Most of the undocumented immigrants who are in the United States have overstayed a visa and did not cross the border illegally, according to a new analysis from the Center of Migration Studies. This has been the case for the last seven years. The total undocumented population has continuously decreased over that time.
“This is another reason why it doesn’t make sense to have this government shutdown,” Donald Kerwin, the executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, told America. “The wall doesn’t stop visa overstays.”
The United States is 32 days into the longest government shutdown in its history, with President Donald Trump vowing to veto any funding bill that does not include money for border wall construction. Democrats in Congress have promised to oppose funding for a wall. On Saturday, Mr. Trump proposed to exchange temporary protection for certain groups of immigrants, including Dreamers, for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. The proposal also adds $12.7 billion for natural disaster relief.
Cardinal Daniel Dinardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop José Vásquez of Austin, Tex., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, urged Mr. Trump and lawmakers to end the shutdown.
The wall doesn’t stop visa overstays.
“Political leaders must come together to ensure a bipartisan solution is reached which recognizes the economic struggle that many families are facing including those dependent on federal workers and those assisted by critical nutrition and housing programs,” they wrote in a statement issued Jan. 20.
The shutdown has led to hundreds of thousands of government workers going without pay. Democratic leaders have reiterated that they would not discuss border funding until the government is reopened.
While the bishops said they were encouraged by Mr. Trump’s openness to protect recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, temporary relief is not enough. DACA, an Obama-era policy, protected undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors from deportation. The Trump administration has attempted to end the program, though court decisions have thus far kept DACA in effect.
The Trump administration has ended T.P.S. for hundreds of thousands of recipients over the last two years, including almost 200,000 from El Salvador and 57,000 from Honduras. Through this program, the U.S. government gives nationals from certain countries affected by armed or natural conflict temporary permission to live and work in the United States.
“Throughout our parishes, there are many DACA youth and TPS holders, who have lived substantial parts of their lives in the U.S. contributing to this country,” Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said in their statement. “We listen and understand the fear and uncertainty they and their families face and the anguish that they are currently experiencing as their existing immigration protections hang in the balance and come to an end.”
We have a new undocumented population that is different than the population from years past.
Mr. Trump’s proposal includes: $5.7 billion to fund a “steel barrier” system, including technology, in “priority areas” on the southern border as identified by the U.S. Border Patrol; $675 million for increased technology at ports of entry to detect entry of illegal drugs; $130 million for canine units, training and more law enforcement; $800 million in humanitarian assistance and medical assistance for migrants; $782 million for an additional 2,750 Border Patrol officers; and $563 million to hire 75 new immigration judges to address what the White House calls “the logjam” of some 800,000 cases in the nation’s immigration courts.
Despite the impasse on wall funding, the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has dropped by 1.3 million since 2010, dropping to 400,000 from 2016 to 2017, according to the Center for Migration Studies. Mexican nationals now, for the first time, constitute less than half of the total number of undocumented immigrants.
“What you have is a new undocumented population that is different than the population from years past,” Mr. Kerwin said. “These are forced migrants and visa overstayers.”
The increase has come from Central America and Venezuela, he said. Those who are coming to seek asylum and cross illegally should not be considered undocumented immigrants, Mr. Kerwin added.
The United Nations recognizes an individual’s right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries and prohibits asylum seekers from being detained simply for seeking asylum. The U.N. also recognizes that seeking asylum may require individuals to “breach immigration rules.”
Immigration advocates often note that 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. Sean Carroll, S.J., director of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Ariz., told America that the number of Central American families asking for asylum continues to escalate.
Once they arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, it takes a family an average of 14 to 16 days to be heard by Customs and Border Protection officials, he said. During that time, the families are vulnerable to being kidnapped and held for ransom, robbed or assaulted, Father Carroll said.
Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said in their statement that a resolution to the current standoff must go past temporary measures. “We have long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform,” they said, “reform that will provide permanent solutions: including border security, protection for vulnerable unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, and a defined path to citizenship to enable our immigrant brothers and sisters to fully contribute to our society.”
Material from the Associated Press and Catholic News Service was used in this report.