In the wake of the President’s declaration of a national emergency in order to secure funding for his border wall, the ongoing debate has been if there is or is not an emergency at the Southwestern border. People on both side have their arguments. Those who want the wall say it will stop the flow of unauthorized migration and the smuggling of drugs. Those who do not point out that unauthorized migration is at all time lows and that per the government’s own findings, drugs mostly come through established ports of entry.
What we need to realize, however, is that there is a crisis at the border, but it isn’t either of the things outlined above. It isn’t a crisis of unauthorized migration and it isn’t a crisis of drugs. Both of those are long standing situations that have their own ebb and flow. The crisis we are experiencing now is a refugee crisis.
By far the flow of migrants coming into the United States has shifted from primarily a flow of individuals looking for work to families looking for safety. Violence and corruption in several Central American countries has gotten so bad that many consider fleeing to the United States to be their only hope. This journey takes them through jungles and deserts, through territories controlled by dangerous gangs and drug cartels. They do this because they hope that in the United States they can pursue a life of happiness and of freedom.
What, then, can the United States do to address such a problem? Well, first of all a wall will not help this situation. People who are desperate enough to travel through dangerous, crime-filled terrain won’t be deterred by a wall. And even more so, it is their right to come here and to claim asylum, that is something that is written into our legal code. It also is important to point out that due to international laws and agreements, the wall will actually be not on the border in many places, but in US territory. That means that once people arrive at the wall, they will already be in the United States, and the immigration laws of the United States say that those people would have the right to request asylum, even though they are on the other side of the wall, based upon the fact that they are in US territory.
What is a proper response to this refugee crisis? In short, it could take many forms. The United States could actually declare it as a refugee crisis and invite the involvement of the United Nations to establish refugee camps and procedures. We could increase our number of immigration judges to be able to adjudicate the huge backlog of court cases already in the system. We could revamp the asylum system, making it more compassionate and to recognize the gang violence of Central America as a legitimate claim to asylum. We could increase the number of agents on the border trained to process asylum cases and to conduct credible fear interviews. We could stop rationing the number of asylum cases accepted at border checkpoints each day, and instead process as many as possible, while also ending all family separation and indefinite detention. This would incentivize people to enter through ports of entry and de-incentivize more treacherous routes.
There are many things that we could do to honestly and compassionately respond to the crisis at our border, but a wall is not the answer.