Is there a crisis on our southern border? For our border staff there and the ones they’re dealing with there sure is. There’s been a huge change.
A decade ago, it was almost entirely single adult men trying to sneak into the US. Now, quite suddenly, almost two-thirds of those at the border are families seeking asylum from extreme violence and drought in Guatemala and Honduras. Almost one percent of the population of those countries is on track to try to immigrate to the US this year.
Our border infrastructure isn’t set up or staffed to deal with that. Its mission is to detect people trying to enter illegally, not handle thousands of asylum seekers a day. Nor can our immigration judges quickly try them. The backlog is already over 855,000 immigration cases. Applicants wait an average of over 700 days to see a judge and it’s fast growing worse,
Children, families, and asylum seekers can’t be detained and deported because our laws are that; (1) asylum seekers can’t be deported until they’ve been screened by an asylum officer to see if they have a “credible fear” of persecution, (2) unaccompanied children from non-Mexican countries must be given for care by the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours and they are guaranteed immigration court hearings and (3) families can’t be detained indefinitely but must, in most cases, be released after about 20 days.
We allow asylum claims from those who pass through Mexico because Mexico has not signed a “safe third country” agreement that would allow us to deny asylum to Central Americans. However, we can make applicants wait weeks or months before they can step onto US soil and exercise their right to claim asylum because Mexico allows them to wait there.
This crisis is not one a wall will resolve nor is there any quick solution and we are far from alone. There is a global refugee crisis. At the end of 2014 there were almost 20 million refugees worldwide, almost 4 million of them Syrian and 2.6 million Afghani. Most of the Syrian refugees went to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan but millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa were accepted in Europe, notably Germany and Russia.
What to do? Establish in Congress what refugee and overall immigration policies we want, how many of what categories we will accept annually, change out laws correspondingly, put in place the corresponding infrastructure, and enforce the laws.
Some important changes would be very easy. We could, for example, make it very much harder to work illegality by making the existing eVerify system mandatory for new hires nationwide instead of in only a few states. It checks whether a person has the legal right to work.
Most aspects of the solution require establishing what our policy should be, however. That, not fear mongering or denial, is what we need to do, which will not happen under the current administration.