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Trump Policy at the Border is a Failure. Instead of an Ineffectual Onenote Strategy of Deterrence, It’s Time for a Workable Multi-pronged Strategy

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As NBC News reports, the recent numbers of daily border apprehensions are reaching the highest levels of the Trump administration and are approaching levels last seen in 2006. As a result, the Trump administration is screaming “crisis,” blaming Congress, and demanding a border wall.

No, it’s not a security crisis, but rather a humanitarian crisis exacerbated, even fueled, by the Trump administration’s myopia. No, it’s not the fault of Congress, but the failure of this administration to deal intelligently with a complex challenge with greater resources and manpower than ever.  And no, a border wall is not the answer to a multidimensional regional refugee and migration dilemma.

It’s time to call it as it is. The Trump administration’s obsessive focus on deterrence is an abject failure. Trump, White House Adviser Stephen Miller, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen her ICE and CBP Directors believe they can be so tough, cruel and unrelenting that refugees and migrants fleeing violence and poverty will simply decide to stay home. They seem to believe that Central Americans are mostly trying to game the system. But the main reason their border-centric deterrence-only approach has failed is that they fail to recognize the desperation of a mother fleeing with her daughters to avoid rape by gangs in Honduras, a family fleeing drought and starvation in Guatemala, or a teen fleeing El Salvador to avert near certain death at the hands of the maras.

Consider this scoop from Ted Hesson of Politico. He reports the administration is blocking hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally appropriated aid and support for Central American countries, because administration “officials can’t figure out how serious President Donald Trump is about withholding aid to these countries to punish them for the northward flow of migrants.” Without a doubt, aid to the northern triangle countries of Central America is essential to deal with this ongoing refugee and migration challenge. Without a doubt, Trump’s refusal to use appropriated aid in Central America is exacerbating the source of the problem.

What would a sensible, workable strategy look like? We need to integrate a series of steps that add up to a coherent approach. Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a program of America’s Voice, and former Chief Counsel for USCIS in DHS from 2014 through 2016, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Legislative Affairs for the Department of State, and former Chief Counsel to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security in the U.S. House of Representatives, lays out just such a multi-pronged strategy in this piece, entitled, “A Rational, Effective, and Humane Response to Steadily Increasing Numbers of Asylum Seekers at the U.S. Mexico Border.” The key elements:

  • Immediately Increase Port-of-Entry Infrastructure, Personnel and Resources for Processing Asylum Applicants: We should retool and grow border infrastructure and retrain personnel to receive and process asylum-seeking families efficiently, fairly and in a humane manner at the border.
  • Greater Use of Alternatives to Detention: We should make better use of smart, effective, and cost-efficient alternatives to detention that help ensure families and individuals are accountable to the law.
  • Immediately Restart and Ramp-Up Regional and In-Country Refugee Processing: To manage the flow of people in a humane manner and to disincentivize dangerous black market migration, we should be developing structures, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and partners in the region, to receive and adjudicate refugee and other claims before people travel to the U.S. border, which includes restarting and growing the Central American Minors program ended by Trump.
  • Deter Smuggling: We should ramp up anti-smuggling and intelligence initiatives with regional partners.
  • Address Root Causes: Former Vice President Joe Biden said last year, “The Border Won’t Be Secure Until Central America Is,” so we should be working with Central America to address root causes, not threats to cut off aid by presidential Tweet. Two former officials with expertise in Central America, former Ambassador Roberta Jacobson and former National Security Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo, have provided details of a plan to address root causes, including a point-by-point plan.  

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The Trump administration’s response to the multidimensional refugee and migration challenge posed by deteriorating conditions in Central America is one dimensional: deter those seeking safety and opportunity with deterrence supported by a big border wall. Deal with the problems in Central America? No. Restart in-country processing operations terminated by the Trump administration? No. Work with allies and the UNHCR to protect refugees in the region and facilitate orderly resettlement? No. Surge processing and humanitarian assistance to the border? No. Use alternatives to detention proven to work? No. No wonder their simplistic and futile strategy has failed so miserably. And it will continue to fail. It makes us wonder. Is this entire exercise a cynical political ploy to help Trump’s reelection campaign, or is this just the utter incompetence of officials who are in over their heads. Either way, the country deserves better.”