What’s new on the US border? The President, that’s what. Last Friday, President Trump took his fight to front, arguing asylum seekers are now making up stories to enter America. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the President laid out an impassioned case that the US immigration process is “overwhelmed,” by loads of Central Americans on a made-up beeline for asylum. Frustrated, he said, “It’s a scam.” Is it a scam? Yes and no.
Yes, asylum seekers are being transported by air-conditioned busses north from Central American countries, getting through Mexico in record or near-record numbers, often not being intercepted or turned back in Mexico.
Yes, those numbers are staggering, getting worse. March 2019 saw an estimated 100,000 illegals seeking entry, according to the US Department of Homeland Security. Without a wall or cooperation, apprehensions spiked between December 2018 and February 2019. At the same time, Mexico’s deportation of Central Americans – especially Guatemalans, El Salvadorans and Hondurans – fell.
Specifically, Southwest border apprehensions jumped from below 50,000 to almost 70,000 between January and February 2019, then flew past 100,000 in March. At the same time Mexican deportations back to Guatemala, for example, fell from nearly 3,000 to 2,500, continuing downward. No wonder the president is frustrated – with Congress, Democrat crisis-deniers, Mexico and false asylum claims.
These numbers represent a stark contrast to just one year earlier, when US apprehensions were falling, Mexican deportations were rising. Thus, US apprehensions from December 2017 to February 2018 fell from a lower 30,000 to roughly 28,000, while Mexican deportations ran from higher 3,000 to more than 4,500 per month. So yes, numbers are up, cooperation down – both markedly.
This is surely why President Trump has become more vocal, demanding action from Mexico, threatening to close the border, mitigating his threat and putting a one-year timeline against it. He is sending clear signals: Help us now or pay later. If Mexico does not assist, auto tariffs will probably kick in, then rolling border closures. He is giving Mexico time to fix the problem. But does anyone doubt President Trump will act? If so, they shouldn’t.
Yes, there is more to the scam. Many entrants are coached, told to state that they have a credible claim for asylum, since that gets them into the US, where they can live and await adjudication. Once here, asylum seekers get a multi-year wait, assuming they return to court at all, which many do not. While here, after a six-month wait, they can work. Is this a scam? In many cases, yes. Most asylum claims – upwards of 80 percent – are denied on the merits. Many seekers never show up for the hearing.
What is a credible asylum claim? For starters, specific to the person, and has nothing to do with whether the country the asylum seeker comes from is poor, unhealthy, has too few jobs, is managed badly, corrupt, unsafe or unstable. None of those reasons give an individual a right to asylum. If they did, we would be awash in – the world.
Asylum is premised on a specific, credible, provable claim that returning to country of origin will produce persecution – more, the person has already suffered persecution and has a legitimate, objective fear of a recurrence on return, based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a group.
Notably, coming from a bad place and wanting a better life – does not validate an asylum claim, or produce asylum. So, when people who have only that basis apply for asylum, liberally sprinkling their stories with enough to imply individual jeopardy, is that a scam? Yes, it is. It is a lie to win entry, suddenly opening economic opportunities from jobs to entitlements, all paid for by US citizens.
So, what part of all this is NOT a scam? The basic context. From the Venezuelan socialist meltdown to current high levels of public corruption, drug trafficking, gang warfare and economic demise in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, plus drugs, gangs, crime and economic challenges in Mexico – much of the Western hemisphere is troubled. That is not a scam – that is fact.
On one hand, none of this is America’s responsibility. We have pumped billions of dollars into many of these countries in a combination of foreign aid, investment, multilateral packages, from loans to education, human rights to anti-drug programs. And many of those programs have helped, on the commercial and government sides. But we have tried to stabilize, energize, educate and elevate.
On the other hand, endemic public poverty and government corruption, lack of stable political, economic and social institutions, enduring internal divisions and deprivations do call out for help from those of good conscience.
The goal now should be to set expectations, create conditions, encourage infrastructure, return to rule of law, public integrity and economic self-sufficiency in such a way and on a timeline that allows for long term self-sufficiency, and encourages these nomadic busses, caravans, and ill-informed wishful thinkers – desperate for more opportunity – to find the hope they are seeking in their own country.
To do all that will take time, mutual commitment, US and multilateral help, and in the end, that is the hope we should all share – that all may prosper as Americans do, after the hard work and centuries of commitment we have all made to this great nation. In the meantime, President Trump is right – the trip north is often a heartless “scam.”