The myth that border security alone will stem surges in unauthorized migration persists in the Trump administration. More than two years into a presidency notorious for its harsh enforcement measures and efforts to curb both legal and illegal immigration, conditions have only gotten worse.
“The unprecedented surge in unaccompanied children and family unit migration is overwhelming our ability to provide humanitarian aid within our immigration system,” Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on April 16. The practice of releasing asylum-seeking families with notices to appear in court, according to a new report from the Homeland Security Advisory Council, is supposedly the major “pull” factor that brings mothers, fathers and children to the United States. To “fix” this pull factor, D.H.S. recommends emergency legislation to allow longer detention of children when accompanied by parents.
These migrants, increasingly from agricultural backgrounds, are not legal experts who have devised a way to crack our nation’s complex immigration system. They are desperately fleeing gang violence or dire poverty.
The notion that asylum seekers are traveling thousands of miles to exploit this so-called loophole is absurd. These migrants, increasingly from agricultural backgrounds, are not legal experts who have devised a way to crack our nation’s complex immigration system. They are desperately fleeing gang violence or dire poverty. Twelve-year-old girls are dismembered for not accepting the advances of gang members. Fathers’ lives are threatened for reporting police officers who rape their daughters.
Those who are fleeing poverty, while they may not qualify for asylum status, do so out of sheer desperation. The greatest “pull factors” drawing people to the United States are its safety, security and opportunity—and compared to what they are fleeing, even much harsher enforcement is unlikely to overcome that pull. It is far more likely to channel immigration into even more dangerous and unregulated forms.
Instead of barriers, the nation needs more immigration judges to hear cases and address immigration backlogs. Simply speeding up hearings—a measure that was proposed by the administration—is a clear violation of due process. There also must be consistency in asylum decisions. As it is now, whether asylum seekers are granted legal status or not largely depends on which judge hears their case rather than on their personal circumstances.
Instead of barriers, the nation needs more immigration judges to hear cases and address immigration backlogs.
Measures that address only the migrants who arrive today do nothing for those who will arrive tomorrow. The only lasting solution is to make ongoing substantial investments in Central American countries. That means sustained efforts to improve education and infrastructure and to create lasting jobs in those countries. And it means standing shoulder to shoulder with allies to rid these countries of tyrannical gangs and networks of human smuggling once and for all.
Enforcement alone will never be a solution when human beings are involved. A permanent resolution will come only by addressing root causes. The United States must recognize its duty to reach beyond its borders.