Earlier this year, a caravan of nearly 1,500 Central Americans marched through Mexico to the U.S. southern border intending to claim asylum upon arrival. However, despite drawing international attention, ultimately the caravan disbanded with minimal pushback.
At the time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained the asylum process and highlighted how difficult it has become for federal agencies to manage the large influx of individuals claiming to have credible fear of returning to their home countries:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is tasked … with evaluating whether an apprehended alien’s claim of fear is credible. If DHS finds that it may be, the applicant is placed in removal proceedings and allowed to present an asylum claim to an immigration judge.
If DHS finds that the alien does not have a credible fear, the alien can still get an immigration judge to review that determination. In effect, those who would otherwise be subject to expedited removal get two chances to establish that their fear is credible.
The previous administration began to allow most aliens who passed an initial credible fear review to be released from custody into the United States pending a full hearing. These changes—and case law that has expanded the concept of asylum well beyond congressional intent—created even more incentives for illegal aliens to come here and claim a fear of return…
Claims of fear to return have skyrocketed, and the percentage of claims that are genuinely meritorious are down.
Congress must tighten the definition of credible fear and the process by which it is evaluated and clearly grant immigration authorities the discretion to refuse dubious claims at the border. However, in the nearly six months since the caravan pushed towards the United States, Congress has failed to do any of these things.
Because of this failure to act, there is now another caravan making its way to the southern border— this time with nearly 7,000 people intent on claiming asylum if they get caught. If the past is any indication of what we can expect upon arrival, the group, comprised largely of adults traveling with children, will attempt to cross into the United States illegally. Although most openly admit that they are seeking better economic conditions, they will, nevertheless, request asylum if apprehended. As noted by the attorney general, U.S. asylum laws have become a virtual guarantee that illegal aliens, particularly those with children in tow, will almost immediately be released into the U.S; and most will never even bother to appear for their immigration hearings.
On Monday, President Trump called on Congress to finally fix these loopholes. “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy (sic). Must change laws!”
Unfortunately, Congress is on an extended hiatus until after the midterm elections in November. By the time our elected officials return to Washington, D.C., the caravan will undoubtedly have already begun to trickle into the United States through ports of entry. But in a Congress that has failed to pass any substantive immigration reforms, the best opportunity for action will be in a Department of Homeland Security appropriations package that must be passed before December 7. Clearly Republicans are already eyeing this package as an opportunity to secure border wall funding; but the reality is a wall—without changes to current asylum law— couldn’t keep this caravan out