In a long-form article that published over the weekend, Arelis Hernandez of the Washington Post utilized multiple first-hand accounts from nationals of the Northern Triangle countries about why they are coming to the United States. The subheading of her article reads: “Thousands are journeying to the border, motivated by complicated personal and practical reasons that intersect where survival meets opportunity.” The reasons provided in the subsequent anecdotes are varied, but none of them articulate a legitimate claim for asylum under U.S. immigration law.
In total, Hernandez interviewed three dozen aliens at the U.S. southern border, who generally said “the decision to migrate is influenced but does not hinge on a particular president or message.” This line is not very revealing because there were plenty of unlawful border crossings during the Trump administration despite its emphasis on enforcing immigration law. You do hit crisis-level numbers when you have a president like Joe Biden who openly refuses to enforce the law. The next sentence of the article, however, precisely sums up the driving factors: “Violence, impunity, hunger, climate change, persecution, the economic fallout of the pandemic and reuniting with family are more powerful motivators.”
To qualify for asylum in the United States, the alien must meet the statutory definition of a “refugee”. Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act defines “refugee” as:
any person ... who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that 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.
Four of the five grounds for asylum are straightforward, while the fifth, membership in a particular social group (PSG), is facially less clear. With this preliminary framework in mind, you can immediately strike down hunger, climate change, Covid-induced economic hardship, and family reunification as illegitimate bases for asylum. Dismissing these baseless asylum claims does not discount the plight these people legitimately feel, it just indicates that they do not qualify for humanitarian protection under U.S. law.
This leaves just violence, impunity, and persecution left as the only potential avenues for the aliens interviewed by the Washington Post to establish eligibility for asylum. Yet, here too, none of the claims made in the article meet the threshold for asylum. While the courts have established various PSGs that qualify for asylum, generalized fear of violence or gang threats does not rise to that standard. The Biden administration is reportedly trying to rewrite regulations to drastically expand the definition of PSG, but those watered down standards are not yet in place. None of the aliens interviewed claim that government actors are specifically targeting them for persecution on the basis of characteristics that make up a PSG. Fearing gang violence is legitimate — just ask the citizens of Chicago — but it is not a legitimate basis for asylum.
While I do not believe Hernandez intended for her article to expose the Biden border crisis population as economic migrants, her piece does a phenomenal job of debunking the myth that these aliens are legitimate asylum seekers. In conjunction with the recent Reuters article that shows the complicity of parents in the smuggling of their children across the border, the media is actually painting an accurate picture of the situation. Tapped by President Biden to solve the border crisis, Vice President Harris could learn more from news outlets than she could from any briefing by DHS Secretary Mayoraks, who still refuses to call the crisis a crisis.