Straining the Border, Straining the System, Straining Credibility

The New York Times published an article last week entitled “Hoping for Asylum, Migrants Strain U.S. Border“. It’s worth reading despite its shortcomings.

I don’t agree with the apparently blind acceptance of certain assumptions and premises embedded in the article, and I particularly don’t care for the notion of journalists accompanying aliens on their smuggling ventures across the U.S. southern border, which may very well have been the case here, based on what I’m seeing in the photos and slide show of the online version.

But mostly, I dislike what the article fails to point out. It does an abysmal job of putting together the pieces of the puzzle in revealing the cause-and-effect between what we are shown – a border out of control – and the administration’s policies and practices. I’m wondering why the reporter, Julia Preston, didn’t go back to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson with some pointed questions after researching this article, and insert his responses so that we could make judgments of our own, rather than relying solely on her prose.

Nonetheless, I recommend reading the article despite its significant limitations because it is an eye-opener to those who tend to think of the border and illegal immigration in an abstract, intellectualized kind of way. Even with its sympathetic tenor toward those being smuggled into the country, the article clearly puts the lie to the administration’s claims that all is well on our southern frontiers: “The Border Patrol made more than 90,700 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley in the past six months, a 69 percent increase over last year.”

There is a brazenness about what is depicted in words and pictures that should be cause for serious reflection: on the fragile, unsecured state of our southern border, and of a system of enforcement and control that is in peril of being completely dismantled by the chief executive and those of his cabinet officers who are charged with its maintenance.

Take, for instance, the fact that increasing numbers of migrants are women with children, and unaccompanied minors. Of course they are. They are willing to risk the dangerous voyage north because they are virtually assured of release if and when they arrive:

The agents were clearly visible on that recent afternoon, but the migrants were undeterred. Mainly women and children, 45 in all, they crossed the narrow river on the smugglers’ rafts, scrambled up the bluff and turned themselves in, signaling a growing challenge for the immigration authorities.

The government can reasonably be accused of aiding and abetting the smuggling of these highly at-risk subgroups by its willingness to turn a blind eye toward their arrival and presence. Even sitting judges have excoriated the administration’s practices where dealing with these types of cases is concerned. (For examples, see herehere, and here.)

What is more, the administration’s “Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals” program has given impetus to a huge new influx of unaccompanied minors flowing across our borders in hopes of benefiting from the program. Though they may not qualify even under the program’s de minimus standards, these youth are not naïfs – they know full-well that bogus documents are readily and cheaply purchased to backdate their dates of arrival in the United States, and they also know that there is no rigor whatever in scrutinizing the applications submitted.

Then there is the Times article’s assertion that “[w]ith detention facilities, asylum offices and immigration courts overwhelmed, enough migrants have been released temporarily in the United States that back home in Central America people have heard that those who make it to American soil have a good chance of staying.” Again, self-inflicted wounds on so many levels. Consider:

Detention. If detention facilities are overwhelmed, why is Secretary Johnson asserting that the congressional mandate to maintain 34,000 filled detention beds is more of a suggestion than a requirement? And why has DHS submitted a budget for fewer beds?

Immigration Courts. It is no secret that detention as an enforcement tool has been significantly restricted since the advent of the Obama administration, and that tracking down alien fugitives no longer constitutes an enforcement priority for ICE. These policy shifts were done by means of a number of memoranda issued under former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton, and Napolitano’s confidante and former special emissary to ICE, Dora Schriro. As a consequence of this fatal combination of no detention and no follow-up, there are now substantially more than 800,000 alien fugitives in this country who have fled from their proceedings rather than face deportation – up from already absurdly high figure ofhalf a million in 2011. Under these circumstances, why waste taxpayer money on an extensive and costly immigration court apparatus and hundreds of sitting immigration judges? I suggest we simply substitute them with those wonderful self-signing machines, Autopens, since no orders of deportation are going to be enforced anyway.

Asylum. There is also the debacle that constitutes the administration’s handling of asylum – another program that is out of control, and plagued by widespread fraud, as has been clearly documented in a couple of hearings held by the House of Representatives. (See, for instance, here and here.) The number of people claiming asylum has skyrocketed, partly because they are no longer detained while their claim is pending, as required by law, and partly because the percentage of approvals of “credible fear” claims – as well as the applications in chief – are so high, and adequate vetting of the claims so poor, that there is little reason not to make the perilous trek. I was particularly plagued by questions after I read the following snippet:

A 29-year-old former soldier from El Salvador, who asked to be identified only as Jesús, said he left his wife and three children to escape a gang that came gunning for him because he arrested some of its members while in the army.

Given that background, the basis of Jesús’s claim to asylum would be something like this: “I will be persecuted by criminal gangs due to my law enforcement work, and the government can’t protect me. Therefore I’m a member of a particular social group (an at-risk and unprotected former soldier/enforcement officer).”

My first question, of course, is whether the story is true. What steps will the asylum officers take to verify the story? Simply take his word? Then there is the question of whether he is a military deserter. What do we think of military deserters in this country? Not much, do we? So is his story about fighting gangs just a cover for going AWOL? I’m also troubled by his leaving wife and children in the lurch, if his story is true. Does he think the gangs would not trouble them to lure him back? This in and of itself casts doubt on the legitimacy of his claim.

And then there is the question of being protected by the government. It is not useful to think of “the government” in the abstract for purposes of his claim. The government only and always consists of the people who constitute it: people like Jesús himself. Not any government, anywhere, can always protect its own people. Our own soldiers are at risk on domestic soil – sadly and tragically, Fort Hood has proven that repeatedly. So are our law enforcement officers – 105 were killed in the United States in the line of duty in 2013 alone. Would we think it reasonable if the surviving soldiers and police were to seek asylum in some European country, say Germany, because their government, our government, cannot guarantee absolute protection? Of course not. Yet, I’d bet that, by now, Jesús is not only already in the United States, but pursuing his claim.

Chief Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz is quoted in the article as saying, “Technology, air operations, ground units, that’s the complete package.” But what it comes down to is this: the complete package just isn’t enough when neither the policies nor the will are in place at the highest levels of government to see the law uniformly and effectively enforced. That means up to, and including, removals of aliens back to their places of origin.

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