The Trump administration is touting reports of a surge in border apprehensions of Central American families and children seeking asylum as evidence for the President’s emergency declaration to build his wall. This comes in advance of a potentially embarrassing Senate vote to revoke the President’s declaration. The narrow focus on the border fits perfectly with the President’s self-branding effort headed into the 2020 campaign and his rhetoric of invasions, border chaos and dangerous migrants coming to do America harm.
Because the President sees border chaos as helpful to his reelection chances, neither the President nor his administration are interested in the real issues driving families and children out of Central America or what can be done to manage and process that flow in a safe, legal and orderly manner. In fact, steps that have been taken in recent years to help manage the flow of asylum-seekers have been eliminated or cut by this President and new policies he has implemented are making the problem worse.
Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice said in a statement:
We have a regional refugee crisis which requires strong U.S. leadership to lead a broader regional approach. But two things are clear: a border wall in no way addresses children and families fleeing violence and corruption and presenting themselves to seek asylum, and the policies that would address a surge at the source in Central America have been eliminated, dismantled or cut by the Trump administration. It is clear that Trump is not interested in policies that solve the underlying issues that create the current asylum increase. However, he is interested in politics that bolster his reelection strategy and reinforce a venal message that all immigrants are out to kill us.
What the administration does at the border largely makes the problems of asylum-seekers worse: Trump administration policies like “border metering” and “return to Mexico” are driving asylum-seekers away from secure ports of entry and towards more and more remote and dangerous parts of the U.S. border. This stretches Border Patrol resources as more and more personnel are forced to intercept and process asylees, including children and families in remote locations.
While there was a modest increase in alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers in the most recent budget agreement — some $35 million additional for cost-effective means of tracking and facilitating asylum claims — the thrust of the Trump policy is to deter people from applying for asylum.
From a regional perspective, Trump has pulled back from policies that help reduce and manage the flow of asylum seekers, including:
- Reducing aid to the northern triangle countries of Central America by 40%. As Reuters summarized, “In 2016, the United States provided some $131 million in aid to Guatemala, $98 million to Honduras, and $68 million to El Salvador, according to U.S. data. By next year, those sums were projected to fall to $69 million for Guatemala, $66 million for Honduras and $46 million for El Salvador – a reduction of almost 40 percent for the three nations.” Congress recently pushed back on the Trump administration cuts and appropriated $527.6 million to address root causes.
- Ending the Central American Minors (CAM) program, created in 2014, that enabled young people with strong claims for refugee status to apply in their home countries rather than take the dangerous journey to the border in search of protection. CAM was intended to “to provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States [from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras],” precisely what children are doing today.
- Dismantling regional refugee reception and processing centers in Central America. Efforts by the Obama administration in 2016 to work with the UNHCR (the UN High Commission for Refugees) to set up refugee reception and processing centers in the region have dried up under Trump, with just 525 refugees resettled in the U.S. from all of Latin America in fiscal year 2018.
- Gutting asylum rules and processes: Trump has made the existing situation worse, leaving Central Americans fleeing violence and destitution with few options for seeking asylum besides coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, Trump is determined to make it virtually impossible to apply for asylum at the border and has gutted related rules and protections.