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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.

Credible Fear (CF) Decisions across United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)1 and EOIR2 Asylum Only (AOC) and Removal (RMV) Receipts
Fiscal Year4 USCIS Credible Fear Found EOIR Receipts
No Yes Other3 Percent CF (No Other) TOTAL AOC RMV5 TOTAL
2006 633 3,265 1,123 84% 5,021 47 3,652 3,699
2007 1,036 3,179 999 75% 5,214 11 3,834 3,845
2008 887 3,303 904 79% 5,094 11 3,634 3,645
2009 1,059 3,502 764 77% 5,325 12 4,338 4,350
2010 1,317 6,583 960 83% 8,860 10 7,007 7,017
2011 1,029 9,250 960 90% 11,219 23 9,937 9,960
2012 1,209 11,099 1,454 90% 13,762 14 10,339 10,353
2013 2,485 30,394 2,850 92% 35,729 22 29,784 29,806
2014 8,685 34,880 4,430 80% 47,995 8 38,665 38,673
2015 7,792 34,917 5,654 82% 48,363 12 32,877 32,889
2016 9,224 72,812 9,933 89% 91,969 6 64,208 64,214
2017 8,173 59,450 10,467 88% 78,090 6 68,538 68,544
2018 4,355 38,588 9,630 90% 52,573 2 34,047 34,049
Total 47,884 311,222 50,128 87% 409,214 184 310,860 311,044
1 USCIS provided asylum pre-screenings data from FY 2006 through Fiscal Year to Date (FYTD) 2018 ending on April 30, 2018.
2 EOIR data is through April 30, 2018, as of May 15, 2018.
3 "Other" includes preceedings closed because the request for an interview was withdrawn, the alien did not appear, a rare language was required, or for other reasons.
4 "Fiscal Year" is determined by "clocked-in" date, as recorded by USCIS.
5 If credible fear is found by USCIS, the respondent is referred to EOIR for removal or asylum only proceedings.
Source: "Credible Fear in the U.S. Immigration System" by U.S. Department of Justice 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.

Completed and Pending EOIR Proceedings2 for Credible Fear Review Proceedings3
Fiscal Year4 Completions Pending
Without Asylum With Asylum Percent Without Asylum TOTAL Without Asylum With Asylum Percent Without Asylum TOTAL
2006 1,500 2,250 40% 3,750 18 15 55% 33
2007 1,459 2,252 39% 3,711 49 37 57% 86
2008 1,420 2,332 38% 3,752 93 61 60% 154
2009 1,368 2,490 35% 3,858 129 107 55% 236
2010 2,970 3,470 46% 6,440 668 419 61% 1,087
2011 4,032 3,949 51% 7,981 558 1,018 60% 2,576
2012 5,044 3,252 61% 8,296 2,535 1,571 62% 4,106
2013 9,757 6,303 61% 16,060 10,578 6,648 61% 17,226
2014 10,348 7,641 58% 17,989 17,850 11,089 62% 28,939
2015 7,904 8,899 47% 16,803 24,239 14,761 62% 39,000
2016 13,389 11,075 55% 24,464 67,641 40,320 63% 107,961
2017 7,848 5,980 57% 13,828 41,622 24,549 63% 66,171
2018 2,371 973 71% 3,344 7,164 3,878 65% 11,042
Total 69,410 60,866 53% 130,276
1 USCIS provided asylum pre-screening data from FY 2006 through FYTD 2018 ending on April 30, 2018.
2 A proceeding is considered completed if the most recent Generation is an immigration judge (IJ) Decision, the Case Type is RMV or AOC, and it is not a Change of Venue or Transfer.
3 EOIR data is through April 30, 2018, as of May 15, 2018. Data does not include cases vacated by EOIR.
4 "Fiscal Year " is determined by the "clocked-in" data, as recorded by USCIS.
Source: "Credible Fear in the U.S. Immigration System" by U.S. Department of Justice EOIR

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

EOIR Proceedings2 that Originated as Credible Fear, by Apprehending Agency3
Fiscal Year4 Completions Pending TOTAL: Border Patrol TOTAL: Other
Asylum Filed No Asylum Filed Asylum Filed No Asylum Filed
Border Patrol Other Border Patrol Border Patrol Border Patrol Other Other Other
2,006 780 1,470 810 690 9 6 11 7 1,610 2,173
2,007 1,250 1,002 944 515 23 14 34 15 2,251 1,546
2,008 1,218 1,114 1,027 393 46 15 75 18 2,366 1,540
2,009 1,682 808 1,005 363 78 29 90 39 2,855 1,239
2,010 2,131 1,339 2,402 568 353 66 564 104 5,450 2,077
2,011 2,470 1,479 3,203 829 845 173 1,303 255 7,821 2,736
2,012 2,143 1,109 4,069 975 1,246 325 2,030 505 9,488 2,914
2,013 3,835 2,468 7,464 2,293 4,847 1,801 7,847 2,731 23,993 9,293
2,014 5,463 2,178 8,181 2,167 9,327 1,762 15,028 2,822 37,999 8,929
2,015 5,304 3,595 5,310 2,594 11,412 3,349 18,768 5,471 40,794 15,009
2,016 6,974 4,101 9,154 4,235 32,042 8,278 53,995 13,646 102,165 30,260
2,017 1,893 4,087 4,964 2,884 18,802 5,747 32,247 9,375 57,906 22,093
2,018 266 707 1,077 1,294 2,211 1,667 4,003 3,161 7,557 6,829
Total 35,409 25,457 49,610 19,800 81,241 23,232 135,995 38,149 302,255 106,638
1 PASD identified Border Patrol as the apprehending agency by the sub-group "INL" from USCIS's credible fear pre-screening data. This field indicated that the individual was apprehended by Border Patrol and not at a port of entry.
2 EOIR data is through April 30, 2018, as of May 15, 2018.
3 This table does not include proceedings vacated by EOIR.
4 "Fiscal Year" is determined by the "clocked-in" date, as recorded by USCIS.
Source: "Credible Fear in the U.S. Immigration System" by U.S. Department of Justice EOIR