The economic might of the United States has been a magnet for those around the world seeking a better life for a long time. Immigrants, in turn, have helped the United States cement itself as the global hub of entrepreneurship and innovation.
However, coming to work in America is a privilege — not a right. Our economy needs capable workers and people with unique abilities, but the United States cannot accommodate every person who simply wants to come here for a job. Therefore, to be granted this privilege, one must navigate the immigration system.
This system can be long and strenuous. That’s why many try to circumvent it all together and come work in the United States illegally. Some sneak into the country between ports of entry, while others overstay their visas.
But lately, many have decided to use the loopholes currently in place in the asylum laws instead. This has spurred the crisis at the border — with apprehensions on track to surpass 1 million this fiscal year.
However, asylum is intended to provide safe haven, not economic opportunity. To be granted asylum in the United States, a foreign national must demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Reaching such a bar is difficult — and it’s supposed to be. Those demonstrating a credible fear of persecution are allowed to skip ahead of everyone else applying for entry because of the immediate threat to their life or the lives of their families.
In fiscal year 2018, 65% of asylum requests were denied. However, both positive and negative findings during a credible-fear interview — the first step in the asylum process — can be reviewed by an immigration judge.
With the current backlog of more than 900,000 cases in immigration court, applicants usually wait years to have a hearing — with an average wait of 713 days. In the meantime, after 180 days, an asylum applicant is allowed to receive permission to work in the United States.
Being allowed to jump the line and have legal employment is a big incentive, and that’s driving abuse of the asylum system.
The process can be even quicker for migrants with children.
In 2015, a federal judge broadened the scope of the Flores Settlement, which guides the government’s administrative practices regarding unaccompanied alien children (UACs). In her opinion, the judge interpreted the Flores Settlement to also apply to family units and ruled that the “without unnecessary delay” provision means 20 days.
However, with the backlog in immigration court, reaching a decision in 20 days is practically impossible. As a result, individuals with children are released into the country within weeks, and are free to look for work.
This broken public policy has had ghastly consequences.
The value of having a minor in hand when presenting oneself to immigration authorities has resulted in an increase of fake family units. Instances of working-age men seeking to purchase children in Mexico and of child recycling rings have been reported.
The Flores Settlement is, therefore, enriching traffickers and putting children in harm’s way as people desperately try to come to America and get a job.
This crisis has been driven primarily by migrants from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. No one questions that these countries suffer from chronic violence and that some asylum-seekers have legitimate claims and deserve to be protected.
But why are record number of individuals from this region coming to the United States’ border now if violence there has trended down in recent years? Asylum seekers from the area are actually denied asylum more often than the average applicant— with all three countries seeing only around 20% of asylum requests being granted in fiscal year 2018.
This is because many are coming not because of any particular threat to their lives, but for jobs.
As reported by the Texas Tribune, some asylum seekers are not even aware that they need to demonstrate that they have been subject to or fear persecution. As Marlon Cartegena, a Honduran migrant, put it, “We’re not looking for asylum, we’re looking for a job.”
By attempting to take advantage of American generosity towards the oppressed, such individuals are slowing the process down for those who are truly persecuted and in desperate need of help.
Economic migrants must come through legal avenues and pursue proper documentation to work in the United States, not seek asylum. But if Congress refuses to close the loopholes currently in place, such opportunistic practices will not stop.