For several years prior to the great recession of 2009 there had been rising controversy about the rising flow of undocumented migrants across the US/Mexico border. Most of these people were Mexican nationals seeking employment opportunities in the US. With the drastic contraction in the US economy this flow of migrants slowed dramatically because of the decline in employment opportunity. The political pressure for passage of an immigration reform measure also decreased and the issue has been bogged down in the usual US bipartisan political squabble. Now there is an increase flow of people again, but most of them are starting their journeys in Central America rather than Mexico and they are seeking asylum.
After six years of steep declines across the Southwest, illegal crossings have soared in South Texas while remaining low elsewhere. The Border Patrol made more than 90,700 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley in the past six months, a 69 percent increase over last year.
The migrants are no longer primarily Mexican laborers. Instead they are Central Americans, including many families with small children and youngsters without their parents, who risk a danger-filled journey across Mexico. Driven out by deepening poverty but also by rampant gang violence, increasing numbers of migrants caught here seek asylum, setting off lengthy legal procedures to determine whether they qualify.
With detention facilities, asylum offices and immigration courts overwhelmed, enough migrants have been released temporarily in the United States that back home in Central America people have heard that those who make it to American soil have a good chance of staying.There has been considerable discussion and controversy about the level of deportations of migrants during the Obama administration. It seems that any attempt to understand this requires looking beyond total numbers to the different situations involved. Deporting Mexicans is simply a matter of getting them across the border and back into Mexico. It becomes more complicated in dealing with people who come from other countries.
“Word has gotten out that we’re giving people permission and walking them out the door,” said Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol agent who is vice president of the local of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ union. “So they’re coming across in droves.”
But whereas Mexicans can be swiftly returned by the Border Patrol, migrants from noncontiguous countries must be formally deported and flown home by other agencies. Even though federal flights are leaving South Texas every day, Central Americans are often detained longer.The requirements of asylum law place responsibilities on border patrol to process the application of people who are seeking asylum from danger in their home country. According to this article the Obama administration has set a flexible standard for the triggering of formal asylum processing in order to avoid the risk of deporting people who are in serious danger. This has increased the number of people who are in the pipeline and exceeded the capacity of the available detention facilities.
Women with children are detained separately. But because the nearest facility for “family units” is in Pennsylvania, families apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley are likely to be released while their cases proceed, a senior deportations official said.
Minors without parents are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which holds them in shelters that provide medical care and schooling and tries to send them to relatives in the United States. The authorities here are expecting 35,000 unaccompanied minors this year, triple the number two years ago.
The chances have not improved much to win asylum in the end, however. In 2012, immigration courts approved 34 percent of asylum petitions from migrants facing deportation — 2,888 cases nationwide. Many Central Americans say they are fleeing extortion or forced recruitment by criminal gangs. But immigration courts have rarely recognized those threats as grounds for asylum.It appears to be the prospect of this extended time on release status in the US that is creating the push for migration. Likely many of the people on release status will attempt to disappear from the radar and merge with the large existing presence of undocumented Spanish speaking residents. There are groups and organizations in the US that offer support and assistance to migrants.
Yet because of immense backlogs in the courts — with the average wait for a hearing currently at about 19 months — claiming fear of return has allowed some Central Americans to prolong their time in the United States.
An attempt is underway to try to send a different message back down the grapevine to Central America. Immigration lawyers are complaining that the border patrol is doing its all to get them back over the border quickly and for those that make it into formal processing requiring release bonds that are beyond the financial means of the asylum seekers.
The Mexican drug cartels have moved in on the business of migrant smuggling. Central American is increasingly overwhelmed with gang related violence. There are stories in the article of various individual situations. It has always been the pressure of problems in the countries to the south of the US that drives the flow of migrants. As long as those problems exist there is not likely to be a political solution that will make the problem go away. The impact of climate change is expected to fall most heavily on tropical regions. We can expect that to add to the picture.