Thursday, March 16, 2023
Guest Blogger: Alondra Saldivar, law student, University of San Francisco:
At the border, the days go by fast and painstakingly slow. Time seems endless. People waiting for asylum feel like the days drag on, but it is easy to lose track of time. The border inspires many emotions in people: in some it's anger, in others sympathy, confusion, understanding – the list goes on.
For the longest time, I fell amongst those that were confused and sympathetic. I was unsure of what exactly went on at the border and had only heard about the difficulties that folks faced when attempting to reach the United States. In December 2018, I visited the border in Nogales, AZ for the first time. I encountered mostly male adults that had been recently deported and dropped off in Nogales, Sonora. Most were folks that had been living in the United States for decades and had been taken from their families. The hope was to petition to return if they had pending cases, go back to their home country, or at the very least find a way to contact their families.
In July 2019, I returned to the border and was met with families with babies and toddlers, seeking asylum to the United States. The “Remain in Mexico” program had started at the beginning of the year, and the effects of the policy were apparent. This policy meant that asylum seekers would be forced to wait for their immigration hearings in Mexico, instead of the United States as was the norm. Homeland Security, Migration Protection Protocols, January 24, 2019, https://www.dhs.gov/news/2019/01/24/migrant-protection-protocols. The folks seeking asylum would be given a “Notice to Appear” for a hearing date, and sent back to wait. Id. There was no other information shared; this policy was an unprecedented action with no previous history to fall back on.
In July of 2019, I saw families growing restless. Many were unable to get jobs in Mexico, and had neither a stable place to live nor consistent meals (except from the non profit organization that I was volunteering with, the Kino Border Initiative, that offered two meals a day). There was so much uncertainty about what their situation would lead to, as many would go to the port of entry and petition for asylum only to be turned away. The Kino Border Initiative then began sending families to the port of entry with folks that spoke English so that they could ensure the border officials were understanding what was going on. Eventually, there began a number system where families would receive a number and be told to wait until it was their turn for one of the steps of asylum the - credible fear interview. Once it was the families' turn, they were placed in a closet-sized “room” with a mattress on the floor and a folding table that had a griddle on it for them to use for food. The families could wait in that room anywhere between three nights to a week. After that interview, they were either returned for another waiting period, released into the United States for a hearing, or sent back to their countries of origin.
Since then, the policies that dictate what occurs at the border have only gotten more complicated and unclear. Title 42 showed up in March 2020, and “Remain in Mexico” went in and out of commission; there is overlap in how both policies make the legal opportunity to apply for asylum a problematic notion for folks that are in dire need of it. Tile 42, established as an emergency public health regulation to stop the spread of COVID-19, stated that refugees and those applying for asylum at the border could not be admitted to the United States. American Immigration Council, A Guide to Title 42 Expulsions at the Border, May 25, 2022, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/guide-title-42-expulsions-border. Title 42 gave border officials wide berth to expel folks, with almost no explanation. Id. These folks do not receive deportation orders, but their fingerprints are taken- how this information will be used in the future has yet to be seen. Id. Most recently, there is talk of a new policy that will effectively be an asylum ban. Reuters, Biden Administration Unveils Broad Asylum Restrictions at U.S-Mexico Border, February 22, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-roll-out-new-asylum-restrictions-us-mexico-border-sources-2023-02-21/. If a migrant does not schedule an appointment at the point of entry, use a humanitarian visa, or seek and be denied application in countries they pass, they would be ineligible for asylum. Id. All of these policies pointedly ignore the folks that are actually living at the border, stuck there, with hardly any resources for making a living. The policies are making a mess of an already messy immigration system. There has been an ongoing conversation of comprehensive immigration reform, and crisis after crisis screams for it. The border crisis is just another symptom of a larger issue; there is no point in adding bandaids to an issue that needs to be fixed at its root. All these policies cause injury to people who are rightfully asking for asylum as stated in our laws. The more we deviate from laws in our books, the more court cases, injunctions, and reversals take place (as with “Remain in Mexico” and Title 42) the messier the issue gets.
It is time for policymakers, immigrant advocates, and the general public to once again start having difficult conversations of compromise, and work on setting about a comprehensive immigration reform - one that is centered on the humanity of all, informed by the reasons why people choose to migrate in the first place, and focused on creating a helpful and effective solution. Much of the language within the “Remain in Mexico” policy from DHS cited the idea that folks were faking asylum claims, purposefully not showing up to hearings, or not going through with applying for asylum. Homeland Security, Migration Protection Protocols, January 24, 2019, https://www.dhs.gov/news/2019/01/24/migrant-protection-protocols. I believe the real issue is an overall lack of information; folks at the border, and the general public need to be educated.
The United States still clings tightly to its claim of being the “land of the free,” but if it wants this to remain the case then something needs to change. We must do better.