fleeing poverty and crime, but the answer is not to open the borders. Without Trump’s action to meet this challenge, the caravans will keep coming, and migrants will continue to put themselves at risk.