Is “Zero Tolerance” stopping refugees from coming to America no but it is making it much harder.
El Paso, TX – A federal judge in San Diego, on June 23, 2018, ordered immigration agents to stop separating migrant parents and children who have crossed the border from Mexico. Asylum seekers didn’t go through the same level of family separation during the Bush and Obama administrations.
According to an immigration advocate at the El Paso border and Camilo Perez-Bustillo, Director of Advocacy, Leadership Development and Research at Hope Institute, the family separations have slowed down but are still occurring at the El Paso Border.
When Roger Maier ( Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, El Paso TX ) was asked what is the process for asylum seekers crossing the El Paso Border? Mr. Maier emailed that “Person arrives with or without documentation (most have some type of ID). CBP (Custom and Border Patrol) officers will try to establish the ID of the person, if there is any criminal history, etc. If the person claims fear or is seeking asylum that starts an administrative process that CBP follows. The person is assigned an A number and then is turned over to ICE ERO (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for further processing. Again CBP plays no role in adjudicating asylum claims – our role is purely administrative.”
Activists argue that although CBP does not actually separate the families at the border they are making it hard for them to cross legally at the El Paso, Texas border. They are denying them legal entry at the ports of entry in El Paso. They tell these families they can not cross that day. This process of waiting in lines legally at a port of entry into El Paso can go on for days or even weeks with the family being turned away by CBP.
This forces the families to stay on the Mexican side of the border. In Mexico, the longer the families stay at the border they are in danger of running out of money, being robbed, possibly having a child kidnapped by the drug cartel or just suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Given these choices, many families are choosing to cross illegally but are surrendering themselves to Border Patrol agents. Under previous administrations, this illegal act was treated differently because they knew to charge the adult with illegal entry would send them to detention under the Department of Justice. The minor would be sent to HHS (Health and Human Service.) Since this action would cause family separation it was rarely done. This puts the adult into the Department of Justice system while the minor went into a different system under HHS of refugee resettlement.
Many advocates feel this was done intentionally by the Trump administration to force family separation because it places the adult with DOJ and the child or children with HHS, two separate departments of the government.
A leading activist at Hope Institute believes the forced illegal crossing might also be coordinated between CBP and Border Patrol. Advocates in El Paso believe the administration wanted these families in two different agencies knowing it would result in family separations. Other administrations knew this would be the consequence and that is why it was rarely done. They chose to exercise this process if they felt the child was in danger by the adult bringing them across the border.
Roger Maier said that CBP had nothing to do with Border Patrol and would give no further comment when pressed with what advocates believe is a coordinated effort to ensure family separation. There are eyewitness accounts at El Paso Border crossings of CBP actually going up to the Mexico border to stop people from crossing. This is not protocol.
Nearly 500 children are still separated, even after the Judge ordered their reunification. Although the administration says family separations at the border have stopped advocates such as Camilo Perez-Bustillo said they are still happening but at a slower pace.
He also cited the increase in detention centers specifically tent city, in Tornillo, TX set up in June 2018, went from housing 300 “unaccompanied minors” to 3,000. He said at first it was only boys housed there but now there are girls there too.
Perez-Bustillo believes the plans build family detention centers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX could be a way for the Trump administration to violate or do a run around the Flores agreement. Flores was a 1997 court agreement, stating that minors cannot be detained for more than 20 days. He believes the administration plans to detain families at centers, such as the one being set up at Ft. Bliss, to detain these asylum seekers until they can be deported.
Immigration judges actually fall under the Department of Justice. Advocates say that AG Sessions “zero tolerance” policy has lead to family separations. Since it has been challenged in the courts they now want a way to still deny asylum so advocates think that family detention centers are their latest plan to deter the migration.
Migration from the Northern Triangle is actually lower than it was ten years ago but if you listen to the Trump Administration you might think it is up especially from El Salvador where MS-13 resides. News reports refer to the drug cartels and violence in the Northern Triangle but Perez-Bustillo and other advocates say the biggest factor is political unrest in these countries.
Perez-Bustillo explained that in 2008 the largest number of refugee seekers came from Hondorus due to the political unrest but since the 2009 Honduran coup d’état the number of refugees has decreased from there.
Currently, he said, the largest number of asylum seekers are from Guatemala because indigenous people are being forced and even killed due to the silver found on their land.
The deep mine, which was acquired by Canadian company Tahoe Resources in 2010, is situated in the middle of Guatemala’s southern agricultural heartlands where thousands of families live off the land. Guatemala is 60 percent indigenous people and they are literally in a fight for their lives, land, and livelihood.
Perez-Bustillo also stated that refugess pass through Mexico on their way to America because Mexico is not equipped to handle an influx of refugees due to its own political and economic challenges. However, this month the Trump administration made a deal with Enrique Peña Nieto, president of Mexico to designate Mexico as a third country.
Refugee and Immigration advocates are concerned about this designation. They fear asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle will be victimized further by the drug cartels in Mexico. They see this as an attempt by the Trump administration to further undermine asylum seekers from coming to America.
Until conditions improve in the Northern Triangle people will continue to seek refuge. Agencies at the border have worked with administrations and immigrants for decades to help them transition. They have never seen anything as anti-immigrant as this “zero policy.”
When I asked a decades-long advocate at the El Paso border what message he would like people to hear he said ” We can not let the current administration to criminalize asylum seekers. Morally we cannot give in to their desire to dehumanize asylum seekers.”