The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, testified before Congress yesterday revealing some startling statistics about the humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border. Perhaps the most shocking was the number of asylum seekers who cross into the United States that do not show up for their hearings in immigration court. When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), McAleenan responded that DHS recently conducted a pilot program with only family units where 90 percent received their final orders of removal in absentia. McAleenan added:
Currently, due to a single district court order, we cannot obtain effective immigration enforcement results for the families arriving at our border -- they cannot be held more than 21 days and do not receive rulings from immigration courts for years.
Worsening the crisis is the demographic shift in those who are illegally crossing the border en masse. Of the 144,000 inadmissible or removable aliens apprehended in May of this year, 206 percent higher than the average May apprehensions over the past seven years, the most substantial percentage of those apprehended were unaccompanied minors and family units. As reported by Fox News, DHS has taken 60,000 minors into its custody in the last forty days, McAleenan described the situation as a “full-blown emergency.” In total 72 percent of all border enforcement actions in May were directed to Unaccompanied Alien Minors and family units, most of whom willingly surrendered themselves to Border Patrol officers, McAleenan added, “only 30 percent of those coming to the border are actually trying to avoid being captured.”
While we are doing everything we can, the volume and composition of populations arriving at the Southern Border are simply unsustainable. Unless Congress acts, the situation will continue to deteriorate - with grave consequences.
During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, McAleenan pointed out two of the significant legal loopholes being taken advantage of by aliens crossing into the United States, these loopholes are comprised of status-quo knowledge that children and family units cannot be detained, and abuse of the U.S. asylum system. Under current law, family units and unaccompanied alien minors are released into the United States due to their inability to be detained, often with little to no consequences for their illegal entry. McAleenan argues that this has presented Mexican cartels with a lucrative business opportunity in human trafficking. According to his statement before Congress, DHS has identified almost 4,800 immigrants this year presenting as family units that were determined to be fraudulent and has even uncovered horrific “child recycling rings” whereby children are being used multiple times to help different adult immigrants gain illegal entry and release. To add to this issue, McAleenan stated:
We routinely observe advertisements on the radio, in the local news, on social media, and by flyers and business cards advertising that: “if you bring a child, you will not be deported,” and that “free American services and assistance are available.
McAleenan also raised some concerns surrounding the current “credible fear” litmus test required to grant asylum to immigrants crossing the southern border. He states that approximately 80 percent of individuals pass the initial credible fear screening administered by Border Patrol officers after apprehension for illegally crossing the border. Upon further review, only 10 to 15 percent are found to have valid asylum claims by an Immigration Judge. According to his statement, McAleenan urged Congress to improve the “credible fear of persecution” standard to ensure that only aliens who are more likely than not to succeed on their asylum claim are promptly placed into immigration proceedings while those who are not are expeditiously removed. Adding:
I am asking Congress to support a process that would allow certain Central Americans to seek refugee status closer to home or in a bordering county, thus obviating the need for these aliens to make the dangerous journey to the United States - and drastically reducing the opportunity for drug cartels and smugglers to profit off of human suffering.
As reported by CNN, McAleenan predicts that if these loopholes are closed by Congress’s ability to pass reasonable immigration reform laws, illegal crossings at the southern border could drop by as much as 90 percent - effectively ending the current humanitarian crisis.
Through his statement and subsequent answers to questions posed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, McAleenan expressed his support for S. 1494 also known as the Secure and Protect Act of 2019, sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in May of this year. The bill, if passed, would take strong action in implementing some of the reforms asked for by DHS, especially in the case of family detention and the asylum process. Including many other alterations to existing law, the Secure and Protect Act would expand the amount of time minors are allowed to be detained after illegal entry into the United States from 20 days to 100 days, along with enabling them to be held with their family and expedite their court proceedings to allow for a decision within that 100 day period. The bill would also alter the current “credible fear of persecution” standard for asylum mandating that asylum seekers meet higher standards of proof that they are “more likely than not” to face persecution if returned to their home country. As well as establish no less than four asylum processing centers in Central America which would require those seeking asylum to remain in their home country or one contiguous to it while applying for asylum.
Updated: Wed, Jun 26th 2019 @ 11:00am EDT