As President Trump was speaking in El Paso, Texas on February 12, 2019, a wave of illegal aliens crossed the United States at the Juarez/El Paso border in direct defiance of our President and the laws of the United States. Upon entering, the group turned themselves into border agents to file for asylum. As asylees, they know they can obtain work authorization while their applications are pending through the backlogged system and they will be safe from deportation. Currently, there is a buildup of over six years for USCIS (formerly INS) to issue a decision on an affirmative asylum claim. If the case is ultimately denied, then the asylee can fight the decision through the immigration court system, which will take several years, at a minimum. The caravan members know that they have little chance of prevailing on their asylum claims, but they continue to pour across the border since the chances of being repatriated to their home country are slim. According to the National Immigration Forum, the most recent data shows that for the fiscal year of 2016 asylum approval rates varied between 10 to 80 percent, depending on the particular immigration court. Meanwhile, the approval rate for affirmative asylum cases filed with USCIS is a mere 10 percent.
What is an Asylee? To win an asylum case, an immigrant must demonstrate that he or she has been persecuted, or has a reasonable fear of persecution, from one of five “protected grounds”: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. While there is no doubt that the recent caravans consist of the poor and downtrodden from Central America, the asylees are having a difficult time proving a protected ground versus economic hardships.
What is a Refugee? A refugee is an asylee by definition, but a refugee is applying for entry into the United States from a third country. A refugee is a displaced individual due to persecution or war. Before entering the United States, refugees, unlike asylees, undergo a strict vetting process. It takes up to two years to complete the screenings, wherein each refugee is interviewed, personal data is verified, and various background checks are performed by U.S. national security agencies. Thus, a refugee is fingerprinted and cross-checked in a global database. Unlike an asylee, a refugee also undergoes a thorough medical test. The medical doctors not only examine refugees for diseases and other health risks, but also examine tattoos for evidence of gang involvement.
By law, there are no limits on the number of approved asylum cases in the United States, however, in October 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decreased the available number of refugees to 30,000, a record low. In his announcement, Secretary Pompeo reasoned that the reduction is due to the current “humanitarian crisis” of nearly one million active asylum cases.
President Trump has taken strident measures to reduce the number of asylees in the United States; however, every declaration and proclamation has resulted in litigation by various immigration groups and the ACLU. In December 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Session’s attempts to prevent victims of gang violence or domestic violence from seeking asylum were ruled unlawful. Moreover, a presidential declaration that prevented applicants who illegally entered the United States from filing asylum classes was blocked by a federal judge in California.
Most recently, President Trump issued a proclamation that caravan members from Central America must wait in Mexico until a decision is rendered on their asylum claim. So far, Mexico is cooperating, but lawsuits filed in liberal jurisdictions are challenging the changes. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will issue the final decision. Of course, this is not good news for the caravan members who are becoming restless in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mexico is attempting to relocate caravan members in border cities due to security concerns after a recent riot. By diluting the groups, Mexican officials are trying to prevent mass surges into the United States, similar to what occurred in Tijuana last year. Until Congress sets limits and parameters, illegal immigrants will be induced to flee the violence and poverty of their countries and enter the United States unchecked and unvetted.
Artie Renee Pobjecky is a conservative immigration attorney. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and her Juris Doctorate from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Artie Renee is a nationally recognized speaker and published author on immigration law issues.