Approximately 1,300 migrants left Honduras this weekend, according to Reuters, hoping to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. Reuters reports that the migrants are heading to the U.S. to escape violence in their home country and to seek better work opportunities. They also hope to take advantage of current loopholes in U.S. immigration law that would allow them to gain entry into the U.S. and eventually get work permits.
The "March of the Migrants" is an organized effort and is similar to one earlier this year. That first caravan started with approximately 1,500 migrants, but only about 450 reached the U.S. border. But three-quarters of them claimed asylum, which allowed them to stay. Of those that claimed asylum, em>The Washington Times reported that 205 of 216 that had been screened cleared the "credible fear" standard. That was one of several reasons that prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue a new ruling on the "credible fear" standard. His ruling stated that the "mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim."
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the asylum adjudication process at the border, turned AG Sessions' ruling into actual guidance in July. The move helps close the asylum loophole, but only on a temporary basis. The Sessions ruling or DHS guidance could be overturned by a future administration or an act from Congress.
In fact, just a few months ago, the House Appropriations Committee passed the DHS appropriations bill for FY2019 that would block the guidance from being enforced. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas), supported the provision and allowed it to be added to the spending bill by voice vote, but now says he's willing to remove it should the bill come up for a vote. The House will need to vote to fund DHS prior to December 7th.
The U.S. asylum process at the border is pretty straightforward. When an alien presents themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border or is apprehended by Border Patrol after crossing the border illegally, the alien claims asylum by saying they have a credible fear of persecution if they return to their home country. The Obama administration allowed asylum seekers to use a fear of crime or domestic abuse as a claim for asylum even though U.S. law clearly states that asylum seekers must have a fear of "persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group."
After the Obama administration lowered the "credible fear" standard, there was more than a 150% increase in asylum cases from Honduras between FY2011 and FY2016 compared to the previous 5-year period. But just because the Obama administration lowered the standard didn't mean that asylum seekers were successful. According to immigration court records, 80% of asylum claims entered by Hondurans were denied by a judge.
That's why the Sessions ruling and the DHS guidance that followed was so important. But Congress also needs to take action.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Securing America's Future Act, H.R. 4760, which failed to pass back in July, would have strengthened the asylum process when a credible fear claim is first made. House Leaders can still bring H.R. 391, first introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and taken over by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) after his retirement, to the floor for a vote. H.R. 391 has been marked up and approved by the House Judiciary Committee and would help close the loopholes.
A legislative solution combined with the Sessions ruling are the best fixes to close the asylum loophole and stop future caravans from making the dangerous trek through Mexico to the U.S. border. But the administration can also use diplomatic channels, and it appears that that's what the Trump administration plans to do. Pres. Trump says he has already sent a stern warning to Honduras:
The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2018
The warning from Pres. Trump follows a warning from Vice President Mike Pence last week. Speaking at an annual conference in Washington D.C. to promote prosperity and security in Central America, VP Pence said "the leaders in this room and the governments that you represent should tell your people — don't put your families at risk by taking the dangerous journey north to attempt to enter the United States illegally."
The United States sent more than $175 million in federal aid to Honduras in FY2017, representing close to 1% of the nation's total GDP.
Pres. Trump's threat to freeze foreign aid should encourage Honduran leaders to make a better effort at stopping this newest caravan. But nothing can take the place of Congress taking action and permanently closing the asylum loophole.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Deputy Director for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Oct 30th 2018 @ 11:10am EDT