Families seeking asylum is a real national emergency

Elected officials should find ways to allow more families seeking asylum into America.

On Sunday, Kirstjen Nielson resigned from her position as the secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, amidst frustration with getting other departments to help manage families crossing the border.

I’m frustrated too, but not at the families crossing the border. I’m frustrated with how the country is handling it.

In February, President Donald Trump announced a national emergency declaration as an attempt to skirt Congress and get billions of dollars to fund a wall on the U.S. southern border. 

This is one of the president’s many attempts to move forward with his campaign’s promise to reform United States immigration policy.

Failing to obtain the funding after a 35-day government shutdown, Trump is still pushing for his wall by any means necessary. By declaring a national emergency, Trump faces a long, difficult process; the wall would take years to construct if it even gets built at all. 

We should provide a safe place for families fleeing catastrophe and danger in their native countries.

Instead, Trump has chosen to focus on a crisis he manufactured himself. Wanting to build a wall across the Mexican border isn’t an emergency at all.

“I think it’s well-documented that the situation is not an emergency and there is not a crisis in terms of people [illegally] crossing the border,” said Jennifer Lee, an associate law professor and director of the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic at the Sheller Center for Social Justice. “If you look back two decades, the numbers were much higher than today.”

Undetected illegal border crossings declined from about 851,000 in 2006 to approximately 62,000 in 2016, according to a May 2018 Department of Homeland Security report. We simply don’t need a wall.

There has been a huge spike in asylum requests from Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala, and responding this way is only alienating those who desperately need our help. 

“The U.S. received 262,000 asylum applications in 2016 — double the number in 2014 — with almost half of the applications coming from Central American nationals,” WBUR News reported.

Families are fleeing their home countries because they fear the gang violence that has taken over their communities. 

“There’s a huge backlog processing people through the asylum system,” Lee said. “As a matter of international law, the U.S. has the obligation to allow those people who seek asylum status within our country, who are fleeing persecution from their home country.”

Cristina Escobar, a sociology professor who teaches a class about ethnicity and immigration experience in the U.S., said the chaos ensuing in Central America is a humanitarian crisis. And the majority of the immigrants are not criminals or drug dealers, they are families just trying to survive.

“Many of them have been directly targeted and threatened by gangs or dangerous situations,” Escobar said. “In other cases, the economic climate of those countries is so bad that the people are forced to leave.”

Seeking asylum is a legal way to enter the U.S., but only 21 percent of asylum claims were approved in 2018, The New York Times reported. And a significant number of these claims take years to be processed. 

“Instead, I think the government should respond to this emergency by working to speed up the process to be able to better assist to these asylum appeals,” Escobar said. 

I couldn’t agree more. We can’t keep pointing to immigrants as drug dealers and monsters. And we can’t be so focused on making it harder for people to come into our country. Some people truly have no choice but to leave their home countries.

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