The current administration seems bent on killing the American system of asylum

The current administration seems bent on killing the American system of asylum
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The revelation that children were encouraged to “build the wall” with personalized bricks at a White House pre-Halloween party should disturb us all. It mirrors recent efforts by private groups to build a wall across the entire southern border of the United States.

It resembles privatized efforts to patrol the border, such as the United Constitutional Patriots, one of the many border militia who periodically emerge and terrify migrants to ostensibly defend the border. 

This latest instance of border anxiety comes some four months after the horrendous events that occurred in my hometown of El Paso, Texas.


A young white nationalist opened fire at the Walmart next to the city’s popular Cielo Vista Mall on the weekend before school began, executing twenty-two people and injuring at least twenty-seven others. There were likely more victims.

Reports soon emerged that in the wake of this terrorist incident, other victims who lacked U.S. citizenship or other legal footing avoided seeking medical assistance. They feared they might be deported or detained.                                                

People who I collaborate with in El Paso tell me that their children are having nightmares of men in camouflage hunting them. Everyone tells me that they now make a point of checking for the exits when they are in public buildings.

A few hours before Trump was set to visit El Paso to commemorate the victims of the massacre, federal agents detained approximately 680 migrant workers from seven poultry plants across the state of Mississippi. The action constituted the largest workplace raid in U.S. history. The raid tore apart migrant communities. It separated children from their parents and other caregivers, sowed financial insecurity, and instilled dread. The southern border region of the United States fuels such wrenching scenes because of how migration is handled.

However, it is far too easy to place blame solely on Trump and his political supporters. With the presidential election on the horizon, we must not fall for Democratic nostalgia of a pre-Trump era. Republican and Democratic administrations alike have ramped up border and immigration enforcement. 


The Obama administration deported more migrants than any in U.S. history. The United States Border Patrol has engineered the death and disappearance of tens of thousands undocumented migrants. Border Patrol operations, such as Hold the Line in El Paso and Gatekeeper in southern California, drive undocumented migrants into dangerous and hostile terrain.

Someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, or child dies, or they have disappeared, never to be heard from again. These border patrol operations began during Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden painted into a basement 'Rose Garden strategy' corner Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group We have the resources to get through this crisis, only stupidity is holding us back MORE’s presidency, and they have continued. Neither George Bush nor Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGraham says he appreciates Trump orders, but 'would much prefer a congressional agreement' 'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions Biden's immigration plan has serious problems MORE ended them.

Now asylum-seekers enter the crosshairs. The United States once welcomed if not celebrated them. Often, asylum seekers present themselves to border authorities and request asylum. Under clear laws passed by Congress as well as international conventions, all persons arriving to the United States, whether at or between ports of entry, have the right to seek asylum. Not everyone is eligible for receiving that relief, but the law states that everyone deserves a full and fair opportunity to pursue it.

The current administration seems bent on killing the American system of asylum. Thousands of people seeking safe haven from persecution and violence have already been “detained,” effectively incarcerated for pursuing an enshrined right. Some 5,400 children have been separated from their families since July 2017.

Today, more and more people largely from Central America who request asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border are placed in Migrant Protection Protocols. Such denizens include entire families. They are compelled to return to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings. These men, women, and children lack shelter and other resources. Many speak only indigenous languages and have endured tremendous hardships crossing Mexico to get to the border. Many of such migrants become subject to criminal depredations, despite the valiant efforts of certain generous elements of Mexican and U.S. border society. Their immigration proceedings may occur via television at tent courts

We must demand better. We must make sure that immigrants, be they asylum-seekers or other kinds of immigrants seeking better lives, are treated with dignity and respect. We must demand an end to contemporary border and immigrant policy that governs through migrant suffering and death. Refuge in the United States must remain viable.

Gilberto Rosas is an associate professor of anthropology and Latina/o studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of the award-winning Barrio Libre: Criminalizing States and Delinquent Refusals of the New Frontier, as well as many articles on borders and migration. He is an associate at the Center for Advanced Study at UIUC and a fellow with The Oped Project for 2019-2020.