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News Brief: Tensions Rise as Migrant Caravan Reaches US Border

Migrant Caravan Reaches US

News Brief: Tensions Rise as Migrant Caravan Reaches US Border

December 7, 2018

Beginning in Mid-October, a migrant caravan originating in Honduras began a perilous journey towards the United States (US) border. Its mission – safety in numbers as thousands of Central Americans traveled to the US seeking asylum. Political asylum is internationally recognized and allows those fleeing threat of bodily harm or persecution to find safety in the country of their choosing. In the US, anyone can seek asylum either from within US territory or at an official point-of-entry.

We’ve followed news reports as the Central American migrant caravan traveled from Honduras to Tijuana. Now, thousands await consideration in “fetid” and transient migrant camps while the US fails to process asylum claims efficiently. This has escalated tensions at the border as asylum seekers try to find safety as quickly as possible.

In this news brief, we will review the current situation for those from the migrant caravan who now find themselves stranded outside of US territory. How did we get here? What’s happening, and is anything being done to remedy it?

President Trump, Asylum, & the Caravan

The Central American caravan made headlines as President Donald Trump likened it to an “invasion.” Further, the president vilified those in the caravan, actively sending thousands of military personnel to the border. This act of strength against people in need sent a strong message across the world. We reported about the migrant caravan previously, you can read more about its progress through Mexico here and here.

Asylum Proclamation

In addition to needlessly fortifying the southern US border, the Trump administration also aimed to change US asylum procedures to prevent claims under certain conditions. On Friday, November 9, Trump issued a proclamation announcing that all asylum cases at the border must be processed via an official port-of-entry. Current US asylum law, as discussed earlier in this article, allows people to seek asylum no matter their method of entering the US. The proclamation attempted to overwrite this longstanding policy.

Unsurprisingly, legal challenges followed from human rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Less than two weeks after the proclamation’s publication, Judge Jon S. Tigar issued an injunction that prevented the president from enforcing its policies until the court could properly consider the case. The case proceeds on December 19, and the injunction is expected to last at least 30 days.[1]

In response, the president is considering a new policy, “Remain in Mexico.” The plan would require intense assistance from Mexico, who would house asylum seekers as they waited the weeks, months, or even years it takes for case processing. It is unclear whether the policy will be enacted. We reported on “Remain in Mexico” and its possible consequences in last week’s news brief (read it here).

After Long Journey, Caravan Reaches Tijuana and California Border

The caravan finally reached the southern US border about two weeks ago. Despite many challenges upon the road, thousands arrived in Tijuana, seeking better lives in America. Yet as America celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrating history, heritage, and gratitude, those in the caravan faced the disheartening realities of current US politics and policies.

Unfortunately, the San Ysidro port-of-entry already faced crushing backlogs of cases before the arrival of the caravan. Now, The Associated Press (AP) estimates roughly 5,000 migrants await asylum processing at the California border. Some estimates place the count even higher. Yet government agents process roughly 100 cases per day. Unfortunately, Reuters reports even less – that processing has been restricted to between 40 and 100 daily cases.[2]

This means that without government aid or intervention, wait times for migrants seeking asylum could stretch weeks or months. For families with small children, waiting in Tijuana without adequate food or shelter will be impossible. The realities of the situation at the border have escalated tensions amongst migrants. Many struggle to find a more efficient way to safety.

US Border Patrol Uses Tear Gas

On Sunday, November 25, what began as a peaceful interaction between US border patrol agents and frustrated migrants erupted in violence. Some migrants threw projectiles, like rocks and bottles, at agents as some others attempted to cross into US territory by scaling walls. Unfortunately, US agents fired tear gas on the migrants, neutralizing the threat but causing harm to innocent bystanders, including young children.

The effects of tear gas, while transient, are terrifying. According to a chemical weapons expert, this is especially true for children, who are lower to the ground and have smaller lungs. Since tear gas concentrates closer to the ground, they’re likely to suffer more.[3] Additionally, children are less capable of cognitively understanding the effects of tear gas, increasing terror and inflicting damaging psychological consequences.

This unfortunate event was the effect of high stress on both sides of the border. The thousands of asylum seekers awaiting consideration deserve respect. Yet every day they wait in Mexico, they are vulnerable.

Terrible Conditions Reported in Migrant Housing 

Conditions in Tijuana’s temporary migrant housing – located in a sports complex – are deteriorating rapidly. Both adults and children face continuous challenges – limited food, “nonexistent” privacy, and susceptibility to communicable diseases.[4] Reuters describes their temporary camps as “squalid” – dangers lurk as innocent people, including families with young children, await a chance at safety on US soil.

Families Attempt to Enter America Illegally

As the wait for asylum consideration continues, frustrated migrants, some with children, have made a difficult choice. Rather than continue to wait for official asylum processing, a few have chosen to attempt to enter US territory illegally. Reuters followed one group of migrants Monday as they made the crossing – “risking almost certain detention by US authorities but hoping the illegal entry will allow them to apply for asylum.”

While crossing illegally puts the migrants at risk, it is their opportunity to receive asylum consideration quicker. Currently, due to Judge Tigar’s injunction, migrants who enter US territory illegally may still seek asylum. Because of this, it appears that frustrated migrants are taking their fates into their own hands.

Journalists Provide Eyewitness Accounts

Reuters describes the scene as dozens of people attempted to cross one of the “most fortified sections of the southern US border.” One person, while helping a companion cross the fence, encouraged them: “Climb up! You can do it! Stand on my head!”

The New York Times told a similar tale as 30 migrants attempted to cross the border under cover of night. One migrant, while crouched with his wife and son, told the Times: “We’re going for a better future for our son, in a place that’s safe.”

While not every migrant presenting at the US border may have “credible fear,” true asylees are suffering while the US sluggishly processes claims. They’ve witnessed “their dreams … splinter against the cold, immovable reality of the border, and of American policy.”[5] This is unacceptable behavior from America, once a beacon of immigration, diversity, and acceptance.

In conclusion, Nanthaveth & Associates continues to watch the events occurring at America’s southern border. More updates will be posted as they are available.

Help is Available

Immigrants to the US may feel concerned or threatened by the current state of immigration policies and politics. If you or a loved one faces immigration proceedings like asylum processing or deportation court, you should seek help. An experienced lawyer specializing in immigration law will be able to explain your opportunities and protect your rights. Located in Austin, the lawyers at Nanthaveth & Associates passionately and effectively represent the interests of immigrants across Texas. You can schedule a free consultation today to discuss any concern.

Sources

[1] Hayes, C., and Wolf, R. (2018, November 27). Justice Department asks to enforce Trump’s new asylum policy while it appeals ruling. USA Today.Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com

[2] Murray, C. (2018, December 4). Tired of waiting for asylum, migrants from caravan breach U.S. border. Reuters.Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com

[3] Ortiz, J.L. (2018, November 28). Tear gas: ‘Harsh, terrifying’ and legal to use on civilians (and immigrants). USA Today.Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com

[4] Averbuch, M., and Semple, K. (2018, December 3). With U.S. Soil Achingly Close, Decision Time for Caravan Migrants. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com

[5] Averbuch, M. and Semple, K. (2018, December 3).