Do we want to go back to the migrant caravans of 2018 and 2019, when tens of thousands of people would travel through Central America to reach the U.S. border and make asylum claims?
That’s what President Donald Trump’s Customs and Border Protection head says could happen — and it’s why he’s touting agreements with three Latin American nations whose citizens made up 71 percent of the individuals apprehended at the border in 2019.
In a tweet announcing the agreements on Tuesday, Mark Morgan said that the “collaborative approach with our partner countries will protect the American homeland from uncontrolled mass migration during a global pandemic” while still protecting the right to asylum.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security touted the agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, saying that it was “a historic milestone for the Trump Administration, Central America, and the American people.”
That’s a bit of Washingtonian blandishment, but the agreements are important, particularly with presumptive President-elect Joe Biden looking to undo much of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
According to The Washington Times, the Asylum Cooperation Agreement “mean migrants who cross through those countries en route to the U.S. and who then lodge an asylum claim here can, in some cases, be sent back to those countries.”
Part of the issue is the extraordinary number of asylum claims from countries which, while they may have issues with crime, aren’t undergoing civil war, massive internal strife or unprecedented human anguish.
In the 2019 fiscal year, however, 71 percent of those apprehended at the southwest border came from those countries, often traveling in caravans.
In a series of Tuesday tweets, Morgan said the agreements would hopefully avert a major migration crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These humanitarian agreements demonstrate the Trump administration’s unwavering efforts to secure America’s borders from illegal entry by working closely with our regional partners,” Morgan wrote.
“Without these agreements, we will likely see waves of attempted illegal entries similar to 2019.”
These humanitarian agreements demonstrate the Trump administration’s unwavering efforts to secure America's borders from illegal entry by working closely with our regional partners. Without these agreements, we will likely see waves of attempted illegal entries similar to 2019.
— CBP Mark Morgan (@CBPMarkMorgan) December 29, 2020
“Our collaborative approach with our partner countries will protect the American homeland from uncontrolled mass migration during a global pandemic while also allowing migrating Central Americans a safe place to seek protection closer to their homes,” he added.
Our collaborative approach with our partner countries will protect the American homeland from uncontrolled mass migration during a global pandemic while also allowing migrating Central Americans a safe place to seek protection closer to their homes. https://t.co/VqJgIjOUqa
— CBP Mark Morgan (@CBPMarkMorgan) December 29, 2020
The reason this is important, of course, is because Joe Biden and those around him plan a wholesale dismantling of the Trump administration’s immigration policies — provided, of course, they don’t run headfirst into a political disaster.
The previous Tuesday, while speaking to the media, Biden said his administration would indeed reverse course on immigration, all while “setting up the guardrails” so that we don’t end up with “2 million people on our border.”
Take, for instance, this description from The Washington Post about how Biden plans to handle the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their case works its way through the legal system.
“Biden had promised to end on ‘Day 1’ a program that requires tens of thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from Central America, to await their U.S. immigration hearings in Mexico,” writers Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti noted.
Donald Trump has slammed the door shut in the face of families fleeing persecution and violence. On day one, I will eliminate President Trump’s decision to limit asylum and end the MPP program. #RestoreAsylumNOW https://t.co/3KLjtwEtNE
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 30, 2020
“But the president-elect said creating a system to process thousands of asylum seekers will take months, because the government needs funding to put staffers such as ‘asylum judges’ in place.”
However, a top Biden adviser has also made it clear that Biden “will work to promptly undo” the deals the Trump administration made with the three Central American countries.
“As currently written, the outgoing administration’s so-called ‘asylum cooperative agreements’ deny the right to apply for asylum in the United States to desperate asylum seekers rather than helping create alternative pathways to protection,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick for national security advisor, told Spanish wire service EFE.
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf would disagree.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, DHS is using every available tool at its disposal to mitigate the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis at the border,” Wolf said in a statement.
“Implementation of the agreements will further strengthen the overall asylum capabilities in the Northern Triangle countries and across the region and will allow asylum seekers to access protection closer to their home. I want to thank our partners in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for their hard work and leadership to get these agreements across the finish line.”
Wolf’s statement underlines what Sullivan really means when he talks about “alternative pathways to protection.” Those pathways involve traveling in caravans, often in dangerous conditions, to reach the United States border.
It’s preposterous on its face to claim that the situations in these countries deteriorated to such a level that their residents made up almost three-quarters of migrants apprehended at the border in 2019.
The Trump administration’s agreement allows those whose asylum claims are spurious to be returned more easily.
The prospective Biden administration, should it so wish, could leave the agreements in place, beef up pathways to asylum in the countries of origin and go about it that way.
They’re apparently choosing not to.
It’s difficult not to take away some hard realizations from that. This was always what was coming.
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