Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 8 of 11)

A Different Way to Process Refugees

The current policy for would-be refugees consists in inviting them to apply inside or very near the country followed by catch-and-release with an honor-based request to appear for final legal disposition, at a distant and undefined date, or never. It’s as if designed for failure. It’s not really part of an immigration policy because it predictably manufactures illegal immigrants.

The policy ignores the obvious fact that would-be illegal immigrants and their carriers and facilitators are continuously alert to American immigration related events and policies. This is difficult for many Americans to believe because they are habitually uninterested in and indifferent to happenings beyond our borders but there are whole subcultures nearby that are vitally concerned about what goes on in the US. They are well equipped to stay informed thanks to the internet and to cellphones. Every anodyne comment on immigration by a high level American politician or public servant is immediately interpreted – and over-interpreted – as the forerunner of a policy change (as we saw in the first three months of the Biden administration with respect to child refugees). In brief, immigration controls begins much before anyone reaches the border. Even loose words often appear as de facto policies. They may signal that doors into the US will be more or less open, or at least ajar.

The current official policy combined with its soft application must unavoidably act as a powerful attractant for very poor people living under conditions of chronic insecurity and within traveling distance of the southern US border. Look at it from the standpoint of a parent of a 14-year-old, say a Honduran: Bad schools leading to unemployment or to very poorly paid employment; lives lived in constant fear of gangs; no expectation of any sort of happy future.

You are told by people whose knowledge you trust the nearly incredible news that if you can manage to move your child to the US-Mexico border, there is a better than even chance that he will end up inside the US. There, he will be allowed to attend school, (no questions asked) and he will be given at no cost better health care than he has ever had in his life or, that he has any right to expect in Honduras. As soon as he is eighteen or, likely sixteen (no one really checks), he will be able to earn more in two hours than skilled adult men earn back home in one day. You are aware that the endeavor is both dangerous and a little complicated. You probably underestimate both danger and complexity because your main sources though well informed have no interest in emphasizing them. (I wonder about charitable organizations with no financial interest in the process. I don’t know if they publish warnings nor how frequently.)

The true news is that your son or even you if traveling with him, may apply for refugee status calmly at many designated points on the border with little fear of anything. Failing this, they say, you will be able simply to surrender to any member of the Border Patrol and be taken care of. I can’t see how such information can help but act like a powerful advertisement enticing you to begin moving north. Finally, and, repeating myself, the fact that most of those who say that they are seeking refuge status, when caught, or surrendered, are shortly released inside the US, probably sounds too good to be true. But, even the very poor have cellphones and the whole happy truth gets around quickly.

Under the current system, the authorities are forced to practice catch- and-release with would-be refugees who have little chance of being formally accepted in the end. That is because there is a huge backlog, a backlog of several years, in finally disposing of refugee applications. This is difficult to understand in light of the seeming broad consensus that only a small percentage of those who apply have a valid case that would eventually gain them official refugee status if their case were examined properly. I am also told that laws pertaining to refugee or asylum status are not especially difficult or complicated. If that is correct, the federal government should be able to recall hundreds of retired judges, and to draft many attorneys to act as pro tem judges to adjudicate thousands of cases within a short time. One the backlog is removed in this manner, the original small contingent of professional judges could finalize positive decisions.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 8 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 7 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

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