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Central American Migrant Caravans
November 27, 2018
Several thousand Hondurans in October 2018 left San Pedro Sula to travel through Guatemala and Mexico to the US to apply for asylum. As they moved north, President Trump threatened to cut off aid to Honduras and to tear up the new USMCA trade agreement if Mexico did not prevent their transit. Trump said that border security is "far more important" to him than USMCA, the successor to NAFTA.
In 2014, when Central Americans first began arriving in large numbers, Congress approved a $750 million aid package for the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
When the migrant caravan reached Mexico's southern border, the Mexican government said m that 100 to 200 a day could apply for asylum, after which they would have to remain in government shelters at least 10 days and wait 45 days for a decision on their application. Instead, over 7,000 migrants entered Mexico and began to travel toward the US border.
Some 200 to 300 Hondurans leave their country each day. Most say they are fleeing gangs, domestic violence and other crime, which ex-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has determined is not a basis for asylum in the US. An Easter 2018 caravan had about 1,500 people, including a third who applied for asylum in the US.
At the Mexico-US border, many migrants enter illegally, are apprehended by the Border Patrol, and express a "credible fear" of persecution if they return to their country of citizenship. Over 90 percent of those interviewed by asylum officers pass their credible fear test and stay in the US to apply for asylum.
How should foreigners who apply for asylum be treated? Over 764,000 foreigners in the US are awaiting decisions on their asylum applications. About 20 percent are eventually granted refugee status after first decisions and appeals that can take several years.
The 1997 Flores settlement, which requires the US government to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to their parents, other adult relatives, or licensed child-care programs, limits detention for most unauthorized children to a maximum of 20 days. This means that Central American adults arriving with children are often released into the US to apply for asylum, living with family and friends until they appear before an immigration judge.
President Trump criticized this so-called catch-and-release policy, saying that it encouraged parents to enter the US illegally with children in order to be released into the US. The Trump administration in May-June 2018 implemented a short-lived zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized foreigners, bringing criminal charges against all adults and separating children from parents. The purpose of this family separation policy was to deter migrants from trying to enter the US unlawfully with their children. Several courts determined that family separation was unlawful and ordered DHS to unite children with their parents.
In November 2018, President Trump said that only foreigners who enter the US legally may apply for asylum for the next 90 days. Asserting that unauthorized migration was detrimental to the national interest, Trump said that unauthorized foreigners would not be able to apply for asylum, although they could apply for other protections in the US. Migrant advocates immediately sued, and a federal judge issued an injunction that requires DHS to accept asylum applications from all foreigners regardless of how they entered the US.
The Trump administration is considering several other options to discourage asylum seekers, including a last-in, first-out system that would have applications filed by the newest arrivals handled first, so that applicants whose applications are denied can be removed quickly. Another option is to require applicants to wear ankle bracelets for the full two years normally required to hear an asylum case and appeal, and another is to require those who cross the Mexico-US border illegally to "voluntarily" give up their children to foster care or to be detained with their children; parents would waive the child's right to freedom after the 20 days specified in current law.
Not all of the foreigners who pass credible fear interviews and enter the US apply for asylum. DOJ Executive Office of Immigration Review data suggest that up to half of foreigners who pass credible fear interviews and enter the US do not apply for asylum.
The number of credible fear applications with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was nearly ten times higher in Fiscal Year (FY) (2017) than FY 2010 and there has been a proportional increase in removal case receipts at EOIR.
65 percent of cases that originated from credible fear1 and are pending in FYTD 2018 do not have an asylum application. Since 2006, 53 percent of respondents with completed cases originating from a credible fear review did not submit an asylum application.
For over 70 percent of all asylum proceedings from FY 2006 to 2018 that originated as credible fear, the respondent was apprehended by Border Patrol.1