Confusion at the Border
Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 24, 2018
With the government shutdown highlighting Washington’s disagreement over spending $5 billion on a border Wall, one lingering question is how this affects the thousands of fleeing Central Americans waiting in increasing squalor just across the border.
Not only are there few practical answers to the Washington stare-down, there is rank confusion in Tijuana and other border areas as well as in the United States over what to do about those who refuse to simply disperse.
In other words, even if President Trump waved a magic wand and got money for a Wall, it is doubtful that construction alone would solve what ails the border.
Almost simultaneously with the Wall debate (which isn’t much of a debate as much as a show of bravado on all sides),
- Homeland Security was facing congressional questionsover the recent death of a seven-year-old in custody within the United States for failure to treat her in time. Indeed, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed the family for crossing the border illegally.
- Nielson herself is among those reported to beon the White House chopping block fornot being aggressive enough for the anti-immigration policies that President Trump wants.
- Surprisingly to me, at least, the Supreme Court decided 5–4 last weekto rule against the Trump administration’s policy to deny asylum to any migrants crossing the southern border illegally. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberals, but there was no reasoning offered. Federal judges had previously allowed the change to asylum last to accept the government’s belief that the policy change was necessary to address the border crisis.
- Mexican and U.S. officials said they had reached agreementon a new migration policy that will require asylum seekers who cross the Mexican border illegally to return to Mexico while their cases are decided.
In Washington, all the talk about immigration was turning uglier. In Tijuana, meanwhile, where more than 6,000 Central American migrants were crowded into tents, under tarps, or simply sleeping on the mud, according reports. Mexican officials were reporting a human rights crisis.
And among right-wing news sources, in particular, there has been a lot of coverage of a recent U.S. decision on economic aid to Mexico and Central America. The thrust is that while the United States Congress is unwilling to allot $5 billion towards a Wall, the State Department hasannounced $10.6 billion in aid for Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to help stem migration. Some $5.8 billion in economic development assistance will be given to the three Central American countries, and another $4.8 billion to Mexico, for the sake of “enhancing security, governance, and economic prosperity that can create greater opportunities and benefits for the people of the region” and help “jointly address the shared challenges of migration, narcotics trafficking, and the activities of trans-national criminal organizations.”
At heart, of course, is the continuing arrival at U.S. border ports of entry of streams of Central Americans fleeing conditions that are worse in their home country than what they face on the border. The United States is forcing long waits — up to two months — at its ports of entry, and is slowing the administration of asylum claims. In November, Trump issued an executive order that only asylum claims made at official ports of entry would be heard.
That made refugees seek illegal ways to get around the ports of entry. The lower federal courts blocked the change in asylum policy, leading to the appeal to the Supreme Court last week. In his petition,
Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that migrants entered the United States illegally and then claimed asylum, allowing them to remain in the country while their cases were being processed — even if those cases were unlikely to be granted.
The lower courts ruled that it was not up to the White House to change existing federal laws by executive order, that any change should go through Congress. That’s what the Supremes upheld.
Separately, the Justice Department has eaten away at the reasons for asylum claims, eliminating such things as domestic violence as an acceptable reason. A small percentage of asylum claims actually result in asylum grants. The Trump argument is that while awaiting a ruling from immigration judges, migrants disappear in the United States, and they properly should be sent back to Mexico, even if their home country is Honduras or Guatemala.
Trump said most migrants were criminals, called the caravan an invasion, and ordered troops to the last border. Last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that any migrants who illegally enter the United States — including asylum seekers — will have to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard. The Mexican government has said it reluctantly will offer migrants work visas and protections while they await asylum proceedings, according to the U.S. State Department.of State.
American border agents have argued for months that they are overwhelmed by the record-breaking number of migrant families seeking asylum.
Mexico said the rules would apply only to new asylum applicants, not to individuals who have already entered the United States with processes underway. The United States did not initially make clear if the policy applied only to new applicants. In any case, the administration’s move is a sharp departure from decades of American asylum practice, according to legal experts and advocates. The United States has long accepted individuals from across the world fleeing harm or persecution in their home countries.
Like most international problems, this immigration one is complicated. It is insulting to hear singular slogans aired as if they represent a solution.