A Long Look at Immigration

Pandemic Diary Entry # 84

April 12, 2021

The situation on our southern border, like most everything in life, is far more complicated than the headline-grabbing screeds being shouted across the country. However, is it really a crisis?

Border crossings have climbed high and then dropped off many times over the decades, irrespective of who is president.

In the 1980s, the U.S. immigration system held approximately 2,000 people a day in detention centers. From 2000 to 2016, the average daily number of detainees rose to 32,985. Under the Trump administration, that number jumped to 50,000 people in 2019. “When CBP facilities are included,” the report noted, under the Trump administration, “the federal government detained some 80,000 people at a time — far higher than the number detained in previous administrations.”

There has been a “crisis” on our southern border for at least a decade. Two programs instituted under the Trump Administrations exacerbated the situation on a grand scale and account for much of the conditions we see presently. The first was the Remain in Mexico policy formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases worked through U.S. immigration court. Many ended up in dangerous and squalid living conditions, in makeshift tent camps or shelters along the border. A report from Human Rights First found more than 1,500 reported cases of violence against asylum seekers while they were in the MPP program.

The second policy was instigated in March of 2020, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a rule (Title 42) that gave the Department of Homeland Security the authority to immediately expel or deport anyone who attempts to cross the border without authorization, which they did with alacrity, expelling almost everyone apprehended at the border, including vulnerable asylum seekers, pregnant women, and unaccompanied children.

In January, dozens of public health experts sent a letter to the CDC urging the end of Title 42 which they claimed was “discriminatory and has no scientific basis as a public health measure.”

At present the Biden administration is leaving Title 42 in place during COVID but is not applying the procedures to unaccompanied children. Children are now being processed according to normal processing guidelines and referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters. Here they are questioned to ensure they have not been caught up in a human trafficking ring and wait for their cases to be heard by the immigration court.

On Biden’s first day in office, the Department of Homeland Security suspended the Migrant Protection Protocols.

The Matamoros camp, a result of the Migrant Protection Protocals held more than 2,500 asylum-seekers. The last asylum seeking resident of the camp, after being tested for COVID, crossed the border into the US on March 5th. I am sure these migrants are happy to leave Matamoros which has such a high rate of rape, torture and kidnapping that the U.S. State Department has a “do not travel” advisory on the state.

The lack of processing facilities to house these refugees is a large part of the border crisis. During the Obama administration, there was a surge of migrant children and the monthly bed capacity was raised to 8000 beds. Under the Trump administration, monthly bed capacity fell to about 7,000 in October 2017 but grew to over 16,000 by December 2018. During Trump’s last month in office, the bed capacity was 13,000.

The problem arose when bed capacity was reduced to 40% to abide by COVID protocols, they returned to full capacity in March of this year. At present, even at 100% capacity it is not enough.

This is not just a federal government problem. The state governments along the Mexico/America border are ground zero.

A lawsuit brought against the state of Arizona alleged that the people being held in Southern Arizona were held “in freezing, overcrowded, and filthy cells for days at a time in violation of the US Constitution.” A judge ruled that migrants may be detained in holding cells but it may be for no more than 48 hours and they must be provided with basic needs such as a bed with a blanket, decent food, and medical assessment.

In the past, a migrant found by Border Patrol in the Arizona desert was taken to nearby Border Patrol stations, then transferred to Tucson and processed through the joint criminal and immigration systems.

About 12,000 people were in custody for more than 72 hours in the Tucson Sector in 2020. The average time in custody was nearly 54 hours. This was without any of the aforementioned basic needs.

Prior to MPP, adults without children were criminally prosecuted in Tucson under a program called “Operation Streamline” then they were transferred into the immigration system. Handling families is more complicated but they were still transferred out of the deadly desert into cities that had the resources to handle them.

During COVID the Border Patrol, under Title 42, would immediately expel anyone found crossing the border illegally.

Now Border Patrol is attempting to place immigrants in alternative holding spots, but when that is not possible they are simply letting them go on their own recognizance, overwhelming smaller towns on the border such as Uvalde, Texas.

A detailed account of the Border Patrol’s new “dramatic shift in policy,” was published in USA Today. The article describes how the agency told local officials, churches, and aid organizations to expect hundreds of migrants to be dropped off in their communities. These releases will coincide with the state’s overwhelmingly hot summer months when migrant deaths in the desert historically rise. Where this policy originated is not clear, Border Patrol says they are just following orders, the Biden Administration is not in agreement with that statement.

In Texas, Governor Abbot blames the Biden administration for allowing migrants in and spreading COVID. Migrants positivity rate is less than 6 percent all across the border. That is a lower positivity rate than is currently in Texas (9 percent), Arizona (11 percent) and, New Mexico (8 percent), but higher than in California (3 percent).

The Biden administration has begun releasing some asylum-seeking migrant families in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas because of policy changes in the U.S. and Mexico. The Administration is also working to open several processing centers in Texas to mitigate the backlog, but it will take time.

Non-profit organizations help take in and test these migrants for COVID as they move through the area before boarding buses to other parts of the country to wait to apply for asylum.

The Biden Administration has agreed to supply FEMA funds to handle this testing program, but at this time Governor Abbot wants nothing to do with any of it. Fortunately, local governments and nonprofits can now apply for FEMA reimbursements without approval from Governor Abbott through the National Board for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

On February 22, the U.S. reopened a temporary facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, designed to house 700 unaccompanied children. The administration has also worked to expedite the processing of children who can be released to approved sponsors. In the past, it has taken up to six months for many children to be released to sponsors, but on March 1, Secretary Mayorkas stated that this has been reduced to 31 days.

As of March 8, there were approximately 8,100 unaccompanied children in the care of our immigration system.

Why are there so many unaccompanied minors?

A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found that young peoples’ “motives for migrating to the United States are often multifaceted and difficult to measure analytically,” and that “while the impacts of actual and perceived U.S. immigration policies have been widely debated, it remains unclear if, and how, specific immigration policies have motivated children to migrate to the United States.”

Many children come with their parents, but the situation at the border changes their plans. In this case many parents have been intentionally given false information from their smuggler and what they find at the border is very different than what they have been told. They know their children will have an opportunity once in the US, so they send them on their own, a gut wrenching decision for any parent. It is especially important to know that according to DHS, 80% of these children have a relative in the United States. So what are senators like Ted Cruz, with his ignominious logorrheic at the water’s edge of the Rio Grande, afraid of? These are children, they are not a threat to anything or anyone. They come across the border without their parents, frightened, traumatized and we treat them as dross.

One can not talk about the children on the border without addressing the horrifying Trump policy of separating children from their parents. More than 5,400 children were pulled from the arms of their parents. There are still approximately 500 children left that have yet to be reunited with a loved one. Bush appointed, US district judge, Dana Sabraw, has overseen the separation lawsuits since the beginning. Sabraw said he was optimistic that the Biden administration, working in concert with advocates, would bring the case “to a conclusion sooner rather than later”.

The psychological trauma to these children will last a lifetime, America has a lot to atone for.

The post-COVID future looks brighter for people on our southern border. In March of this year Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas spoke to the press with a new message.

“We are not saying, Don’t come, we are saying, Don’t come now, because we will not be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.”

When asked by reporter George Stephanopoulos whether the better message might not be “don’t come, period” Mayorkas made clear that the doors were not padlocked for ever, rather the US needs time to work on the backlog and get through COVID.

Mayorkas comments also may be an indication that we have finally realized that brute force and draconian laws do not work.

So do we have a crisis? Discussing numbers does not get at the heart of the matter. What we have is a crisis of policy, as explained in a study by three educators from Princeton and Guadalajara. Border enforcement emerged as a policy response to an unfounded panic about the perceived threat of Latinx immigrants coming to the United States. This panic was exacerbated by self-interested bureaucrats, politicians, and political pundits who sought to create an impression of crisis for their own purposes. The press has not helped either. Bad news sells better than good, so the narrative of crisis simply gets more eyes and ears.

We have a backlog at the border due to Trump’s Remain in Mexico program and the CDC’s Title 42. We have had an uptick in the last few months, because things continue to be disastrous in Central America. Also the drive northward is seasonal, and that season is upon us. Are more people coming because they have heard Biden is more willing to let them in? I doubt it, when you are trying to escape a horrible situation, you don’t care what America’s policies are, you flee the danger then determine what your next step is.

We keep seeing similar border “crises” over and over because “we haven’t set up a processing system at the border that’s really viable, or a screening mechanism that’s actually fair, or a court system that’s actually functional,” — Yael Schacher, an immigration historian and senior US advocate at Refugees International.

“It’s a failure of vision and I think it’s partly politically motivated with a refusal to address in our immigration system writ large.” “Unless we invest in our capacity to handle families and children safely and humanely when they come to the borders, we’re going to see this again in 2022, 2023, and so on into the future.” — Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council.

Next week I will look at why we should be opening our arms to immigrants. They are good for the country.

This is part 3 of an in-depth look at immigration in the US — Part 1 and Part 2

For April 12

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 57 degrees and foggy

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +10,009

COVID cases in the US: 31,920,778

Deaths from COVID in the US: 575,831

Vaccines administered in the US: 187,047,131

OED word of the day: nincompoopiana — (A name for) the late 19th-cent. aesthetic movement (more generally) the vogue for aestheticism which accompanied it.

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 399

Reading: The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly From the Internet:

My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.