The recent clash between the migrant caravan and U.S. immigration enforcement officers was ugly to say the least. The images of insurgents storming a border, throwing rocks at police and fleeing tear gas clouds were reminiscent of the Gaza strip, not Tijuana. This is no way to proceed with a sustainable immigration policy. Something must be done.
But what? Lawyers for anti-borders groups have seemingly handcuffed the Trump administration in its attempts to implement a more robust border enforcement policy. A feckless, recalcitrant Congress says the right things, but lacks the will to do anything to change the status quo on the border. Even given this discouraging landscape, though, there are still clear steps the administration can take and is taking that would address these problems at their source and reduce the chances of violent clashes at our border.
Death to catch-and-release. Catch-and-release is the taproot from which many of our problems with illegal immigration spring. Because our system is so overwhelmed, a lack of housing space necessitates that illegal aliens who claim asylum are released into our nation’s interior on the honor system, in the mere hope that they will show up for a hearing date months or years in the future. Many, of course, do not.
As a result, even though murder rates are actually on the decline in Central America, asylum claims from that region have skyrocketed. This explosion of claims clearly is fueled not by conditions in that region, but by the realization that fake asylum claims are a backdoor into the United States.
The Trump administration’s pending deal whereby asylum seekers would be housed in Mexico until their cases are heard is thus a huge step in the right direction. Eliminating catch-and-release into the U.S. takes away one of the biggest lures for both illegal passage into the U.S. and exploitation of our asylum laws. Under the deal, legitimate asylum seekers can still be kept safe from threats, and those taking advantage of loopholes will not be allowed to live in the U.S. for years until the backlogged court system catches up with them.
End asylum abuse. Of all the loopholes in our immigration system, few are as gaping and widely exploited as those in our asylum laws. Thanks in part to our agenda-driven media, an assumption has been created in the minds of many migrants and American citizens, including lawyers employed at anti-borders organizations, that anyone facing any kind of hardship in their homeland can and should get into the United States by applying for asylum. By law, that assumption is wrong.
Living in poverty, having an abusive spouse or fearing MS-13 gang violence are not grounds for asylum. Interviews with caravan marchers demonstrated their ignorance of this fact. This widespread misunderstanding undoubtedly is part of the reason why 90 percent of all asylum seekers eventually have their cases denied. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions took a leading role in defining and enforcing very clear criteria for asylum. That effort should continue in his absence. To be clear, under U.S. law applicants for asylum are eligible only if they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution at the hands of their government due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Build the wall. It’s one of the most obvious and controversial ideas, but also one of the most practical. Simply put, had there been a fortified physical barrier in place at the Tijuana border area, the rock-throwing and tear gas incident probably wouldn’t have happened. “Walls don’t work” is a catchy bumper sticker slogan, but it is the very opposite of the truth.
Many of the arguments against the wall are easily debunked. One of the loudest claims is that a contiguous wall along the roughly 2,000 miles from San Diego to Brownsville is impractical. It is, which is why even Trump isn’t calling for that. With geographic obstacles in place, a wall extending half the length of the border would be sufficient. Opponents will cry that the $25 billion price tag is wasteful, but in the Washington swamp of federal largesse, that amount would barely fund the Energy or Justice departments for one year. It can be done.
PR Offensive. One of the driving factors that creates the phenomenon of mega-caravans marching north from Central America is that the marchers are acting on misinformation. Agenda-driven anti-borders groups that organize the caravans are giving migrants hope that storming the U.S. border and demanding entry is the best path to a better life.
That message may have been true in past administrations, but President Trump is dead serious about enforcing our border and that news must travel south. Instead of sending millions of dollars in aid that regularly ends up in the hands of corrupt dictators, the U.S. should instead use some of that money to educate the people of Central America about the realities of storming the border before they decide to make the trip. Voice of America was started 76 years ago to give America’s side of the news to the world. It should be deployed now to let the people of Central America know that caravan organizers are selling them snake oil, and that the long journey will not result in admission to the U.S.
Confrontations at our border were not created overnight. They are the product of years of bad laws and a refusal to enforce good ones. The solutions to these problems are known. We just need leaders with the stomach to implement them.
Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.
Also published at: Brian Lonergan, How to prevent future caravan ugliness at the border, The Hill, November 30, 2018.