The approach to deal with the immigration issue in the US by the Trump administration has created hue and cry at the domestic and international front, amid escalating tensions with China, Canada, Mexico and EU on increased tariff issues. The illegal immigration and its impacts on the American society and economy was a concern that made Trump’s election campaign popular, making it his campaign’s focal point of discussion. The Southwestern border with Mexico has remained the talk of the town for quite some time now because of the zero-tolerance policy, which has separated many parents from their children by sending them to separate facilities in a bid to counter illegal immigration. As a result, 2,300 children have been separated from their parents since the enactment of this policy in April 2018. This has garnered outrage and attention from all over the world because of the images of crying children at the borders. At one point during the border crisis, critics of this policy started questioning the core American value of welcoming ‘dreamers’ into the land of opportunity.
The dynamism in border protection through illegal entry reflects execution of the ‘America First’ promise
The Trump administration announced its immigration policy on January 25, 2018 which lays down a 12-year procedure to grant American citizenship to as many as 1.8 million individuals who were brought into US illegally or without proper documentation. Under this immigration law, the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), which came into force through Obama’s executive order, faces serious obstructions with regards to its future continuation. The White House is taking all necessary steps to make sure its promises are fulfilled in every domain. The dynamism in border protection through illegal entry reflects execution of the ‘America First’ promise. But apart from activism shown by the American presidency, many unaddressed factors in American legislative system are creating hindrances to prosecute illegal entry at US borders. These loopholes are actually making the status of American illegal immigrants more vulnerable and giving birth to a crisis of ‘separate families’ at the borders. Though the executive order on 20 June, 2018 has relieved the families who were separated under the ‘zero tolerance’ attitude, the long-term and permanent solution to the illegal border crossing is still lurking in the air.
The Flores Settlement law of 1997 is actually restricting the government’s ability to detain immigrant children, and the Trump administration is trying to amend this law by pursuing Democrats in the Congress. This law does not allow the prosecution of minors with their parents during detention at the border. The Trump administration is trying to sidestep this law by claiming that in accordance to the Flores Settlement, parents and children cannot be kept together in the immigration detention. It is important to note here that this particular move of ‘zero tolerance’ is idiosyncratic to the whole of Trump’s presidency. The mainstream media and liberals in America have turned reactionary to this move, while the Trump presidency blames liberals for their lackluster attitude that has contributed in exacerbating the crisis.
In the backdrop of the ‘family separation’ crisis at the US-Mexican border, it is imperative to discuss the important potential areas in American immigration system that are still providing room for further legislation. The following areas require consensus among the Democrats and Republicans in order to pave a way forward on border crossing and the status of illegal immigrants.
Reform the old immigration system
The Congress needs to restructure its old immigration system through new reforms. The old legislation is not capable of stopping the influx of aliens who are able to enter the US due to the loophole in the ‘catch and free’ policy. Many felons including smugglers and drug traffickers understand this and have exploited these loopholes. The Flores Settlement agreement is considered one of the major impediments for the government authorities in acting adroitly to detain and promptly remove many Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs). In addition to this, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 also restricts authorities from promptly returning many UACs who have been interrogated and detained at the border.
Loopholes in the UAC numbers
The surge of the numbers of the UAC at the border has also aggravated the crisis. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 110,000 UAC have been released into the US in the FY 2016. The number of UAC at ports of entry increased by 636 per cent from April 2017 to April 2018. Border Patrol apprehensions of UACs were 331 per cent higher in April 2018 than in April 2017. Only 3.4 per cent of UAC encountered at the border in the FY 2014 from countries other than Mexico had been removed or returned as of FY 2017. The pending cases of UAC in immigration courts totals 78,000, from 3,500 in FY 2009. In addition to this, there are substantive reports that MS-13 gang has also used the influx of UAC for recruiting opportunities.
Current laws uphold a meek standard of credible fear which allows aliens in the US to make meritless pleas for asylum, which entitles them to remain in the US for years while they litigate their cases
Framework for asylum seekers on new principles
The present asylum laws are subject to exploitation because of easy and meritless standards available for asylum seekers. There is dire need to address such loopholes in American asylum laws. Current laws uphold a meek standard of credible fear which allows aliens in the US to make meritless pleas for asylum, which entitles them to remain in the US for years while they litigate their cases. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the application for asylum in FY 2017 was with the highest annual number of claims in over 20 years.
The executive order issued by Trump on June 20 has solved the crisis of family separation at the borders but this is not the permanent solution to the illegal immigration problem that the US is facing at its southern borders. This problem needs to be addressed through proper and sedulous Congressional legislation in the existing immigration laws. This can only be possible through prevalence of common sense among the Congressmen. An unproductive exchange of filibusters among the Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress would do no good in the long run.
has completed his MPhil in American Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. In addition to this, he has completed his research work from Ball State University, Municie USA. He
is an active member of International Exchange Alumni sponsored by Department of State, USA. Currently, he is working as a Research Associate at the CSCR.