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Central American Families and the Border Crisis

April 12, 2019

Almost 92,000 migrants were apprehended just inside the Mexico-US border in March 2019, including 58,000 Central American parents with children and 8,900 children traveling alone. Some 107,212 families were arrested just inside the Mexico-US border in FY18.

Smugglers in Guatemala and Honduras are urging people to leave for the US before President Trump builds a wall or closes the border. Smugglers tell clients that, if they cross the US border illegally with children and turn themselves in to the Border Patrol, they will be released to relatives and friends and allowed to live and work in the US legally at least for several years. If recognized as refugees, they can remain in the US.

Smugglers typically charge $5,000 to move families through Mexico and into the US, and $10,000 for solo adults. The journey through Mexico normally takes five days, and smugglers say that half of the migrant-paid fee is used to pay off police and gangs in Mexico.

Once they cross the Mexico-US border, Central American families are apprehended or turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents, who register them. Those who ask for asylum must pass a credible fear test, which means convincing a USCIS officers that they face a “significant possibility” of persecution in their home country. About three fourths of applicants pass the credible fear test.

The next step is to apply for asylum and explain to an immigration judge why the applicant faces a well-founded fear of persecution at home for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group in order to be recognized as refugees and allowed to settle in the US.

Most asylum applications are rejected. About an eighth of those who passed credible fear tests have been recognized as refugees by immigration judges in recent years. However, with a backlog of over 800,000 cases, there is often a several-year wait between applying for asylum and being ordered to leave the US. Many applicants use this time to work in the US, and not all leave the US as ordered.

President Trump in April 2019 said that the US was “full” and could not accommodate more asylum seekers. Trump suspended $500 million in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras because these governments did not deter the outmigration of migrants, and threatened to close some or all legal ports of entry along the Mexico-US border to prevent Central Americans from arriving to seek asylum. Mexico-US trade was $616 billion in 2017, and 500,000 workers, tourists, and shoppers cross daily, prompting businesses to warn of the economic consequences of closing the border.

More families and unaccompanied minors are being apprehended than solo adults

The Border Patrol processed Central American asylum seekers under an El Paso bridge in March 2019