“Our nation has had a long and proud history of providing humane treatment to and due process for asylum seekers. I urge us to reject policies and proposals that would abandon this tradition, and I ask our government to remember that those fleeing to our border are not the “other” but fellow children of God.”
Last month, the Bishop of El Paso, TX, Mark Seitz, testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on the experiences and recommendations of the church regarding US/Mexico border policy.
Bishop Seitz’s message was unique in its emphasis on the true root causes of migration, the need for robust protections for migrants, and the truly phenomenal efforts of organizations along the border to provide humanitarian services and accompaniment.
The message from the administration and sometimes Congress, is starkly different. While both the administration and Bishop Seitz speak of the need for a humanitarian response, the administration’s use of the word ‘humanitarian’ hides many proposals that would have the opposite effect.
The organizations working on the ground to provide shelter, humanitarian services, legal services, and accompaniment see a reality that requires a response rooted in compassion, dignity, and justice. The migrants that groups such as the Columbans are working to support are not the problem- it is our administration’s attempt to respond with only deterrence and chaos in mind.
In this article, we take a look at what the realities of the border region and how the administration is attempting to create not just a physical wall but a policy ‘wall’ as well.
What is happening at the border?
Over the past two years, the administration has attempted to implement a series of policies aimed at militarizing the border region and deterring migration through reducing access to the system. These policies, from increased barrier construction to family separation, inflicted trauma on border communities and migrants seeking safety.
Earlier this year, this history of ill-intentioned and chaotic policies met with a changing population of migrants arriving at the border. Over the past few months, we have seen a steady increase of asylum-seeking families and children from Central America. This increase started much earlier, however. In 2012 less than 10% of those apprehended at the border were families. This increased to 40% in fiscal year 2018.
Children and families require, both legally and morally, certain types of processing. Unaccompanied children arriving at the border are only supposed to be held in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody for less than 72 hours. They are then transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (within the Department of Health and Human Services) in order to be placed in a more appropriate shelter setting and eventually reunited with a relative or guardian while they await the processing of their immigration claim.
Families arriving at the border are supposed to processed by CBP in a timely manner, transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody where they are processed and either placed in family detention or released on alternatives to detention to then await the processing of their immigration claim.
While CBP and ICE have had experience with short-term increases in people arriving and have seen this particular increase coming for awhile, their responses over the past few months have increased chaos and inefficiency in the processing system while at the same time causing increased trauma to migrants and border communities.
Recent examples of deplorable conditions in CBP custody, including grossly substandard facilities housing children are only the latest in a long-running history of inhumane conditions in CBP and ICE custody.
Faith-based organizations along the border continue to welcome and accompany migrants as they are released from federal custody, oftentimes late at night and with little to no instruction on next steps. Volunteers help them navigate their plans to reunify with family members and better understand the immigration system. They hear stories like this one of the abuse migrants suffer while in detention and the compounded trauma of a hostile reception after an arduous journey.
Back in March, organizations around the country mobilized to protest the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the border. This announcement allowed him to redirect funding from different areas of the government’s budget, including the Pentagon and Treasury Departments, toward the construction of physical barriers at the border.
While the administration began the process to use this money for border barrier construction, both outside organizations and the House of Representatives sued the administration on this decision to circumvent Congress’ authority. In an uplifting moment last week, a federal judge ruled the administration must pause construction while the case works its way through the court system.
The administration, however, continues to use funding allocated by Congress in past years to construct barriers along the border without proper environmental assessments.
Decreasing access to protection
In addition to a physical wall, the administration has enacted policies that carry out the same goal. These include policies such as ‘metering’ at ports of entry, forcing asylum seeker to remain in Mexico while their case is processed, limiting access to asylum, and attempting to eliminate legal protections for kids and families.
Limiting people’s ability to cross the border at ports of entry by only taking a certain number of people per day (or none) and forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their case is processed are incredibly dangerous and violate our responsibility to provide protection. These policies are creating a bottleneck at ports of entry along the border, often forcing people to undertake more dangerous, and in some cases deadly, crossings between ports of entry.
The Remain in Mexico program (or Migrant Protection Protocols) is wreaking havoc on the safety of both migrants and border communities. The program places asylum seekers in very vulnerable situations and severely limits their ability to actually make an asylum claim. Communities in cities like Ciudad Juarez, sister city to El Paso, are working to provide support to people while they are forced to stay in Mexico, but the numbers are steadily increasing and the resources are limited. For more information on why Remain in Mexico is not a humanitarian response, click here and here.
What can Congress do here?
Over the past few weeks, both the House and the Senate have been crafting their own versions of a border supplemental funding package in response to the president’s original proposal. This means the administration is requesting more money than they were given this fiscal year in order to address the situation at the border.
Although marketed as a ‘humanitarian response’, the administration’s funding request is anything but. It included more money for immigration enforcement and detention- we know we cannot enforce our way to a humanitarian-based system. If the goals of our response to the increase in numbers of children and families arriving at our border were upholding human dignity, due process, and justice, then our response would look much different.
While there are very real processing concerns when working with any migrant, let alone children and families, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not established a processing system that is equipped to ensure people seeking protection are humanely and timely processed. This is why Congress must be incredibly careful in what they allocate money for in this package.
Any border supplemental funding package passed by Congress must include:
Any border supplemental funding package passed by Congress must not include:
*Editor's Note: Download our Border Solidarity Toolkit for a curated list of resources and activities that will help you learn more about US/MX border communities and how you can support them through prayer, education, and action.
Copyright © 2020 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.