Ellis Blake Hidalgo
Mercury Staff

Proposed US asylum policy too restrictive

As with most issues in American politics, immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border has divided the nation. Debates over policy have continued, and with the election of President Trump, the subject has taken a life of its own. However, in examining the existing immigration system, asylum policy should stand far above debates over illegal immigration and border security. Its existence should serve as a beacon for those seeking asylum at our border. As the strength of our asylum policy shrinks under the current administration, it becomes increasingly important to address its necessity and why the U.S. needs a sensible and humanitarian asylum policy.

Modern America  stands proud as one of the wealthiest nations not only of our time, but in human existence.  With nearly unparalleled resources, it is our moral obligation to stand firm as a humanitarian haven. In 2018, an estimated 92,959 people claimed asylum at the southern border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protections. This number is unprecedented not only because of its scale, but also due to the number of women and children pleading for asylum, as reported by the USCBP. This situation has put the U.S. at a moral crossroads, one demanding action the USCBP can’t handle. Acting secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, at a press conference near the border, described migrants held in detention camps as having to “live with fear and uncertainty for years at a time because the system is broken and overwhelmed.” The Office of Inspector General’s Report on Rio Grande Valley detention camps is especially chilling, describing how “most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month,” or how they’d found “spoiled and moldy food in kitchen refrigerators, as well as food past its expiration date.” Regardless of one’s beliefs on immigration policy, there is no way to justify the unmistakably inhumane way detained migrants are housed.

Some may write off Central American refugees as ‘not our problem.’ However, while the refugees seeking our help might not be ‘our problem,’ we are theirs. Much of the drug consumption feeding the gang activity  and destabilizing the region is coming from the U.S. Approximately  90% of imported cocaine makes its way from South America, through Central America to Mexico, before entering the U.S. through ports of entry according to The Washington Office of Latin America. The cartels responsible for these shipments, both through overt sponsorship and unintentional assistance, have shifted Central American power, allowing organized crime. Further, the deportation of gang members back to Central America led directly to the growth of gang activity in the region. In deporting undocumented gang members, we guaranteed a rise in organized crime and the upheaval of many of Central America’s peaceful residents, the ones now seeking asylum. All things considered, it’s important that we recognize our collective responsibility in creating this crisis. For the time being, without a short-term solution for American drug use, it is imperative that the U.S. take in the refugees that its citizens have played a part in creating.

The process through which we handle asylees  is becoming more controversial by the second, with President Trump’s new policy that took effect July 23, preventing anyone from claiming asylum status if they’ve passed through another country where they could’ve claimed asylum on their way to the U.S. unless they can prove they’re a victim of human trafficking. Beyond moral questionability, it has unsurprisingly brought on legal action through a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, which argues that the act stands in opposition to the Refugee Act of 1980, which rules that the U.S. may not discriminate against refugees standing at a point of entry according to their country of origin. The Trump administration is adopting a policy of ‘faux’ discrimination, setting the bar of entry out of reach for most refugees. Doing so intentionally excludes many potential asylees and completely undermines the life-threatening and entirely valid reasons many have had to flee their homes.

The remaining option for any potential refugees would be for them to have first sought asylum in any third party country they passed through on their way to the U.S. Beyond the fact that such an exemption excludes Mexican refugees, it also doesn’t do much service to Central Americans either. I agree with (what I hope) the White House is trying to do here. The U.S. should not be held solely responsible for the refugee crisis, and other countries in Latin America who are capable of assisting should play a major role. However, many of the same reasons causing migrants to flee their native countries remain prevalent in most nations along the way. A Salvadoran immigrant would travel through Honduras and Guatemala before reaching Mexico, both of whom lag just behind El Salvador in either homicide or female homicide respectively. Regardless of these nations’ relative safety, the Trump administration isn’t helping the situation by shutting itself out of the process.  Leaving Latin American countries to figure out the collective crisis alone is exactly what led to Guatemala, amidst talks of its’ viability towards taking asylees, pulling out of any discussions. The Trump administration’s actions don’t reflect a serious take on this crisis, but rather a cold indifference towards the fate of those suffering and begging for the same inalienable rights we take for granted.

   If by some miracle, the White House were to go back on its policy, that of course leaves the question of what the standards for asylum should be. Fortunately, the existing Refugee Act of 1980 lays out straightforward standards and has a track record of success. The resettlement of Vietnamese and Cambodian asylees indicates a capability for success under an administration willing to take the proper steps to help and then assimilate those seeking help. The act’s definition of asylee as someone with a “well-founded fear of persecution” remains as a fair and applicable criterion for those fleeing their native countries. This doesn’t mean the criteria for claiming asylum hits a low, however. Under previous administrations, only 20% of those who sought asylum were granted the status. Seeking asylum demands proof of danger and a reason to constitute a lack of willingness to return to one’s native country. These standards, combined with the flexible cap of 50,000 refugees per year, would allow the US to make a significant difference even without the effort of extending the cap. Unfortunately, doing so would require an administration equipped with both compassion for those who’ve come to our border seeking respite, as well as an understanding of how to coordinate a global effort to handle the crisis, neither of which the president seems to be interested in.

 For readers interested in fighting against the Trump administration’s latest policy, I would recommend donating to any of the civil rights groups currently filing a lawsuit in response. These groups include the ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Locally, you can donate to the Thanks-Giving Foundation for their efforts towards housing asylum seekers. Additionally, voice your support for both humane holding facilities and a reformed asylum policy to Congressman Van Taylor, or your hometown representative.