By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
On April 29, approximately 400 migrants from Central America arrived in Tijuana, Mexico after traveling for weeks in a caravan from Honduras. Their goal was to present themselves to U.S. immigration officials and request asylum in the United States at the San Ysidro port of entry. However, that evening, Border Patrol commissioner Kevin McAleenan released a statement saying that the San Ysidro port of entry had “reached capacity,” and as of Monday morning, none of the caravan members had been processed. Before this was announced, an attorney representing the caravan told ABC News that approximately 150 to 180 people — whom she said were mostly children — would present at the official port of entry and seek asylum that day.
Many Past Caravans, Same Asylum Process
This is not the first time that large numbers of migrants from Mexico or Central America have appeared en masse at a Southwest border port of entry. These gatherings tend to garner considerable media attention, and this latest caravan is no different – especially since President Trump has taken to social media to condemn the people taking part. But despite the attention from the media, the asylum process has not changed.
According to US immigration law, any time a migrant arrived at a port of entry and requests asylum, regardless of their country of origin, they are entitled to a credible fear interview. An immigration officer will ask them questions about why they are leaving their country and why they are afraid of returning. In the case of Mexican and Central American migrants, they are usually fleeing from poverty and extreme criminal violence perpetrated by gangs and drug cartels.
Very few asylum claims are successful because the applicant has to prove that the government in question was complicit in the persecution. While drug cartels and criminal gains are not considered an arm of the government, local officials and police departments are. Many government and nongovernmental organization reports have been written about the extent of corruption in Central American governments and police forces. However, proving that officials were actively involved in persecuting citizens that fall into one of five protected classes under asylum law has proven extremely difficult in immigration court.
Most Migrants Disappear Before Immigration Hearings
What many of the current caravan participants are likely counting on is the extremely long backlog and waiting period before their hearing in immigration court – assuming that their credible fear interviews demonstrate their claims are legitimate. In many cases, migrants requesting asylum are allowed to stay in the United States until their immigration hearing, which can occur as long as 3-5 years after their initial arrival. During this time, they have permits to work and obtain housing. Up to 75 percent never show up for their immigration hearings and remain in the U.S. with no legal status.
The migrants remain in a holding pattern just south of the border. McAleenan gave no timetable for processing the caravan members, saying that in the meantime, “those individuals may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities.” “As sufficient space and resources become available, CBP officers will be able to take additional individuals into the port for processing,” McAleenan said in the statement.
President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the caravan. During a rally on April 28 in Michigan, he said, “Are you watching that mess that’s going on right now with the caravan coming up? Are you watching this and our laws are so weak, they’re, so pathetic.” On April 23, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, “If members of the ‘caravan’ enter the country illegally, they will be referred for prosecution for illegal entry in accordance with existing law.” She continued, “For those seeking asylum, all individuals may be detained while their claims are adjudicated efficiently and expeditiously, and those found not to have a claim will be promptly removed from the United States.”
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