Asylum

Image by Gerd Altmann

The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration’s new asylum policy to take effect while the appellate process continues. Please recall that the Trump policy requires asylum seekers to apply for and be denied asylum in any country they travel through before reaching the U.S. This policy reversed longstanding policy which allowed asylum seekers to apply for asylum no matter how they got to the U.S. Trump claimed victory when the decision was announced.

What will the Supreme Court decide when the legal process is complete? The answer to that question is uncertain, but with a 5 to 4 Republican majority on the Court and considering that the Court granted a “stay” of the injunction forbidding enforcement of the policy, it is probably a good bet that Trump will get what he wants from “his” Court.

Assuming that the Trump policy ultimately stands, is it a real and lasting victory? By “victory” I don’t mean a legal opinion in Trump’s favor. Rather, I mean a fair, equitable, humane and lasting solution to the immigration crisis.

The majority of migrants are from Central America and come to the U.S. through Mexico.  Therefore, Trump’s policy of pushing the problem south will put great pressure upon Mexico’s asylum system and severely test the ability of its military and law enforcement agencies to prevent migrants from crossing over into Mexico from the south. 

You may recall that Trump threatened Mexico with tariffs earlier this year if it did not do more to stop what he called an “invasion.” Business people who count on the Mexican supply chain and trade with Mexico immediately warned Trump of the dire financial consequences of taking punitive action against Mexico. Mexico then made at least a superficial effort to slow the flow of migrants.

The flow of migrants seemed to lessen, but the greatest factor in reducing the number of migrants is the deadly summer heat rather than Trump’s threats or Mexico’s interdiction efforts. When the weather becomes more favorable and the flow picks up, what will Mexico do?

Mexico has a dysfunctional, deeply corrupt government. The rate of violence in Mexico is at a 20 year high. Mexico has an insoluble drug cartel problem. Mexico has a big problem with human trafficking. The Mexican asylum system is already overwhelmed and the migrants are being preyed upon by criminal gangs every step of the way to the U.S. Mexico has a poverty problem of its own. The Mexican government is not fully in control of some portions of the country. Mexico City’s water supply is threatened by sustained drought.  Mexico also has national pride and deeply resents being told by Trump what it must do. It seems unlikely Mexico will willingly absorb more migrants.

Conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are worse than in Mexico.  There is no reason to be optimistic that Trump’s new policy will keep migrants away. 

On September 13, 2019, the Houston Chronicle reported that immigration cases are now, in some instances, being handled remotely by immigration judges. In this new system judges are hearing cases by teleconference. This may sound like a good idea, but the story reported that the government is holding hundreds of hearings every day in Laredo and Brownsville that will be teleconferenced to judges in San Antonio. It is not reasonable to believe that fair consideration can be given by any judge to that many cases per day. Obviously, this new method of processing asylum cases is intended as a “cattle-dip” type system designed to deny asylum to as many as possible as fast as possible. It is also important to remember that most asylum seekers have to wait in Mexico for their hearings and, if they are lucky enough to have a lawyer, their lawyers have to travel to Mexico to speak with their clients in person. While they wait, they are at the mercy of the criminal gangs and they live in abysmal circumstances. It is also difficult for an asylum seeker living temporarily in Mexico to receive notification from an immigration court in the U.S. of when their case is to be heard. And, to top it all off, if an asylum seeker misses a court date, a deportation order is issued immediately. For more about the new system and what migrants now face, see two related stories in the New York Times of 9/13/19.

I think we have seen enough to understand the Trump immigration policy:

  1. We are “full” and have no room;
  2. We don’t need any immigrants from “s___hole countries;”
  3. Interdiction by means of a wall, thousands of law enforcement and military personnel, and sophisticated surveillance technology;
  4. Threats to impose tariffs on Mexico:
  5. Withholding aid to Central America;
  6. Force migrants to wait outside the U.S.;
  7. Force migrants to apply for asylum in another country;
  8. Family separation;
  9. Indefinite incarceration in inadequate facilities; and
  10. Sham asylum proceedings

I’ve probably left something out, but you get the idea. Trump experiences the determination of the immigrants to enter the country as defiance of his personal power and he reacts with anger. Trump makes no effort whatsoever to understand and solve the root cause of the problem. His crude plan in its entirety is to make it more painful to come to the U.S. than to stay home.

Migrants are human beings who are just as rational as anyone else. It is not hard to understand their plight. If conditions in your home country were so intolerable you felt you had no choice for yourself and your family but to flee, what would you do? Would you apply for asylum in Mexico and, after you are turned down, go back home or wait in Mexico to apply in the U.S. through  a system rigged against you, or would you take your chances by crossing into the U.S. illegally? The only reasonable solution is comprehensive immigration reform and significant, long term investment in Central America. For so long as conditions in Central America and Mexico remain desperate, people will flee.  They will not be deterred by a wall or by fear of apprehension or by fear of deportation or even fear of death.