Trump’s actions to curb asylum abuse are bearing results
For the fourth month in a row, illegal alien apprehensions are down. September’s numbers, around 52,000, are the lowest figure in 2019. That’s no small feat for the Trump administration. Arrests of illegal aliens — who are largely incentivized to make the dangerous journey by gaping loopholes in our asylum laws — have plunged by 72 percent since a high of 144,000 in May. Although this fiscal year has produced the highest number of apprehensions in more than a decade, the numbers are continuing to trend downward.
So what’s up? Without Congress lifting a finger — which certainly would have brought this crisis to an end more expeditiously — the administration, with the help of several of our neighbors to the south, appears to have succeeded in convincing would-be illegal aliens that flimsy asylum claims probably would be denied once they crossed into the U.S. and their chances of being released into the U.S. were slim to none. The cumulative domestic and regional actions taken to stanch the rampant abuse of our asylum laws may have persuaded many would-be illegal aliens that the game is up.
Understanding that nothing would come out of the gridlocked Congress anytime soon, the administration decided to take a regional approach, working with our neighbors to the south to shore up their borders and be more accountable for the smuggling initiated in their countries.
The first step — which was accompanied by a tariff threat from President Trump — involved Mexico, which sells roughly 80 percent of its goods to the U.S. and values its access to the most lucrative market in the world. Mexico responded, quickly dispatching 25,000 Mexican National Guardsmen to secure its southern border, which played a large role in mitigating the migration crisis.
The administration’s next move focused on those who make a living off illegal immigration: human smugglers and child traffickers. There have been more arrests and prosecutions of human smugglers in the past three months than in any three-year period in the region’s history, according to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
In Central America, Guatemala has upped its game, increasing the policing of its borders and working in partnership with the U.S. and Mexico. El Salvador followed suit, deploying roughly 1,100 police and immigration agents to soft spots on its borders and targeting dangerous gang members for arrest. Both nations signed asylum cooperation agreements, agreeing to be “safe third countries” — those who pass through, claiming to be fleeing persecution in their home countries, must first ask for asylum there. To that end, the U.S. is granting $47 million in aid to Guatemala to enhance its asylum capacity.
These agreements have the potential to stop would-be asylum abusers from Central America — the region most asylees call home — and also from the 140 other nations who arrived at our borders last year.
The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), meanwhile, enable the U.S. to return certain migrants seeking asylum to Mexico to await their hearings. Roughly 40,000 people are being detained under MPP. Families can remain together and, should their asylum claims prevail, be admitted to the U.S. together. Should they be denied asylum, they are returned home together. For the American people, the action lessens public safety concerns associated with “catch and release,” which has allowed potentially dangerous migrants to disappear into the country’s interior.
Unfortunately, the administration’s catch and release reform efforts have had several legal setbacks, including the rejection of a planned update to the Flores agreement, which has fueled the catch and release program. Under the agreement, adults who arrived with children had to be released within 20 days, nearly ensuring their disappearance into the interior of the U.S. The court blocked a Trump administration proposal to permit holding adults with children for up to 60 days while they await court hearings.
Hopefully, this portfolio approach to the nation’s asylum abuse problem will convince more migrants that they won’t continue to get away with fraudulent claims. The Trump administration may not yet be out of the woods on changes to the Flores agreement, but they certainly can see the clearing ahead.
Dave Ray is director of communications at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington. Follow on Twitter @FAIRImmigration.
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