Following the drastic spike in migrant apprehensions along the U.S. southwestern border early last year, the federal government implemented measures resulting in an equally steep decrease of unauthorized entries into the country.
These measures demonstrated their effectiveness in securing the border and deterring illegal migration—which enhances the safety of not only American residents, but also that of that of thousands of migrants who undertake such dangerous journeys and land in the hands of human smugglers and traffickers.
However—and while not nearly as high as last year—the numbers have begun to rise again.
In light of this, a question arises for the American citizenry: should the current policies for securing the border and curbing illegal migration and asylum abuse continue?
Over 60,000 individuals have been returned to Mexico under Migrant Protection Protocols, often referred to as MPP. In December of 2018—just prior to the 2019 surge—the then DHS Secretary announced that the U.S. would invoke a portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the U.S. to return migrants to the nation from which they entered. Under MPP, migrants who present at the border to claim asylum are returned to Mexico to await their immigration court proceedings. The Mexican government agreed to provide returned migrants with humane treatment and the chance to apply for work permits during their stay.
The backlog of asylum claims is enormous, and most claims are denied. A purpose of MPP is to deter those who have no legitimate reasons to claim asylum, thereby limiting the overall number of illicit entries into the United States. MPP also significantly reduces the American taxpayer’s burden of paying for migrants’ housing. With an average length of stay of 55 days and at a cost of $130 daily, several hundred million taxpayer dollars have been saved since the initiation of MPP.
Also a deterrent to abuse of the asylum system, the United States signed Asylum Cooperation Agreements (or ACAs) with each of the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). These agreements authorize migrants to be sent back to one of these nations. Former immigration judge Andrew Arthur states that this is “consistent with the idea that a person who is truly in danger will seek refuge in the first country in which he or she arrives.” He continues: “The United States has entered into ACAs with third countries through which these individuals have passed to ensure that they can, and will, provide the necessary protection.”
Finally, important measures were implemented to stem the spread of coronavirus across American borders. All non-essential travel across American borders has been prohibited since March 21, with Customs and Border Patrol returning migrants either into the contiguous nation from which they entered the U.S. (Canada or Mexico) or back to their own nation. In response to economic fallout from the pandemic, President Trump issued a temporary suspension of immigration visas in an effort to give American residents the first shot at jobs in a suddenly struggling economy.
Border wall progress has advanced this year despite the pandemic, with over 200 miles completed as of June 15. However, there are some legal battles as private landowners resist the idea of having the wall built across their property, and Border Patrol personnel in some sectors state that rugged, mountainous terrain requires enhanced infrastructure instead of a wall. However, the Border Patrol has also seen illicit border crossings reduced by over 90 percent in some areas, demonstrating its effectiveness.
These recent border policies and actions were expedited in implementation by the 2019 deluge of border crossings and further induced by a global pandemic. While there is now far less illicit traffic across the United States’ southwestern border, this is not necessarily a permanent status. DHS statistics from the month of May demonstrate an uptick in border apprehensions, though they are not as numerous as they were last year.
The American electorate will be faced with choices in November. It remains to be seen whether the policies in place will be allowed to continue, or whether the nation will choose to take a sharply different direction.