I have been exploring the issues the U.S. has with Latin America with a light touch the past two days, first using National Pina Colada Day to revisit Puerto Rican Statehood, then examining the history of U.S.-Cuba relations on National Mojito Day. Today, I take a more serious tack on how the U.S. deals with people from south of the border with help from Vox. Watch Why seeking asylum in America is so difficult.
Asylum [seekers] have pushed the system to a tipping point.While I'm not opposed to making asylum seekers jump through hoops to prove that they deserve to stay in this country, I am opposed to separating them from their children. I also don't think that placing them in custody on military bases while their claims are being processed is a good idea, either. Vox examines the rationale for doing so and finds it wanting in A new study blows up Trump’s “catch-and-release” myth.
Asylum is one way that refugees come to America. If you’ve already fled your home country for fear of persecution, and come to the United States, but don’t have refugee status, applying for asylum is the next step you take. It’s a small subset of the American immigration system, but it’s the mechanism behind so much of the news about border.
Families recently separated from their children at the border came seeking asylum. People fleeing from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — an area known as the Northern Triangle — come to the United States seeking asylum. To even get a hearing before an immigration judge, potential asylum-seekers have to prove that they have what’s called “credible fear” of returning home. And this is where that backlog really begins.
President Donald Trump and other top administration officials have spent months railing against the release of immigrant families as a recipe for widespread lawlessness. They claim that once a family is released from immigration, they’ll simply abscond into the US, skipping their appointed court dates, to live as unauthorized immigrants. The administration makes it seem like this is a deliberate strategy — a known end-run around existing immigration law that takes advantages of extra protections afforded to children, families, and asylum-seekers.That's a description of the problem, which includes asylum seekers having to update their addresses with multiple agencies, which they usually don't know to do and which results in them missing their court dates. Vox offers a solution, but notes that the administration is unlikely to take it.
But a new study, compiled by a pair of legal advocacy groups, shows that isn’t the case, and that the administration doesn’t have to choose between separating immigrant families (or detaining them indefinitely) and making sure they show up to court. The administration has identified a real problem, but misunderstands, or misrepresents, the cause.
The study confirms that families who cross into the US without papers often miss their court dates, but offers suggestive qualitative evidence — collected from families who were contacted by attorneys and notified that they’d missed their court dates — that many families aren’t deliberately absconding at all.
They’re trying to stay in the system. It’s just that the system makes it too hard for them, then punishes them with an order of deportation when they fail. The people whom the Trump administration is painting as lawless “absconders” are often just lost, confused, and overwhelmed families in a strange land, working as hard as they can to be allowed to stay here but faced with legal and bureaucratic obstacles that make missing a court date an understandable outcome.
The administration could do a better job of coordinating between agencies so that migrants only needed to update their addresses once. It could adopt a case-management approach that assumed that people are trying to get through the system the right way and simply need a little help navigating it.I am disappointed but not surprised that this administration has taken the most punitive approach possible. It seems like punishment is the end, not just the means.
The Trump administration has not done that so far. It has instead adopted a blanket approach that assumes that any given family will evade the law if given the chance. It’s fighting in court to keep families under physical control in detention for as long as their cases take, while pressuring judges to speed up those cases so they can be deported more quickly, rather than ever getting released. And, when it fails, the administration is claiming that lawlessness is inevitable.
That’s the choice the administration has made. It’s the most punitive option available to them. It’s not necessarily the one best suited to the problem.