Quadrupling-down on a failed policy

by Brian Best, Executive Director, BorderLinks

On Monday, June 11, US Attorney General Jefferson Sessions issued a precedent-setting decision that will prevent almost all asylum seekers from claiming asylum in the US due to gang violence or domestic sexual abuse. This decision pulls the rug out from under the feet of tens of thousands of asylum seekers and will inevitably lead to thousands of deaths.

Since the mid-1990s, the official US government policy to prevent unauthorized migration has been Prevention Through Deterrence: we’ll make the journey so dangerous that people will decide against migrating to the US. In Arizona, walls along the border in easily-traversed valleys force migrants into mountainous regions, and inland Border Patrol checkpoints force migrants to walk dozens of miles farther to avoid detection.

The policy has been a failure. No matter how dangerous the journey has become, people continue to seek to enter the US. Many are propelled by threats of gang violence or by love of family, motivations that are more powerful than the possibility of death in the Arizona desert.

And the journey is incredibly hazardous. Over 7,000 bodies of migrants have been recovered in the last twenty years on the US side of the US/Mexican border. Thousands more migrants are missing and likely have perished. Even though Prevention Through Deterrence has killed thousands of people seeking a better life, it has failed to reduce the number of people attempting to find family, safety, or economic opportunities in the US.

But failure is apparently no reason for the US government to adopt a different approach. In fact, the Trump Administration has taken Prevention Through Deterrence to new levels.

All detained migrants are now receiving criminal charges, instead of civil charges. Why? To deter others from entering the US. This is a “one strike and you’re out” approach: no one with a US criminal conviction can ever apply for any type of visa.

Families fleeing threats of violence and presenting themselves to US authorities at Ports of Entry are being separated. Why? To deter others from entering the US. Parents are given criminal charges and are tried, convicted, and deported, sometimes after serving jail time either in immigration detention facilities or in federal prisons, while their children are placed into foster care or immigration shelters. Our government has yet to articulate how children will be reunited with their parents. Our government thinks that causing psychological harm to families is a legitimate tool to prevent migration.

And now the Trump Administration has instructed all immigration judges that only abuse by government actors can be considered grounds for asylum, reversing a policy adopted under the Obama Administration which said that persecution of classes of people that governments cannot protect is sufficient to claim asylum. Why? To deter others from entering the US. In addition, the decision from Sessions means that most asylum seekers who present themselves at the Ports of Entry can now be turned away by immigration officials; they would not even be able to make a case for asylum before an immigration judge. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers in the US now face a choice:  disappear from the radar or return home and face the threat of death.

This is not deterrence. This is a monstrous policy, inhumane and cruel.

What will you do to help stop the ever-increasing threats our government is making against some of the most vulnerable people in our midst? Will you lend your help to efforts almost certainly underway in your community, led by migrants or organizations closely aligned with migrants? Will you use your vote and your financial resources to support candidates who seek new and more humane policies? Will you learn more, perhaps by organizing a BorderLinks delegation? Will you become a migrant justice activist?

Lives hang in the balance.