President Donald Trump tried to claim Tuesday night that shutting down the federal government over his demand for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is a compassionate action - that he is taking a stand on behalf of the American public and even immigrants in response to what he called a “humanitarian and security crisis” on the border. Trump was right about one thing: What’s happening on the southern border is a crisis. But it is his choices that have created it, and his wall will not solve anything.
Trump would have us believe that there is a “crisis” of criminals, terrorists, drugs, child smugglers and “illegal immigrants” flooding across the southern border into the country.
While there are legitimate security issues at the southern border, Trump’s assertions simply are not true.
Unauthorized migration has been declining for years; there is no wave of terrorist operatives waiting to cross into the United States by land; by far, most drugs entering the country are smuggled through ports of entry; and, between April and September last year, only .25 percent of all family units apprehended involved children who were not related to the adults with whom they were traveling.
In fact, many of the men, women and children at our southern border have fled their native Central American countries in fear of persecution, torture and death.
Rather than criminals and terrorists themselves, they are persecuted innocents, fleeing those same problems that Trump says they’re bringing with them. They have arrived at our border to exercise their legal right to seek safe harbor through the asylum process. But rather than safe harbor, these asylum seekers have encountered the administration’s relentless efforts to demonize, criminalize and dehumanize immigrants through sweeping stereotypes and hate-filled rhetoric.
Asylum seekers at our southern border are being met with abusive and unlawful practices by border officers, forced separation from their children, pretextual criminal prosecutions, lengthy detention in abhorrent conditions, unilaterally rewritten legal standards, unlawful restrictions on seeking protection based on where a person entered, and efforts to keep asylum seekers in Mexico while they are processed through U.S. legal systems. For example, my law firm represents one family - a mother, two teenagers and three toddlers - from Honduras who fled gang violence and efforts by the MS-13 gang to recruit the teenage children.
This family was directly hit by tear gas canisters while seeking to apply to enter the United States after waiting for weeks in Mexico. After in-person advocacy at the border, they were finally permitted to enter for the purpose of seeking asylum. They were then detained for four days with very little food before finally being placed in removal proceedings, where they will eventually present their asylum cases before an immigration judge.
We also represent a Honduran woman, a successful small-business owner, who fled MS-13, which had been extorting and threatening her. When she reported these death threats to the Honduran police, they did nothing. The threats escalated when MS-13 learned that she had gone to the police, forcing her to flee in fear for her life. Upon entering the United States for the legal purpose of seeking asylum protection, she was arrested, incarcerated and criminally prosecuted on charges of illegal reentry to the United States.
She has been in federal custody for over two months, awaiting resolution of the criminal prosecution before she will even have an opportunity to present her fears to a U.S. asylum officer.
These are only two examples of this administration’s border security policies that, rather than addressing real security problems, have created, or at best exacerbated, the “humanitarian crisis” at the border.
Yet now, Trump claims to be acting on behalf of immigrants, describing the problem on Tuesday night as a “crisis of the heart and crisis of the soul.” If he truly feels that, he’s not doing anything to resolve it.
Dree K. Collopy is a partner of Benach Collopy LLP in Washington, D.C., and chairs the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s national asylum and refugee committee.