tags: Press Releases

Don’t Fall for the Right Wing Trap Set by Trump and the GOP on Central Americans and Asylum

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A solvable challenge, not an existential crisis.


There they go again. Right wing media, the anti-immigrant movement and their Republican allies are up to their old tricks on immigration, asylum and the border.

A recent Fox News interview with former Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan makes the anti-immigrant strategy clear:

“The cartels are celebrating what is happening in this country right now because they are back in business. The border numbers are already going up because they think Joe Biden is going to be the president and they are open for business and the flow has already started.” 

Homan concluded: “It’s a Biden effect. It’s already happening.”

In case you are wondering whether this is a coordinated communications strategy, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, just published a paper titled, Will We See a ‘Biden Effect’ at the Border? National Review editor and columnist Rich Lowry recently penned a piece that started, “One of Joe Biden’s first priorities as president will be to risk stoking a new migrant crisis.” 

In fact, very little that is being said and written these days gives much context. Much of it operates within a frame that goes something like this: it’s all about the numbers of arrivals at the border; the numbers are going up again because Biden is soft on immigration and borders (even before he has been sworn in); “a crisis looms” and the new administration will be under intense pressure to crack down.

Here’s what is missing from this narrative: Donald Trump and Stephen Miller dismantled our nation’s fledgling strategy toward Central American refugees, did so by executive fiat, and their policies gutted asylum, drove people seeking freedom back to the violence they fled, and reduced numbers through a relentless campaign of cruelty, chaos and illegality. Just some of the examples of the handiwork of the Trump and Miller wrecking crew:

  • They ended investments in Central America aimed at reducing violence in the communities that generate refugees and migrants.
  • They ended the chance to apply for refugee status from home countries and cut off discussions of refugee processing from neighboring countries, leaving the U.S.-Mexico border as the only place to apply for asylum.
  • They ended the option of applying for asylum at the border entirely, using the cover of the pandemic to expel all arrivals, even kids fleeing violence and arriving at the border without their parents. 
  • They separated thousands of families at the border, shocking the conscience of Americans and the world, with 666 kids yet to be reunited with their parents. 
  • They built a border wall, the antithesis to the Statue of Liberty, a monstrosity that does nothing to intelligently manage the flow of refugees and migrants from Central America. 
  • They threw kids in cages and locked adults in detention centers that turned into COVID hotspots.
  • They based their zero tolerance policies on an assertion that those released from the border wouldn’t show up at subsequent asylum hearings — having ended case management programs that result in 95% of applicants complying with court dates and orders. 

That seems like a whole lot of context to leave out. Especially since the Trump administration is still in power and the Biden administration doesn’t take power for more than another month.

Perhaps it is important to point out that leading Democrats introduced their own bills in the Senate (Schumer) and the House (Lofgren) in 2019. Here’s how the soon-to-be-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin (D-IL) summarized the proposals:

  • Condition assistance to Northern Triangle governments to address the root causes of the violence and instability that are driving migration.
  • Crack down on smugglers, cartels, and traffickers exploiting children and families.
  • Minimize border crossings by expanding refugee processing in the region. 
  • Enhance monitoring of unaccompanied children after they are processed at the border.  
  • Ensure fair, orderly and efficient processing of those who do reach our border seeking protection.

This is an all-of-the above strategy that focuses on the elements needed to achieve durable solutions. It follows American laws and comports with American values. It’s a policy vision that stretches from the communities in Central America that generate refugees and migrants all the way to the communities and families prepared to receive them in the U.S. And it recognizes that this is not a challenge that starts at our border. As Rep. Zoe Lofgren said when introducing her bill, “The worst place to deal with a regional humanitarian crisis is at our own border. And we know that people are leaving for a reason.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

America needs to leave Trump’s cruelty and chaos in the rearview mirror and construct a fair, workable and humane approach. Trump’s cruelty reduced the number of asylum seekers admitted into America, but did so at a terrible cost — to refugees, to their families in America, and to the kind of nation we tell ourselves and the world we are.

In sharp contrast to Trump’s unyielding efforts to demonize, dehumanize and exploit desperate immigrants for political purposes, the strategy going forward needs to be premised on the humanity of those seeking safety and the many dimensions of this regional challenge. It is our view that the only way to get it right at the border is to a) get it right in Central America and Mexico; and b) get it right in communities in America that receive, settle and integrate those seeking asylum. 

Instead of goal posts anchored in up or down, tough or soft, and border and ‘pull factors,’ we need an integrated approach: one that addresses ‘push factors’ with smart investments in local refugee agencies; regional approaches to refugee resettlement and refugee protections; humanitarian assistance and fair proceedings for those who arrive at our borders to lawfully request asylum; speedy movement to families and communities prepared to receive and sponsor them; and case management programs that ensure applicants find attorneys and follow through with their asylum claims.  

Sure, a multilayered strategy that operates on a regional basis isn’t as snappy as calling any increase ‘the Biden effect.’ But if we’re serious about effectively addressing a migration phenomenon fifty years in the making, maybe it’s time we moved from simplistic soundbites spewed by anti-immigrant spokespeople to the complex solutions required to address a complex challenge.