Recap of Southern Border Crisis This Summer

The southern border of the United States has long been a point of entry for people migrating from or through Mexico into the States. Due to a surge of undocumented Central Americans seeking asylum in the States at the southern border, a crisis at the border was declared by the Obama Administration in 2014. The problem has recently escalated this year. According to statistics posted by US Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), for FY 2018, border apprehensions were at 521,090 including unaccompanied minors. For FY2019 which begins in October, the level has escalated to 760,370 through end of July (August, September not yet counted). May alone saw over 144,000 persons apprehended at the southern border, compared with 52,000 a year before and 20,000 in the same month the year before that.

The Trump Administration has imposed punitive, unconstitutional, and inhumane measures to deter the migrant flow. Prior efforts – separation of children and families in June 2017, efforts to build the ‘wall’, and federal detention for those claiming asylum resulted in court losses but for the wall, where the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision July 27, 2019 has now allowed it to use funds from the Pentagon to proceed.

Nevertheless the Trump Administration proceeds. First, the administration has expanded the MPP Migration Protection Programs in 2019 (also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program), which allows an asylee to make a claim at the border but then ships them back to Mexico to wait out the process.

This puts asylum-seekers at huge risk of danger. In a 56-page report, Human Rights Watch detailed several firsthand accounts of violence experienced by asylum seekers in Mexico. They include the rape of a 20-year old Honduran woman who was told her 4-year old son would be killed if she screamed for help; a 21-year old Salvadoran who was stabbed in the back but was told local police would not help him because he wasn’t a Mexican citizen; and the kidnapping by a taxi driver of a 23-year old Honduran woman and her daughter who had to pay a ransom under threat of being killed.

Human Rights Watch also alleges that as part of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the U.S. government is obligated not to return anyone to a country “where there are substantial grounds for believing that [they] would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”  “Under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, the [United States] fails to comply with its international legal obligations to ensure that asylum seekers can fairly exercise their right to seek asylum and are protected from refoulement,” the report states. Even former Mexican officials, who have in the past been reluctant to paint their country as a volatile war zone, have conceded the MPP program places migrants at risk.

As of June 24, 2019, the Mexican government reported that 15,079 people, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, had been returned to Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana and Mexicali under the MPP program, including at least 4,780 children, at least 13 pregnant women, and dozens of others who may be especially vulnerable due to their medical condition, age, gender identity or other factor. On June 7, 2019, President Trump announced the program was expanding to other ports across the south and it was anticipated 60,000 would be in the program by end of August.

According to anecdotal evidence, the impact of making asylees wait in Mexico may not be deterring folks at all because no longer will those who were subject to MPP turn themselves in to CBP entry as historically has been done to process asylum. They will enter illegally and avoid CBP at all costs.  See Blog Article, by Todd Bensman, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

Also this summer, it was reported through various media outlets that the U.S. government was maintaining sub-par to deplorable conditions in detention facilities and care for those Central American migrants apprehended in the United States at the border. Some reports indicated people were not even obtaining shelter – in makeshift tents or even just outside with mylar blankets. The administration argued in Court that having no toothpaste, soap, or clean water complied with providing “basic hygiene” under current law (1997 Flores settlement), to the shock of the judges listening to the oral arguments. No doubt, the horrid living conditions on the US side of the border are another part of this deterrence effort that has already failed. Congress and the Administration did respond with some additional funding of $4.6 billion, but it is a band aid on a major humanitarian issue.

In addition, a new regulation was introduced by the Trump Administration to provide further deterrence to child migrants from Central America that will greatly reduce the number of immigrants paroled into the States, limit the definition of children eligible for SIJ (Special Immigrant Juvenile) and UAC (Unaccompanied Alien Children) status, and make UACs subject to deportation at the border.

Now, as the summer closes, the Trump administration has issued a new regulation to eviscerate the Flores Settlement of 1997, that limited children to 20 days in detention. The new regulation will make detentions indefinite and allow parents and children to be detained together indefinitely. Once in effect, the regulation will be challenged and it will be up to a judge to determine if Flores remains good law and continues to protect migrant children.

The southern border crisis did not start this year or last – it has been a chronic problem since 2014. However, using punitive and inhumane procedures and laws to deter these migrants from coming at all are not really panning out as the flow has increased, not decreased since Trump has been office.