The forces driving the unprecedented surge in family units and minors at the southern border were in the spotlight last week, as many of the nation's leading newspapers published reports within days of each other that paint a clearer picture of how loose "credible fear" standards, the "Flores" settlement, and lack of detention space and asylum judges have created loopholes in the system that caravans and smugglers have adapted to.
"A trend toward family migration from Central America that began when Barack Obama was president has endured, after temporarily dipping during Mr. Trump's first year in office...."In 2008, just under 5,000 applicants claimed they had a credible fear of persecution, the first legal step toward obtaining asylum, to avoid being returned to their homeland. Last year, nearly 100,000 claimed a credible fear." -- The New York Times, March 5, 2019
Polling indicates that American voters support catch-and-release even less than they do family separations, yet that is the de facto policy of the United States.
To the administration's credit, the White House has called for congressional reforms to close these loopholes, but with Trump himself focused on the wall - and the media focused on Trump - there has been little pressure on Congress to act.
Predictably, the surge in large groups of people traveling with children toward the U.S.-Mexico border has accelerated.
The Washington Times reports that "some 70 groups of at least 100 migrants" have been encountered in the first five months of FY2019.
As he did last year, The Washington Post's Nick Miroff has been providing essential reporting. His March 4th story, "Record number of families, cold reality at border," describes how the system is breached:
"U.S. court restrictions on the government's ability to keep children in immigration jails - and the sheer volume of people arriving - have left Homeland Security agencies defaulting increasingly to the overflow model Trump deplores as 'catch-and-release.'...."....word has spread that those who travel with a child can expect to be released from U.S. custody. Smugglers were offering two-for-one pricing, knowing they just needed to deliver clients to the border - not across it - for an easy surrender to U.S. agents...."....The problem, Homeland Security officials say, is that a growing portion of those who pass the initial screening never appear in court. They know asylum standards are tightening. Or, [they] have a prior deportation from the United States that all but disqualifies them from getting asylum. Once released into the U.S. interior, some shed their monitoring bracelets and slip into the shadows to remain in the United States, a country where wages are 10 times higher than in Central America. The saturation at the border means that it matters little whether a parent's story of persecution is sufficiently credible..."
Miroff sums up the situation:
"An attractive job market in the United States is prompting more Central Americans to leave the poverty and insecurity of their home countries and head north, typically in groups of one parent and one child. Such pairings all but ensure the family will be processed quickly and released from U.S. custody in a matter of days." -- The Washington Post, March 5, 2019
With each of these reports, it should get harder for Members of Congress to plausibly deny the loopholes.
"...smugglers [know] that children have an easier chance getting through the U.S. immigration system." -- NBC News, March 5, 2019
"...the practical effect is that most families are released into the country to await their hearings in immigration court. The courts are so backlogged that it could take months or years for cases to be decided. Some people never show up for court at all." -- The New York Times, March 5, 2019
"Arriving in the U.S. illegally as part of a family provides advantages, as those with children in tow are typically detained for shorter periods than adults traveling alone. There is a 20-day limit on jailing children, after which they are released into the U.S. with their parents while their claims are adjudicated." -- The Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2019
"'It's well-known at this time that adults with children will not be detained during the immigration proceedings for illegal entry. The word of mouth and social media quickly gets back to those in the Northern Triangle countries, that if you bring a child, you'll be successful,' a senior Border Patrol official told reporters." -- Washington Examiner, March 6, 2019
"Migrants now know that the U.S. border system is overwhelmed. More to the point, they now know that if they bring their children with them, they will not be abruptly sent back, and cannot be detained for longer than 20 days, after which they will be free to go and work anywhere in the country. That incentive is much stronger now than it was a year ago." -- Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine, March 8, 2019
"...passing the credible-fear test is really all you need. Most then simply disappear into the U.S. Some become victims of human trafficking or gangs. Few are ever removed from the country." -- David Inserra, The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2019
"Americans also need to rethink asylum policy. If unemployment, poverty, or disorder in your home country qualifies you for asylum, then hundreds of millions of people qualify -- even though virtually none of them has been targeted by the kind of state-sponsored persecution that asylum laws were originally written to redress." --David Frum, March 11, 2019
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Sat, Mar 30th 2019 @ 11:20am EDT