By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
The Trump administration has referenced several “Dem laws” they claim have tied their hands in the current crisis involving the separation of Central American children from their political asylum-seeking parents. The narrative, according to Sarah Sanders, White House spokesperson, is that President Trump didn’t create the crisis, but is just the first president to “come to the table” and do something about it.
The administration was initially somewhat mysterious about what specific laws they were referencing that “only Congress could fix,” so I, along with many others, took shots in the dark in an attempt to untangle the pertinent immigration legislation at play, exploring whether any of them would warrant separating the children from their parents who are being detained while they await their asylum hearing.
Since the initial zero-tolerance policy was implemented in April of this year, the administration has been more forthcoming in their legal stance, and several immigration experts have weighed in on the matter. This blog post is an attempt to make sense of the various laws and policies involved in this crisis.
Are Political Asylum Seekers Required to Request Protection through a U.S. Port of Entry? And a Whole lot more...
By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
What I want to address in this blog post is whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion that the only legal way to request asylum in the United States is through a U.S. port of entry (or U.S. consulate) is accurate. I also want to explore how the government can distinguish between undocumented economic immigrants who cross the Mexico border without documentation to work, and those who cross the border seeking political asylum because they are fleeing persecution.
Myth 1: Political Asylum Seekers Required to Use a Port of Entry
According to speech to the National Sheriff’s Association delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on June 18, 2018, there is a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to seek asylum in the United States. Crossing the border without valid documentation is definitely the wrong way.
Also according to Jeff Sessions, if an immigrant crosses the southern border without valid documentation, they are “flouting our laws,” and he appears to be suggesting that the only legal way to request political asylum is by requesting protection at a U.S port of entry.
So, is this correct?
I watched the White House Press Briefing today with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. I took notes as best as I could so I could later respond, while furiously posting comments online, and clicking the angry face emoji 😡 every five seconds. I found Nielsen to be very defensive and angry. This could have been because she knew she was lying, but my instincts told me that it was more likely because she believes she's correct and is outraged to be so misunderstood. Quite likely it was a combination of the two, and perhaps she's just furious that she's in this place to begin with. Who really knows. But her general disdain and disregard for these traumatized families was apparent to me, and I kept wondering if she had ever gone through hardship, because regardless of what one's thoughts are on border protection, all of our hearts should be breaking in half.
What I do know though is that most of the information Nielson shared was
There is so much misinformation out there about the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" policy that requires criminal prosecution, which then warrants the separating of parents and children at the southern border. As a professor at a local Cal State, I research and write about these issues, so here, I wrote the following to make it easier for you:
Myth 1: This is not a new policy and was practiced under Obama and Clinton - FALSE.
The policy to separate parents and children is new and was instituted on 4/6/2018. It was the “brainchild” of John Kelly and Stephen Miller to serve as a deterrent for undocumented immigration, and some allege to be used as a bargaining chip. The policy was approved by Trump, and adopted by Sessions. Prior administrations detained migrant families, but didn’t have a practice of forcibly separating parents from their children unless the adults were deemed unfit. Here is the memo.
Myth 2: This is the only way to deter undocumented immigration: FALSE.
Annual trends show that arrests for undocumented entry are at a 46 year low, and undocumented crossings dropped in 2007, with a net loss (more people leaving than arriving). Deportations have increased steadily though (spiking in 1996 and more recently), because several laws that were passed since 1996 have made it more difficult to gain legal status for people already here, and thus increased their deportations (I address this later under the myth that it's the Democrats' fault). What we mostly have now are people crossing the border illegally because they've already been hired by a US company, or because they are seeking political asylum. Economic migrants come to this country because our country has kept the demand going. But again, many of these people impacted by Trump's "zero tolerance" policy appear to be political asylum-seekers. Here is an article describing how arrests for undocumented crossings are at an all-time low: https://www.npr.org/2017/12/05/568546381/arrests-for-illegal-border-crossings-hit-46-year-low
Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.
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