THE LAW IS THE LAW
The US doesn’t have an immigration problem—it has a refugee problem
Ana Campoy January 18, 2017
“In fact, Trump’s fixation with blocking illegal immigration from Mexico, which has plummeted in recent years, obfuscates the problem. Yes, border patrol agents are apprehending thousands of people every month along the US-Mexico line, but many of them—around half, according to Claire McCaskill, a member of the US Senate’s homeland security and governmental affairs committee—turn themselves in voluntarily asking for help. Government statistics bear this out. The number of immigrants claiming fear of persecution or torture in their home countries is on the rise, and so are the findings that those claims are credible. In order to be considered for asylum by an immigration judge, immigrants first have to go through a “credible fear” screening, in which an asylum officer determines whether the claims they are making have a “significant possibility” of holding up in court.
More than 70% of those who claimed credible fear in the 2016 fiscal year hailed from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, places beset by rampant violence.
Under US law, individuals who are found to have credible fear have the right to due process to determine the validity of their claims in the court. Whether they are Syrians escaping civil war, or El Salvadorans fleeing from criminal gangs, what they have to prove is the same: that they face persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
But US authorities don’t always take Central American immigrants’ fears seriously, studies suggest. One, released by the American Immigration Lawyers Association in 2016, found that not all border patrol agents are asking immigrants if they’re afraid to return to their country, as they are required to do. Other agents refuse to believe them, per the report, which is based on immigrant testimony documented by the group. Another 2016 analysis, by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government advisory body, noted, “outright skepticism, if not hostility, toward asylum claims” by certain officers, among other practices that may be resulting in deportations of refugees with a legitimate right to stay.
A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman said the agency “strives to treat every person we encounter with dignity and respect.” Anyone with concerns about the treatment doled out by its officers can call the agency, he added.”
. . . .
“The Obama administration’s response has already run up against the law. For example, several courts have shot down the government’s arguments and efforts to justify the detention of children and families while their cases wait to be resolved—a policy meant to convince would-be immigrants to stay home.
On Jan. 13, a coalition of immigrant rights groups filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties accusing CBP officers of turning back people requesting asylum at ports of entry along the US-Mexico border. In what the groups called an “alarming new trend,” the officers have allegedly been telling immigrants that they can’t enter the country without a visa— contrary to US law—and referring them to Mexican immigration authorities.
Trump has framed his border policy as a choice between enforcing existing laws against illegal immigration or skirting them. But the decision facing US leaders is rather more complicated: Should the US continue providing refuge to those who are unfairly persecuted in their home countries?
If Americans are unwilling to do that, perhaps it’s time to do away with the nation’s asylum laws—and remove the famous poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty welcoming the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Recently retired immigration judge Paul Wickham Schmidt put it this way: “We like to advertise ourselves as a beacon of liberty and justice; it’s time we acted that way.”
In my view, Ana Campoy provides a remarkably clear and well-documented analysis of why the Obama Administration’s “get tough” border policies have failed, and why the Trump Administration would be wise to take a more “nuanced” approach that recognizes our obligation to provide due process and protection under our laws to individuals fleeing from the Northern Triangle.
As incoming DHS Secretary Gen. John Kelly has recognized, this problem can’t be solved just by (even more) enhanced enforcement on our end. It will require addressing the systemic problems in the sending countries of the Northern Triangle, which certainly have most of the characteristics of “failed states,” as well as working with other stable democratic nations in the Americas to fashion meaningful protections, inside or outside the asylum system, for those who are likely to face torture, death, or other types of clear human rights abuses if returned to the Northern Triangle at present.
It’s not an easy problem to solve, and there are no “silver bullets.” But, we know what doesn’t work. So, it sure seems like it would be a good idea to try different approaches (and I don’t mean repealing asylum protections as Ana, somewhat facetiously suggests near the end of her article).