November 14, 2019
You might not remember this, but when Trump came into office (2017), border apprehensions on the southwest border were at a 40+ year low. In other words, no crisis. It is not that immigration policy was working well. Clinton, Bush and Obama had each added on features to an increasingly inhumane detention and deportation machine, and somehow this went under the radar of policy makers despite the protests of many. What years of congressional indifference had wrought, however, became clear once this machinery was handed over to Trump in January of 2017.
Trump came into office committed to warring against immigrants, and he has. Nearly three years later, it is clear that the administration is out of control, violating the law and congressional oversight authority. For what? As a candidate, Trump spoke continuously about criminal aliens, violent thugs and gang members. This was always a lie. There aren’t enough “criminals” to go to war against. Indeed, Trump’s ICE has the lowest criminal removal rate of any administration bringing cases to immigration courts - and like past administrations, the most common lead charges for those “criminals” who are removed are traffic violations. So, who are we going after really? Refugees, children, and authorized immigrants (yeah, people we are supposed to be welcoming because they “stood in line” and did it the “right way”). Trump talks about MS-13 at rallies and then locks up people fleeing torture in Cameroon and sexual violence in Honduras or blocks H-1 visas for computer science majors.
Which brings us to the would-be-funny-if-not-so-incredibly-tragic part. He keeps running out of money doing this - and none of the Atlas Shrugged-hugging, small government pinheads care. So, he wants more dollars, and he wants you to pay those dollars, all for a set of policies that don’t work and are morally repugnant. Congress has the power to shut it down, but instead has been way too generous (or too weak).
Trump’s war on refugees
So, let’s get specific. Over the last year the Trump administration has taken unprecedented steps to disrupt all avenues for seeking asylum in the United States. This has included incarcerating people seeking asylum - even those who declare their intent to seek asylum at a port of entry, and even after those people have passed credible fear interviews. The administration is also denying bond hearings to those who cross between ports of entry, even though asylum law allows anyone, regardless of how they cross the border, the right to seek asylum. As a result, of the 47,260 people in ICE detention at the end of last week, 13,462 have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned to their home country. Yet they are still being jailed (and tortured) in this country.
Earlier this year, the administration expanded the Orwellian named Migrant Protection Protocols to cover the entire border with Mexico. Under this policy, piloted late last year just in San Diego, anyone arriving at the border seeking asylum is denied entry altogether and made to “Remain in Mexico” for a hearing before an immigration judge. When the policy was generalized to cover the whole border this summer, more than 6,000 asylum seekers already in the United States were sent back to Mexico. In total, 55,000 people have been returned to Mexico to await hearings. These hearings began in September and are a farce. Asylum seekers are allowed to cross the border for a day, taken into a tent where they speak to an immigration judge through video conferencing - the judge is elsewhere - and then have to return to Mexico to wait longer. The system, as volunteer attorneys attempting to provide services have argued, is designed to fail. Indeed, it is designed to make people so miserable they give up and go home, or seek permanent resettlement in Mexico.
Still not content, the Trump administration then published a new rule that actually denies anyone who arrives at our border the ability to even apply for asylum if they passed through any other country first - unless they have applied for asylum in that country and been denied. What this means is that basically no one from any country other than Mexico can apply for asylum at the southern border. The policy was clearly aimed at denying Central Americans the possibility of seeking asylum. It also seems to be a very clear violation of existing law - and yet the Supreme Court overturned an injunction put in place by district courts while the merits of the law are being challenged in court. So, even if likely to be overturned eventually, the new rule is being allowed to proceed for the time being. As a result, asylum seekers arriving since the July 16 rule went into effect are denied access to the asylum process completely and constitute a whole other class of individuals waiting in detention to be deported.
If the Trump administration had stopped here, it would already be a debacle by any standard of respect for human rights. But they didn’t. The administration went even further, pushing its enforcement regime into Mexico by blackmailing the government of Mexico under threat of tariffs to adopt stricter enforcement measures. The goal: to keep people seeking asylum from ever reaching the U.S. border. Mexico has complied with “requests” from previous U.S. administrations to step up enforcement, so again, nothing new in principal. But Trump went further - and so has Mexico. The Mexican government has added 6,000 people to patrols along its southern border and has stepped up deportations (Mexico was already deporting twice as many Central Americans as the United States before the new rules). Another impact is expanded detention within Mexico and a new crisis on Mexico’s southern border for immigrants not from Central America who cannot be easily deported. This group, primarily refugees from Africa and the Caribbean, have been trapped in camps along the border, denied the ability to travel through Mexico as they could before, to seek asylum at the U.S. border.
But we are still not done. The Trump administration has negotiated agreements with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras allowing the administration to send asylum seekers and other immigrants back to one of these countries - even though a large majority of the asylum seekers at the southern border are fleeing conditions in one of these countries.
Big Paydays for Crisis (Mis)Management
Returning back to the United States, the Washington Post reported this week that the administration purposefully sought to extend detention times for children caught up in this dragnet as part of its broader “deterrent” strategy. They did this, in part, by changing the process for locating sponsors. The administration was using information sharing between the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services (which oversees child detentions) to actually entrap unauthorized immigrants who might come forward as a sponsor for a relative child. This rule was eventually changed again, but only after children were being detained for up to 95 days on average late last year. This was before a surge of apprehensions at the border in the spring of 2019 pushed the whole system to the verge of collapse. The administration blamed this surge for the problems, but that is a well documented lie. The crisis was created intentionally before the surge in arrests began.
And yet, for the administration and its network of subcontractors/donors, the manufactured crisis paid off well. A $4.6 billion emergency supplemental was handed over by Congress - and that, only after the Senate stripped the bill of added oversight measures (and Democratic House leaders went along).
But you know, for this gang, it is still not enough. When the administration ran out of money again in August they simply moved $267 million from other accounts, without congressional authorization. Yes, they paid for more detention beds with money from the Coast Guard, and paid for the unauthorized Remain in Mexico policy with money from FEMA. And did so without prior-notification to Congress (re-programming money is not a new thing, but is supposed to happen only after oversight committees approve). So, we can add a clear violation of Congress’ Article One powers to authorize expenditures to the list.
Now Trump wants even more money for ICE and Border Patrol for the FY 2020 budget. He wants 52,000 bed spaces a day for detention, more border patrol agents, and a wall. This administration has gone from a 40-year low in unauthorized border crossings, to a 10-year high, managed to lock up 70,000 children in one year on purpose, absolutely gutted the asylum process, and achieved the highest daily average of ICE detainees ever recorded by jailing people fleeing torture. In short, the biggest failure by any measure of a policy one can imagine. And he wants more money? Congress has to just say no. The budget for detention and enforcement needs to be cut, and cut dramatically. We need to demand that Congress defund this administration’s policies of hate now!!! Congress helped build this monstrosity. It is time to take it apart.
What better time than now?