What to do about escalating numbers of asylum-seeking families

Asylum seekers in El Paso, Tex., are released with ankle monitors and a court date, according to Veronica Rayas, director of the Centro San Juan Diego. (Rich Kalonick/Catholic Extension)

There is plenty of work to be done at the border that does not include building a wall, according to Dylan Corbett, the executive director of Hope Border Institute.

“We spent most of 2018 talking about militarizing our border and imposing draconian enforcement policies,” he said in an interview with America. “We should have been mobilizing for a humanitarian solution.”

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The federal government is two weeks into a partial shutdown. While President Trump has said he will veto any funding bill that does not include $5 billion for a border wall, Democrats in Congress have promised to fight wall construction.

Despite the impasse, the number of border apprehensions is actually down, Mr. Corbett said. While the Trump administration has noted an increase from 2017 to 2018, illegal border crossings have been on a downward trend since 2000.

Illegal border crossings have been on a downward trend since 2000.

But the number of families that are seeking asylum is on the rise, Mr. Corbett said. Even if they cross the border illegally, they readily surrender themselves to immigration enforcement to claim asylum. U.S. Customs and Border Protection simply does not have the capacity to process the influx of families, Mr. Corbett said.

“People sleep in shifts because there is not enough space,” he said of the detention facilities. “They have poor access to nutrition. Going to the bathroom in private is not an option. There’s no health care.”

Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal, a Guatemalan girl who crossed the border with her father, died while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection on Dec. 6. Felipe Alonzo Gómez, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, died on Christmas Eve. Both showed signs of influenza, including vomiting, while in custody.

Perhaps, Mr. Corbett speculated, their deaths led Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release hundreds of asylum seekers at an El Paso bus station in December without informing humanitarian groups in the area. Normally, ICE contacts a network of 18 shelters to receive the asylum-seeking families. Annunciation House, an organization that has served vulnerable people in the El Paso-Juarez border community for more than 40 years, coordinates with the various shelters to find space for the released asylees.

Many are released into the community with ankle monitors after their initial cases are processed. They are given court dates in cities near families or friends throughout the United States. Humanitarian groups are expecting to receive 500 asylum seekers a day.

texas border
Veronica Rayas, director of the Centro Juan Diego, and Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, welcome asylum-seeking families in El Paso, Tex. (Rich Kalonick/Catholic Extension)

When ICE released about 100 asylum seekers at a bus station on Oct. 26, leaders at the Diocese of El Paso’s Centro San Juan Diego scrambled to accommodate them. The diocesan center, dedicated to the arts, cultural and faith formation for middle school youth, is about a mile from the Greyhound Station. So the asylees just walked over, led by Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House.

“It was beautiful,” Veronica Rayas, the director of the Centro San Juan Diego, told America. “The police escorted them. The fire department assessed their medical conditions.”

Since that day, the cultural center has also been dedicated to receiving asylum-seeking families.

“Many have not eaten well for weeks,” Ms. Rayas explained. Soup comes first and more substantial meals follow.

A family—typically a parent and one child—will stay at the center for 24 to 48 hours. That is long enough for them to shower, get new clothes and make phone calls. The center offers them a warm place to sleep while they arrange bus fare to other cities. The kids will often make friends with each other and play games during their stay.

The center is a stark contrast to the frigid detention centers, Ms. Rayas said. When everyone is packed together in those conditions, it is easy to see why people get sick, she said.

For the bus ride, the center gives the family a “go bag”—with food, water, a blanket and a coloring book. “They’re all so nervous as they’re leaving,” Ms. Rayas said.

Even if families cross the border illegally, they readily surrender themselves to immigration enforcement to claim asylum.

“We see this high number of people, but it doesn’t mean it’s planned,” she said. “Some come because they had a teenager killed by a gang, so they take their other children that same day and head north.”

Asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle countries—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—had to make a choice between joining organized crime or being a victim of it, Ms. Rayas said. The idea that they are coming to the United States to “game the system” or find “loopholes” is absurd, she said.

“These families don’t really understand the process,” Ms. Rayas said. “They might feel in some way like they’ve made it [once they are at the center], but at the same time, they are wearing ankle monitors. None of them have defended themselves in court before. They may not realize they could be deported back to their home countries in a few months.”

At the parish level, people are gathering food, making sandwiches and collecting clothes, according to Joe Boland, the vice president of mission for Catholic Extension. The group provides financial support to both Annunciation House and the Centro San Juan Diego in El Paso. In 2018, Catholic Extension established a family reunification fund to help children and parents separated through the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy.

“This is an important moment for the Catholic Church in the United States,” Mr. Boland told America. “Even if we weren’t an immigrant church, it would be important as a Christian people to reach out to those on the margins. They’re not invaders or fakers or takers. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Some of the harsh rhetoric surrounding immigration comes from misleading caricatures, according to Ms. Rayas.

“People think [migrants and asylum seekers] come to take from our country,” she said. “But the truth is that we have an opportunity to enrich our country through their presence.”

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Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Bannon
10 months 1 week ago

Why even quote a woman who makes such a broad generality that no migrants are takers?

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/01/nyregion/police-say-man-called-womans-relatives-after-slaying.html

Terry Kane
10 months 1 week ago

Sadly, this site ONLY quotes those who believe that the USA is the doormat of the world and must be taken advantage of by all.
They believe that the main problem on earth is the United States of America.
Sad.

Dionys Murphy
10 months 1 week ago

"Why even quote a woman who makes such a broad generality that no migrants are takers?" - Because the reality is the vast majority are not and playing the other side of the coin is spreading fear and doing the work of the Adversary rather than Christ's work.

JR Cosgrove
10 months 1 week ago

Why aren’t the people seeking asylum in Mexico? They are already there.

Mr Long-García writes an article about every 5 days on this topic. America has published about 50 articles on immigration in the last two months. Nearly all use emotional arguments and ignore reason. Not one recommends an immigration policy. A new poll said that only 7% of Americans think illegal immigration is not a problem. Maybe they all work for America, the magazine.

Dionys Murphy
10 months 1 week ago

"Why aren’t the people seeking asylum in Mexico?" - Because by international law that the United States subscribes to they have every right to seek asylum in the country of their choice. Why don't you support the law?

"Nearly all use emotional arguments and ignore reason" - Christ used emotional arguments as well. Perhaps you want to discount His arguments?

"A new poll said that" - Asylum is not illegal immigration. Stop conflating the two to make an emotional argument based in fear. Hypocrite.

JR Cosgrove
10 months 1 week ago

Again thank your kind words and for supporting my position with your incoherent reply.

Dionys Murphy
10 months ago

Please. Only a Trump supporter would suggest offering clear facts is incoherent.

Denise Delurgio
10 months 1 week ago

Garcia, if you had any ideas about what to do about escalating asylum seeking families why didn't you write them in your piece so titled? I read it hoping that you had reasonable solutions, but you just wasted my time. The Catholic Church is taking in millions of US government money (the taxpayers') in this invasion. Is that why you support it?

Dionys Murphy
10 months 1 week ago

There's no invasion. To characterize it as such is to play on people's fears. Which is ironic coming from a family of Italian immigrants who once was the target of such hate filled fearmongering.

Leonard TIGHE
10 months 1 week ago

Regardless how someone lands at your front door they should be treated with human dignity, and as Christians be treated as our family. While everyone is arguing about why they shouldn't be here, and they're going to eat all our food, what do YOU do with the beggar at your door? Whatever is being done now, here is immoral by human standards. The entire Trump administration, if can call it that, is in complete contradiction to Catholic moral ethics.

Mike Macrie
10 months 1 week ago

Why are we failing not to hold Latin America as a whole accountable for their refugees? They should be correcting these gang problems and economic conditions in these countries. They should be taking these refugees into their countries. If US no longer cares for Latin America then these countries should welcome China investments to help their economic conditions. China has already started in Argentina and should work their way North to help these countries out of poverty.

Dionys Murphy
10 months 1 week ago

Because doing so is not holding the United States responsible for centuries of meddling in central American policies and destroying governments, thus creating the current refugee problem.

Todd Witherell
10 months 1 week ago

“Woe unto those who cast out, for they themselves shall be cast out” - G. K. Chesterton

All walls fall. All of them. Do not be fooled.

Call and Curse (Melville’s Reverse)

Providence ambiguous
If providence at all

Unknown the Unknowable God
Silence is the Call

The Albino Whale swims calmly on
As before beyond recall

River Eden in Northern England
Adam before the Fall

In the misty morning starlight
I hereby curse the Border Wall!

sam baxter
10 months 1 week ago

The United States cannot survive as a country without the grace and blessings of God. If we are cruel or heartless to those seeking refuge here, we can no longer expect God to protect and preserve this country. Yes--immigration has national security implications, but not how most people see it. This country has been blessed with great riches and freedoms and safety. Where much is given, much is required. Everything comes from God. He cannot be pleased when we become selfish instead of helping those who need help.

KATHERIN MARSH
10 months 1 week ago

Dear Editors,
The population in Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic. Why isn't Mexico stepping up and protecting their Latin American next door neighbors? The wealthy, mostly Catholic Mexicans who live in Tijuana do not want the immigrants there. The wealthy of Tijuana kicked the immigrants off their beaches. The wealthy of Tijuana do not hold the government of Mexico responsible for taking care of the immigrants. The Archbishop of Tijuana does not call for the Mexican Government to take care of the immigrants.
These immigrants are now out of Honduras. They are not subject to the gang warfare in Guatemala or Honduras.
What stops Catholics from going to Tijuana to house, feed and clothe the immigrants there? Nothing. What stops Catholics from going to Tijuana and giving medical care to the immigrants there? Nothing. Tijuana is a great "vestibule."
The battle against evil is against pockets of terrorism which disguise themselves and come into this country. Send money to Tijuana charities. No terrorists want to blow up Tijuana Twin Towers, or Tijuana Marathon runners. We need an antechamber to evaluate. Tijuana provides this. Mexico City doesn't care about Tijuana, Terrorists don't care about Tijuana. It is the perfect holding ground.
Send money to charities there that help the immigrants.

Dionys Murphy
10 months 1 week ago

Or.. Stop characterizing brown people as terrorists.

KATHERIN MARSH
10 months 1 week ago

Dionys:
I don't characterize brown people as terrorists; racism is evil.
During the Obama administration no Latino children were allowed to accompany adults into this country. That was a problem.
We overlook the fact that the Atlantic Ocean provide a huge border "wall" between Europe and this country. We had a "Port of Entry"--Ellis Island.
I do not have a solution. I see this lack of a boundaries; this lack of no clear "port of entry" to this country for Latinos who need a new life, as a problem.
We know that those with evil intentions against this country exploit this lack of organization in our immigration system, to the harm of all children.
If we do not recognize the lessons from history, we are doomed to repeat the failures.
Currently the Obama era ban against children has been lifted. We need to problem solve. We need boundaries. We need an Ellis island, which is really what the end of a bridge is.

Dionys Murphy
10 months ago

"I see this lack of a boundaries; this lack of no clear "port of entry" to this country for Latinos who need a new life, as a problem" - There are clear ports of entry. Trump has shut many down and the GOP has consistently understaffed them as well as the courts to make judgments.

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