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Trump’s Border Strategy is a Mess. Time to Bring in the Clean-up Team.
There’s a better way. We need a new strategy that respects the life-and-death nature of asylum decisions, maintains the integrity of the system and ensures that the process is both fair and efficient. We need a surge of resources at the border to deal humanely with the increase in arrivals. In addition to fair and fast asylum and protection processing and humanitarian assistance on the ground, we need a longer term strategy that builds out a regional response to protection and resettlement and, over time, invests in the sending communities and countries in a way that reduces out-migration.
We need a sane administration. We need to focus on lawful solutions, not cynical politics. We need a White House that brings people together to make it work, not a White House that divides the country in order to promote the President’s brand. We need a strategy that reads the situation accurately, not a move to grant this administration new authorities so that this cruel team can more readily detain families indefinitely and more quickly send young people back to the violence they fled.
A sane administration would undertake the following four elements of a multi-pronged strategy:
Handle the increase in asylum-seeking families in a humane and coordinated manner.
The Trump administration’s deterrence-only approaches are failing, because they are mismatched to the nature of who is arriving at the border. Instead of single Mexican men seeking jobs, which constituted the volume of border arrivals a decade ago, current arrivals are predominantly asylum-seeking families from Central America. The deterrence-only approach will continue to fail because the composition and claims of those showing up at the border are significantly different and require a new strategy.
A sane administration would address the increase of asylum-seeking families by devoting resources at the border towards temporary housing and family-specific needs. The responsible parties would working with local communities, NGOs on the ground, the Red Cross and FEMA to make sure the increase in arrivals is housed, medically screened and legally processed. Attempts to block asylum seekers from entering the country, force them to sleep underneath bridges, and other Trump approaches are cruel and ineffective and make the process of reviewing asylum claims inefficient.
Surge legal resources to develop more efficient and effective asylum processing operations.
A sane administration would recognize that the right resources and personnel could help make asylum processing operations more efficient, rapid, and accurate. Asylum attorneys, independent Immigration Judges, and trained government Asylum Officers should be surged to the region. The goal is fair and fast decisions that protect those eligible for protection and deter those who are not.
For those eligible for protection (75% pass the credible fear screening process administered by trained Asylum Officers), there are proven and cost-effective alternatives to detention. By connecting asylum-seeking families to community groups and faith organizations, the rates of compliance with court hearings is well over 90%. Treating asylum seekers like families in crisis, and not as criminals, will reduce chaos and save money at the same time.
Build out a regional approach to refugee protection and international refugee resettlement.
With the northern triangle nations of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala among the most violent in the world, the out-migration from these countries is best seen as a refugee flow. Countries in the region — Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico — should be enlisted by the UN Commissioner for Refugees to strengthen their protection regimes and policies so that those fleeing violence can seek protection in the region. The U.S. government should complement this with a robust and orderly refugee resettlement initiative that enlists other nations (Canada, Sweden, Argentina, etc.) in the effort to resettle those deemed eligible for protection and cannot safely return to their countries of origin.
Reduce the root causes of out-migration by investing in aid programs that work.
Over time, the best way to reduce out-migration from Central America is by improving the conditions on the ground in sending communities and countries. Unlike the Trump administration, which is cutting foreign aid to the northern triangle nations, a sane administration would mount something like a Marshall Plan to alleviate the violence, insecurity, corruption and conditions that give rise to out-migration.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Trump and his wingman Stephen Miller have failed. Their bluster, bullying and lawlessness have turned a challenge into an emergency. It’s time to clean up their mess in a way any mature, sane administration would do. America knows how to respond to these kinds of emergencies with workable and humane responses. A sane administration would know how to change strategies to deal with a different composition of those who present at the border, would flood the zone with humanitarian and legal resources, and would build out sensible longer-term strategies in the region and in the sending countries. This is not rocket science. Instead, Trump offers no policy vision and his proposed ‘actions’ are doomed to fail. More to the point, Trump’s worldview is motivated by cynical politics and divisive fear-mongering. There’s a better way.”
For a more in-depth read on both short-and-longer term policy approaches that would be more effective, read Doris Meissner and Sarah Pierce from the Migration Policy Institute (here) and a five-point plan endorsed by scores of pro-immigrant, faith and policy groups.