Administration Worsens its Own Border “Crisis”

Update:  On April 4, 2019, President Trump walked back his threat to close the border, following criticism from Republican lawmakers and economic leaders alike, regarding the economic damage a closure would cause.

As we have written previously, the “crisis” at the U.S. southern border is real, but it is a humanitarian crisis of the administration’s own making.

Now the administration is proposing to make matters worse.

Just days after DHS Secretary Nielsen announced a new cooperation agreement with the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, President Trump threatened to withhold all foreign aid to those countries, an action that would exacerbate the conditions in those countries causing their citizens to flee to the U.S.  Additionally, President Trump is threatening to close the border, despite the nation’s obligation under U.S. and international law to allow those seeking safety to have the opportunity to enter the U.S. to apply for asylum (and despite the likely economic damage such a move would cause, as the Cato Institute describes).

Despite all of the administration’s deterrence efforts: making asylum seekers wait for weeks to be processed at border posts; separating children from their parents; increased use of detention; increased criminal prosecutions for illegal entry; and pushing non-Mexicans back into Mexico to wait for their asylum claims to be heard unless they can prove they’d be persecuted or tortured in Mexico, asylum seekers continue to arrive at our southern border.

Apprehensions year-to-date are higher than in the past two fiscal years, but are still far lower than the 1.64 million who crossed between border posts in 2000.  Indeed, from 1983 until 2007, there were only 5 years where fewer than 1 million individuals were apprehended.  Additionally, the make up of those arriving now differs markedly from the past.   In 2000, government data shows that over 1.61 million of those encountered between border posts were from Mexico, and fewer than 29,000 were from other countries.  In contrast, in FY 2018, 152,000 of those apprehended were from Mexico, while 244,000 were from other countries.  And those who arriving in FY 2019 continue the trend of recent years of being mostly families with children or unaccompanied minors seeking safety from gang and political violence.  Of over 318,000 individuals apprehended in the first 5 months of FY 2019, only about 50,000 were not families or unaccompanied minors.

These migrants continue to come despite the dangers of the journey, and the hardship that they may face when they reach the border because they fear for their lives or safety at home and are seeking safety here.

Instead of exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, the  administration should change its focus from the border wall to boost funding for immigration judges and asylum adjudicators, in order to give those arriving at the southern border the due process they are legally and morally due.