Much attention, again, has been focused on the Southern Border. Since the beginning of President Biden’s administration we have seen an uptick of activity at the border. This comes after the termination of the stay in Mexico policy for asylum seekers and a more compassionate approach to families fleeing violence. Many are worried that this is a sign that our country will be overrun, but that is far from what is happening here.
What is really happening?
Our problem is that we are treating a refugee crisis like an unauthorized immigration, drug trafficking, and human trafficking problem. Those are two very different issues and they require different tools to address them. If your concern is smuggling, trafficking, and people trying to sneak into the country, then your response is enforcement and security. You increase the number of border agents, you make harsher penalties for crimes committed in transit across borders, and you work to shut down trafficking avenues where drugs are flowing into the country.
These are horrible ways, however, to deal with a refugee crisis. What we have at the Southern border are thousands of families and unaccompanied children fleeing violence, persecution, and insecurity. They aren’t trafficking drugs, they aren’t smuggling humans for illicit purposes. There is no proof that these illicit activities have surged recently. Instead, they are coming seeking protection, refuge, and opportunity.
Are they really persecuted or are they just seeking economic opportunity?
Well, yes and no. There are plenty of people who are fleeing threats of death and violence. Kidnapping, forced prostitution, extortion, and murder are running rampant in Central American and in parts of Mexico where gangs and drug cartels have more power than local governments. Corruption means that there is little to no help from police or other government institutions. Therefore they see their only option as fleeing their homes for another country.
At the same time, some are primarily fleeing economic instability. In many areas there is very little prospect for economic freedom and stability. These areas are controlled by violent gangs and cartels which destabilize the economy and require tariffs from those who succeed.
So yes, some are fleeing violence, and some are looking for economic opportunity, but those two issues are interconnected. Additionally, who is to say that lack of economic opportunity is not a reason to seek a better life elsewhere?
Why can’t they just come legally?
This is where their experiences get tricky. There is a common misperception in the United States that it is simple for people who need to come to the United States to do so. We assume that all they have to do is get a passport, fill out a few papers, and then wait in line, but as is often said, for most of these individuals there is no line to get into! You must have a very close family relation who can petition for you and support you, or you must have a very unique talent or skill that few if any in the United States have that can get you a visa. Oh, and you can also be rich and basically buy one by investing in US business.
But for these poor individuals, harassed by gangs and cartels, without access to economic mobility, there is no line they can get into to come here “legally”.
So what do they do? They attempt the only legal pathway that exists for them. They come to the border, and they ask for asylum. That is the legal pathway for them. Even if they cross illegally in the desert or across the river, and then ask for asylum, they have only committed a misdemeanor, and by law they have the right to petition for asylum. That becomes even more understandable when you understand that in some areas, the cartel controls access to the border for these migrants.
What can we do?
First, abandon the rhetoric of illegal immigration, of a security threat, and of homeland security. That is not what is happening.
Second, accept this issue for what it is and urge our leaders to respond quickly and compassionately. Some options are to officially declare a refugee crisis, to revamp our asylum laws and policies to respond more quickly and compassionately to those fleeing hardships, to offer asylum for violations of human rights and not just civil rights. The list could go on.
There is more we can do, but let’s start here!