What happens at the border?

By Catherine Petersen

A lot of conservative fear mongering is centralized around the idea that people from Mexico, Central America, and South America are going to sneak across the border and commit crimes. Not only is that wrong historically and statistically, but it also demonstrates a complete lack of understanding regarding the immigration and asylum processes.

The process of seeking asylum in the U.S. is extremely difficult. Many don’t go through the process because they know how slim the odds of being granted asylum are or don’t have time for the screening process due to immediate fears of death or violence. Migrants have to be unable to return home due to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a certain social group, or political opinion. Many migrants are from the Northern Triangle—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—and are fleeing gang violence due to their gender, sexuality, or lack of affiliation, which constitutes membership in a certain social group. When entering the U.S., it used to be legal to claim asylum at any location on the border, but in early November, the Trump administration announced that migrants’ requests for asylum will be blocked if they did not enter through an official port of entry. Even if migrants do enter at an official port, the likelihood of them being granted asylum is slim. Because immigration court is not a criminal court, asylum seekers are not guaranteed lawyers. Additionally, the current immigration system is trying to rush through a backlog of over 750,000 pending cases, which means cases can be decided in less than a day. Due to the complexities of immigration law, this simply is not enough time lawyers to put together a compelling case and gather documents from overseas. The backlog also means that it can take asylum seekers months or even years to go through the entire screening process and receive documentation to work in America. In 2016, only 11% of those who applied were granted asylum.

The main policy solution is to restart programs that the Trump administration ended. For example, the U.S. used to have a pilot program in place of detention that resulted in 99% of those seeking asylum showing up to their legal appointments. Besides policy solutions, there is work that we can do by reframing the issue and educating ourselves about the violence that migrants are fleeing. At this year’s Convocation, Maria Hinojosa spoke to how our language shapes issues; she and her news team doesn’t use the term “illegal” when describing human beings. By taking simple steps like adopting the right language, we are refusing to play into harmful biases and acknowledging our common humanity. When discussing problems and solutions, it is vital to understand that this is not just a crisis concerning legality or resources; this is a humanitarian crisis.