March 28, 2019
At the breaking point
Yesterday Kevin K. McAleenan, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, gave a press conference in El Paso, where he stated
Two weeks ago, I briefed the media and testified in Congress that our immigration system was at the breaking point. That breaking point has arrived this week at our border.
CBP is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest border. And nowhere has that crisis manifested more acutely than here in El Paso. On Monday and Tuesday, CBP started the day with over 12,000 migrants in our custody. As of this morning, that number was 13,400. A high number for us is 4,000. A crisis level is 6,000. 13,000 is unprecedented.
On Monday, we saw the highest total of apprehensions and encounters in over a decade, with 4,000 migrants either apprehended or encountered at Ports of Entry in a single day. That was Monday. Yesterday, we broke the record again with 4,117. We are now on pace for over 100 thousand apprehensions and encounters with migrants in March, with 90 percent of those, 90 thousand people, crossing the border illegally between Ports of Entry. March will be the highest month since 2008. The arriving flows are made up primarily of Central American families and unaccompanied children.
McAleenan went on to claim that CBP’s “humanitarian” focus is deflecting resources from enforcement. So, while 55% of people apprehended at the border are families and unaccompanied children, the rest pose a security threat. Of course, he made no effort to break down those numbers. Surely, most of the single men crossing the border are also fleeing violence and/or migrating for work. Be that as it may, with border apprehensions increasing, a few points can clearly be made:
- Trump’s policy of deterrence is not only inhumane, it is a clear failure. Since Trump took office, his border approach has been geared toward scaring people away from attempting to come into the country. Family separation as a formal policy, was the clearest example of this. It has not worked.
- Border detentions are strained because Trump has refused to provide resources toward managing asylum claims expeditiously and fairly. One can simply look back to last year and the manic claims made about the migrant caravan from Central America. When the caravan left Honduras, the administration had weeks to prepare to handle asylum claims. Instead, Trump grandstanded, threatened to close the border, and ultimately denied entry to thousands, who have been stuck in Mexico waiting for appointments for credible fear interviews. There is a humanitarian crisis on the border. But it has been created by Trump’s policies.
- Trump still doesn’t get it. His budget request is demanding even more capacity for detentions, rather than looking for cheaper and more humane alternatives to detention. The administration is “reluctantly” releasing families to community sponsors because of crowding at border detention facilities - but this approach has been shown to be less expensive, and effective. People released to community sponsors do show up for their immigration hearings! This should be the default, not a “reluctant” response announced primarily as a justification for funding more beds. (Money that goes straight into the pockets of private incarceration companies, e.g., the GEO Group and CoreCivic).
- Finally, people are fleeing an enormous humanitarian crisis in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It is a crisis years in the making, and is directly related to U.S. policy:
- The wars in Central America of the 1980s, in which the U.S. was the primary sponsor of right-wing political forces, death squads and militarization, led to enormous devastation.
- Since then, years of neo-liberal reform enforced by D.C.-based multilateral financial institutions, whereby social services have been eliminated and/or privatized, while countries have been turned into platforms for extractive industries and maquilas, has deepened inequality and stolen livelihoods from millions.
- The expansion of gangs (which, by and large, originated in the United States), have entered into this environment to offer (or demand) services from young men who see few options.
- Finally, the U.S. government continues to step into every political contest in Central America in order to shore up support for political alliances committed to deepening foreign investment and maintaining the pillage, regardless of the social and political costs. U.S. support for the coup d’etat in Honduras is the clearest example of just how far the U.S. is still willing to go to make the world safe for mining companies.
The immigration system may well be at a breaking point. If it is, this is the result of bad policy overseas, bad policy at the border, and an the utter unwillingness of the U.S. political class to be self-reflective and self-critical about any of this. We promote the destruction of lives overseas, and when people flee the results, we turn them away or lock them up. Surely this is not sustainable nor is it morally justifiable.