Forget Trump's Stupid Wall. The New Cruelty Is Up To Something Far Worse
Donald Trump is sucking all the air out of the national attention span at the moment with his plans to shut down the government over WALL, plus maybe revitalizing ISIS in Syria, but there's a far more insidious plan going into effect that he's not tweeting about. We doubt that's because he's trying to cover up anything; he's just a lot more excited by WALL and WAR at the moment. But while everybody is looking at the Emperor's New Invisible WALL, the administration is rolling out a plan to fundamentally change how the US processes asylum claims that is genuinely new, and will certainly result in asylum-seekers dying.
Instead of following the decades-long practice of allowing asylum seekers to live and work in the US while their asylum cases wait to be considered in court, the government will now force Central Americans seeking asylum to wait months or even years in Mexico until their cases get to an immigration judge. This may be the greatest Fuck You to people fleeing for their lives since 1939, when America sent the passengers on the M.S. St. Louis back to Europe to die in the Holocaust.
How Does Asylum Work Now?
The existing process for handling asylum claims has been in place since after WW II, largely because at one time this country was at least a little ashamed about having sent refugees to their deaths when they could have been saved. US immigration law and international treaties we signed in the postwar period were put in place to protect people fleeing violence and disorder in their home countries.
Under US law -- written in accord with the 1951 Refugee Convention -- anyone who sets foot on US territory can request asylum, whether they cross the border at a port of entry or enter the country illegally. If they cross outside of a port of entry, that's a misdemeanor, but doesn't affect eligibility for asylum. Once refugees request asylum, they're interviewed to establish whether they have a "credible fear" of being hurt or killed if returned to their home country, and if they pass that interview, they're set up with a hearing date for immigration court that will actually determine whether they should be granted asylum.
In recent years, the waits for those hearings have gotten longer and longer, largely because criminal gangs and weak governments in Central America (hello, decades of shitty US foreign policy!) have led to a substantial increase in people coming to the US to ask for asylum. Despite what rightwing media claim, it's not exactly a flood, though. In 2016, 91,786 people applied for asylum, most of them in family groups.
For perspective, Dallas Cowboys home games in 2017 had an average attendance of 92,721. Far fewer applicants, of course, are actually granted asylum each year -- about 20,000 on average. If you took all the people granted asylum each year and turned them loose near AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, they'd probably rival the number of people leaving at the end of the third quarter to beat traffic, depending on the score.
Still, the increased number of asylum cases has led to huge backlogs and long delays in the immigration courts. You know, we COULD address that by hiring more judges, but that might mean more people getting asylum, so the Trump administration will save America by trying to choke off the supposed flood of asylum-seekers taking over America. At the rate of one home football game in Dallas per year.
Besides, rightwing America has a far different narrative: The asylum claims are all bogus, they insist, and have risen in the last 10 years only because immigration lawyers are "coaching" people who want to steal our jobs (AND whoop it up on welfare at the same time) to make up fake stories of persecution, because everything's actually wonderful in Central America and people just casually pick up and walk 2000 miles for the sake of stealing from gullible Americans who believe any sob story they hear. Including, apparently, immigration judges. This is, of course, bullshit.
So to end this horrible horrible "crisis" of more brown people than the right is comfortable with, the week of Thanksgiving, we learned the Trump administration had a brilliant new plan: Instead of letting asylum-seekers live and work in the US while awaiting hearings that could be happening sooner if the immigration courts were adequately staffed, the US will just make them all wait in Mexico until they can be processed.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
And so yesterday the administration went ahead and announced it would now tell all asylum seekers at the southern border that even if they have a credible fear of persecution, they'll need to stay in Mexico and everything will just be fine. The new policy would erase distinctions between asylum-seekers crossing at ports of entry and those crossing illegally: They'd all be sent to Mexico. Worst of all, there's a chance it could actually be legal, as Dara Lind explains at Vox:
The policy relies on a provision in federal law that allows the US to return people who arrive in the US from "contiguous territories" back to those territories until their formal immigration-court proceedings have been completed.
In the past, Mexico hasn't allowed the US to use this provision to return Central Americans and other non-Mexicans to Mexican soil. Now, they have relented. [link added -- Dok Zoom]
In typical Trump fashion, the new policy is a complete omnishambles of bad planning and making shit up at the last minute. The administration developed the policy without consultation with Mexico, and apparently only won Mexico's agreement after saying we'd go ahead and do it anyway -- ultimately, though, the policy was announced jointly yesterday by the US government and the Mexican foreign ministry. Two US immigration officials on the border told Lind they hadn't received any advance guidance on how it would all work, and indeed the US seems to be making it up as it goes along -- already, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Mexico are saying very different things about whether the policy will include an exemption for unaccompanied asylum-seekers under the age of 18, who are supposedly protected by a separate US law. Nielsen said of course they'll be allowed into the US, while Mexico said they'd be prevented from crossing at ports of entry.
In a binational display of Lunzting it up, the policy is called "Migration Protection Protocols" after the Trump administration originally called it "Remain in Mexico" -- clearly the brainchild of the Smart Man in Chief. Of course, it's not protecting migrants, it's telling them not to try to seek asylum, and making them hope they won't be killed by Mexican gangs while they wait. Mexico pledges to
allow asylum-seekers to get "humanitarian visas, work authorization, and other protections," according to Nielsen's statement. It's not yet clear whether they'll be providing camps or other places for asylum-seekers to stay, or how they can guarantee the safety of asylum-seekers while in Mexico.
And safety in Mexico is a real concern for asylum-seekers: In Tijuana last weekend, two teenagers waiting to cross at the port of entry to seek asylum were kidnapped and murdered not far from the youth shelter where they were staying. No big, and not our problem, right?
It does appear that if asylum-seekers fear for their safety in Mexico, they may be allowed to apply to stay in the US while their cases are process, but again, neither government has been clear on the details.
Nielsen took to the Twitter machine to celebrate the new policy with a whole bunch of baldfaced lies!
Isn't it cute how she tries to sound like Donald Trump? Of course, when she says "illegal aliens" there, she's talking about people who have passed their initial credible fear interview and are, by law, allowed to live and work here. That's a lie, and she should be ashamed of herself. Oh, but it's a bad law, so that means they're illegal.
Look! More alternative facts!
The suggestion here is that since only a fraction of asylum cases are approved -- it's really more like 20 percent, though it's been higher in the past -- then all the applicants who weren't approved had "frivolous/fraudulent" claims. That's some bullshit, really. Asylum claims are denied for many reasons, like insufficient documentation, minor flaws in filling out the applications, and what often seems to be the caprice of the judges. A significant number of asylum seekers are deported after failing to show up for their hearings, but that appears not to be because they're avoiding court -- it's far more often because of bureaucratic fuckups by immigration courts. The system is a goddamn mess, and that has nothing to do with the validity of asylum-seekers' claims.
In short, Secretary Nielsen, there's no real indication that any significant number of asylum claims are fraudulent, except in the head of rightwingers who just know those people are all lying. And of course, in statements from liars in government.
And of course, now there will be lawsuits, since it's fairly easy to demonstrate that Mexico is not a safe place to park people seeking asylum. If you can, today would be a good day to send a few dollars to the ACLU, or to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the UC Hastings College of Law. Call your senators and congresspeople. This is bad, very very bad, and we need to stop it. Feliz Navi-fucking-dad.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.