The New York Times recently published an article captioned "A New Migrant Caravan Forms, and Old Battle Lines Harden", about a new caravan of migrants that is forming in Honduras against the backdrop of the ongoing government shutdown over border security. Two paragraphs in that article prove that the Trump administration is correct about the reasons that foreign nationals are flooding to the border illegally, the incentives for them to do so, and the dangers that they face.
Here is the lede:
A new caravan of migrants is forming in Honduras, and even ahead of its scheduled departure at dawn on Tuesday, battle lines were being drawn to the north, with some vowing to help them on their journey north, and others to block them.
For President Trump, the timing of the caravan offered fresh ammunition in his fight with Congress over the $5.7 billion he wants for an enhanced border wall between Mexico and the United States. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the federal government.
As he did last fall, when another caravan made the same trek, Mr. Trump portrayed the migrants — who say they are trying to escape poverty and violence, and who in seeking asylum are exercising a legal right — in an ominous light.
"There is another major caravan forming right now in Honduras, and so far we're trying to break it up, but so far it's bigger than anything we've seen," Mr. Trump said on Thursday. "And a drone isn't going to stop it and a sensor isn't going to stop it, but you know what's going to stop it in its tracks? A nice, powerful wall." [Emphasis added.]
As if that were not of a clue that the reporters were not completely supportive of the president's position, that article continues:
Despite Mr. Trump's assertions, nobody knows how many people will leave on Tuesday and how many more may join the walkers as they cross Guatemala, reach southern Mexico and make their way to the United States border.
It was also unclear on Sunday who put the plan in motion for this caravan.
There are two other points to make, in addition to the anti-Trump slant of this article, that an objective reader could take away: (1) It is a shame that the New York Times doesn't have people on the ground who can assess such facts and report them; and (2) given the fact that the first point was facetious, the three reporters who are on the ground in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, reporting on a caravan about which they don't have many key facts (how large and who organized) apparently misapprehend the power of the presidency.
With respect to the second part of the second point, a few facts are in order. The president receives a daily briefing on key issues in the world, particularly those that affect the United States directly. In these intelligence briefings, the president is presented with facts from law enforcement and intelligence agencies and therefore might be in a better position than Jeff Ernst, Elisabeth Malkin, and Paulina Villegas, the authors of that article, to offer an informed opinion about the caravan on which they are reporting. But I digress.
The most important paragraphs in that article are the next two, however:
Héctor Romero, 37, has decided he is going to join the caravan on Tuesday. "I have had only two days' work a week for the past three months and that barely covers expenses," said Mr. Romero, who collects bus fares in a small town about 40 miles west of San Pedro Sula, the city from which the caravan intends to start. "I didn't have the courage to go last time, but this time I do."
The divorced father of four is taking his 12-year-old daughter with him, believing that it may improve his chances with United States immigration authorities.
Let's break those two paragraphs down, but before I do, I want to genuinely express my sympathy for Romero and all those in his plight. As a judge, I regularly saw hundreds of respondents each year who were in exactly the same situation: poor and drawn to the United States by the promise of better wages. This is an abstract concept for most Americans, but really heartbreaking when you see it in person. That said, I was in a position to be sympathetic: No one who appeared before me was coming to the United States to work as an immigration judge, or even a lawyer, so the presence of one such person, or 10 million, had only the most tangential effect on me.
As I stated in a January 2019 post (and in many other instances before then), however, the 28-year-old statements of Barbara Jordan, civil-rights icon, first African-American woman elected to the House of Representatives from the South, and then-chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform remains informative on this point:
In her August 3, 1994, testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Jordan stated:
Unlawful immigration is unacceptable. Enforcement measures have not sufficiently stemmed these movements. Failure to develop more effective strategies to curb unlawful immigration has blurred distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants. ... The Commission is particularly concerned about the impact of immigration on the most disadvantaged within our already resident society — inner city youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to life in the U.S.
Put simply, the United States has a large number of underemployed or unemployed citizens and lawfully admitted aliens who need work, too, and those individuals are generally "the most disadvantaged within our already resident society", and in particular "inner city youth" and members of minority groups who traditionally (but not always or exclusively) were the victims of poor education systems and few job opportunities. If charity begins at home, so should opportunity.
There is also the effect that the flight of working-age men like (apparently) Romero have on the countries that they leave. From an economic standpoint, no one has ever explained to me how an impoverished country is improved when its most precious assets, its people (and in particular its children), leave.
Again, however, I digress. Going back to the emphasized portion of the third paragraph in that article, the authors chide the president for vilifying a group of individuals who are coming to seek asylum, which they somewhat accurately portray as a "legal right". Whether or not the president is vilifying those individuals, however, the reporters could use a lesson on asylum law. Here it comes.
The grounds for granting an alien asylum in the United States are extremely narrow. More than 31 years ago, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of Mogharrabi set forth the standards for asylum relief:
In order to establish eligibility for a grant of asylum, an alien must demonstrate that he is a "refugee" within the meaning of section 101(a)(42)(A) of the [Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)], 8 U.S.C. §1.101(a)(42)(A) (1982). See section 208 of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1158 (1982). That definition includes the requirement that an alien demonstrate that he is unwilling or unable to return to his country because of persecution or a "well-founded fear" of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Notably absent from that list of grounds for asylum relief is poverty, or an inability to earn a living, or even the threat of public disorder or crime.
The regulations implementing the INA are particularly clear on this point. Specifically, 8 C.F.R. § 208.13(b)(2) states:
(i) An applicant has a well-founded fear of persecution if:
(A) The applicant has a fear of persecution in his or her country of nationality or, if stateless, in his or her country of last habitual residence, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion;
(B) There is a reasonable possibility of suffering such persecution if he or she were to return to that country; and
(C) He or she is unable or unwilling to return to, or avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of such fear.
Remember my use of "somewhat?" One could argue that even if an alien is not eligible for asylum, the alien still has the right to apply for asylum. While this is a questionable proposition in and of itself, let's assume for a moment that is correct. That is where Romero's story is particularly illustrative of the president's arguments.
President Donald Trump gave an address from the White House last week in which he argued for additional funding for border security. Talking about the flood of foreign nationals seeking illegal entry at the Southwest border, the president stated:
This is a humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.
Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States — a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs. One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system.
The New York Times article is, itself, proof of the "humanitarian crisis" that the president has described. Remember the line: "The divorced father of four is taking his 12-year-old daughter with him, believing that it may improve his chances with United States immigration authorities"? Interestingly, the Times does not identify that child by name, so I will simply call her Ms. Romero. Ms. Romero is being used as a pawn by her father in a cynical attempt to gain entry into the United States, understanding (correctly) that due to unaddressed loopholes in our immigration laws, her presence will result in her father being released from custody, assuming (hopefully) that she survives the trek.
Again, President Trump made this exact point in his January 8, 2019, address to the nation: "Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home." Maybe AP can hire Jeff Ernst, Elisabeth Malkin, and Paulina Villegas to be fact checkers for its future articles.
But wait, there's more. Remember when the New York Times talked about the incentives that encouraged Romero to leave now? Here it is again, for Romero's own mouth: "I didn't have the courage to go last time, but this time I do." What's changed? Fortunately, the Times apparently answers that question for us:
As the new caravan prepares to leave, the experience of the last one seems to be guiding the response of governments and people along the way.
That previous exodus was a tale told through images: migrants wading across the Suchiate River, which marks the border between Guatemala and Mexico; masses of people filling country roads and cramming into pickup trucks; and the central squares of provincial Mexican cities transformed into cluttered campsites.
When the caravan — almost 6,000 strong — reached Tijuana, the migrants found that a high fence and a very long wait to ask for asylum still separated them from the United States. Migrant shelters overflowed and conditions in them quickly worsened. Some migrants gave up.
But back home in Honduras, the trials of previous caravans have not been a deterrent for those considering joining the new one. The danger and frustrations pale beside the overwhelming fear of being sent back home, said Sister Lidia de Suazo, the coordinator of pastoral care for migrants at the Roman Catholic archdiocese in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
"The majority of those who went with the October caravan were not deported," she said. "So that sends the message back to the countries of origin, and people say, 'Let's go too because they won't deport us.'"
Not surprisingly (although still a disputed fact among some), our country's failures to enforce border security due to a lack of infrastructure along the Southwest border and poorly thought-out immigration policies are encouraging even more people to undertake the hazardous journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States, endangering not just them but their children. Want proof? There it is in five paragraphs.
The president tweets, a lot. This is such an established fact that I refuse to put in a hyperlink to support the proposition. If I were him, I would tweet out, with a certain level of grim and resigned satisfaction "A New Migrant Caravan Forms, and Old Battle Lines Harden".