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Migration Along the US-Mexico Border: A seasoned activist gives clarity and context to a complex and ongoing crisis


The number of migrants intercepted at the United States’ southern border is on the rise. In May, the most recent month for which data is available, US Customs and Border Protection, (CBP), reported its highest ever number of migrants intercepted at America’s southern border. highest monthly total In 20 years, there have been more than 180,000 migrants, mostly single parents. Economic precarity, government corruption and crime, violence, climate change, and other issues are all problems. all driving migrationFrom Latin America and Central America countries. It shows no signs of slowing down. 

Journalist, border activist, and minister Rev. Dr. Robin HooverOver 30 years of experience in human right work, the US/Mexico frontier and migration. Hoover is the founder of several non-profit organizations, including Humane Borders, Inc., a social welfare organization that works to reduce migrant deaths and advocate for changes in migration policy which place migrants at risk. Proyecto Rescatame, a project he is currently working on, is his current passion. This project uses satellite-based technology to send rescue beacons to help immigrants on their difficult and often fatal journey. Hoover is known for leaving water for migrants at the Sonora Desert along well-traveled routes. 
Hoover’s base is in Tucson, Arizona. This gives him access to the border, as well as to the detention and correctional centres in Nogales, AZ, under the Department of Homeland Security, including one center. made international news for overcrowdingFacilities holding unaccompanied minors. Latin America Reports talked with him about his experiences at detention centers and the implementation of U.S. immigration policies, as well as his predictions for the future of immigration.

What happens in a migrant detention centre?

The United States government continues to maintain the world’s largest immigration detention system. According to Detention Watch NetworkThe 2019 average daily detention population (ADP) was 50,165. The number of detained people for the year was 510.854. The U.S. government spends moreFederal immigration enforcement is more important than any other federal principal criminal law enforcement agencies, and the federal government has spent nearly $187 billion on immigration enforcement since 1986. 

Detention centers serve many purposes. They can be used as processing centers or longer-term jail cells. Because of the stigma, some detention centers change their name to “processing center” but their scope and application remain the same. Many immigrants are not held for very long. Some are sent back immediately. “Some are kept for hours, some for days,” says Hoover. “Then they might separate the wife from the husband and the wife goes to Tijuana and the husband to El Paso.” 

A migrant who is found to be a fugitive, a DUI or has attempted multiple illegal crossings (termed “recidivism”) can be prosecuted under U.S. law. “It can be a long time before your case even comes up,” Hoover says. “If you’re a migrant you’re just screwed. You may think ‘I am going to the port of entry in McAllen, Texas.’ And daddy goes this way, mom goes this way, and the child goes another. And they don’t see each other again.”

A sign is held by a protestor outside a Houston juvenile migrant center in Texas in 2019. Image courtesy of Hayley McCord

What about children in detention?

Children are treated differently from adults migrants and their parents. The 1997 Flores Agreement strictly limits the government’s ability to keep unaccompanied minors in immigration detention. Children cannot be held in immigration detention for more than 72 hours. After that time, they can be released to their guardian or another responsible adult in the U.S. The Flores Agreement was modified, abused, and even abandoned. 

The Flores Agreement was used to separate children under the Trump administration. The administration claimed that it could not keep children and parents together in immigration detention. had no choice but to detain parents in immigration detention Send the children to Department of Health and Human Services. It is important to use the right terminology. The Flores Agreement now applies to unaccompanied alien minors, not unaccompanied minors. “UACs warrant special protections because of the absence of parental supervision, while the treatment of accompanied minors must balance their welfare with the orderly enforcement of U.S. immigration law,” according to Lawfare.

There are many more hoops. The CDC deployed a number of other hoops in 2020. medical quarantine authorizationThis allows any migrant or migrant children to be sent home to their country based on COVID-19 transmission risk. This authorization overrides the protections of immigration and refugee laws through the use of an unreviewable Border Patrol health “expulsion” mechanism.

“Back in 1986 when I first visited a detention center in Texas it was called Los Fresnos Education Center and had fewer than 100 minors there. In the United States, there were only 500 minors at that time. It is now called Port Isabel Service Processing Center. There are probably four or five thousand kids in detention in that same county today,” Hoover says. “Twenty-five years ago it was like a group home. There were no fences, windows or healthcare. Social workers, clergy, educators, and social workers could not enter or exit. It is now concertina wire, cameras and armed guards. It’s changed dramatically. It is much more of a prison industry today.”

Asylum is only available for a limited number of people

“Coming here legally is almost nonexistent for many countries. The U.S. may only admit twenty thousand people by political asylum in an entire year in the entire world,” says Hoover. RefugeesThese are people who fled violence, war, or persecution and have crossed an internationally recognized border to seek safety in another country. must be vetted while still overseas and approved for entry to the United States. In consultation with Congress the sitting president sets the annual number of refugees who are accepted to the United States. Asylum seekers fall under a different category. They arrive at the U.S. border, port of entry and then apply for asylum. Both cases have caps on how many visas can be issued and processing times that can take months to years. If there is one thing a fleeing migrant doesn’t have, it’s time. 

The number of visas that can each country issue is limited. U.S. does not want to have an inordinate amount of immigrants You can only come from one country. “Technically speaking, just applying for a visa doesn’t exist,” says Hoover. “Mexico might have 4,000 slots available. If you’re coming from a populous country the chances of having those spots available to you are almost impossible. And very rarely does the U.S. admit how many are in the quota.” Winning the quota lottery is often too slim a chance for a migrant fleeing violence and instability. Sometimes, risking illegal border entry is the only viable option.

“Abolish ICE” has become a rallying cry for many who oppose Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s treatment of migrants in detention. Image courtesy of Hayley McCord

Administrations and migration 

Each administration has had a different approach to illegal immigrants and different areas of focus. Some have focused on quotas while others have targeted illegal immigrants within the U.S. and others have deported. Democrats are often the leaders in the most severe deportations or strictest immigration policies. Or in Hoover’s words: “It changes every damn day.”

Some of the most brutal policies were implemented by President Bill Clinton. The bills he passedThe grounds for deportation were expanded to include not only serious offenses but almost all crimes (including misdemeanors). It also required that many immigrants facing exile due to a crime be kept indefinitely beyond their sentence. It also allowed for fast deportations where officers could expel people without the need to hear from a judge. “Children were being hurt, abused, and mistreated under Clinton,” Hoover says. Contrary to popular belief President Obama deported most migrants during his two terms.

Through seven administrations, Hoover has been on either side the border of Arizona and Texas with Mexico. Hoover only described the Trump Administration with its sweeping family seperation as the most cruel. “He encouraged the abusive cult of ICE and championed mistreatment of migrants,” he tells Latin America Reports. “He didn’t deport, he detained, and then he instituted the family separation policies. Prosecutors always had the option of separating children from their parents. Trump expanded it. It wasn’t a matter of policy. It was a matter if implementation. And it was sending a message: don’t bring your kids here.”

What about now?

On the campaign trail, Joe Biden vowed to reform U.S. immigration and to “take urgent action” to undo the policies of former president Donald Trump. The reality for migrants has not changed much since the Democrat was elected. Biden has established a taskforce to reunite migrant children and their families since January 2021. terminated construction contractsfor certain portions of the border wall. Biden had in mind to preserve the Trump-era limit refugees entering the U.S. to 15,000It is now at its lowest level annually since 1980’s Refugee Act. But, after massive backlash, it was the highest it has been in years. raised the cap to 62,500

The Biden administration has also opted to continue to implementThe public health rule has allowed it to turn off hundreds of thousands of migrants in this past month. As of March 20, 2019, all new asylum seekers have been denied access to the asylum processThey will be immediately returned to Mexico, or their country where they were born. Biden’s reactivation Trump era facilities that held up to 700 migrant children has been criticised as a significant step back from his campaign promises. From the “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas, to a sprawling for-profit facility in Homestead, FloridaThe conditions and costs of emergency shelters, as well as the lack of transparency in their operation, have been criticised. So far, President Biden has reunited Three hundred and six families.

In a perfect world

Hoover would like to see the United States do a better job managing migration. Hoover said that there are many solutions available, and they are easier than you might think. He suggested two solutions that would lead to more compliance and fewer ICE agents loose.

Hoover first proposes that everyone living in the United States without documentation be granted a temporary visa. “We should say ‘Okay you’re here. And you’ve got these years to work, rent a property, drink beer, eat pizza and do whatever it is that you want to do. When your visa expires, you can go home. And if you want to become a citizen you can apply during that time.’” 

Second, individuals who are looking to work for a period and send money home could go through a background check and be vaccinated in their country. After being cleared, they could work in America but the money earned would go to their family back home. “Fly home and take care of mama and then fly back. Until your visa expires.”

“This creates legal work opportunities,” Hoover adds. “We need to think about that in the grand scheme of things.”

The future

The share of the population willing to migrate permanentlyIn the world, Africa and Latin America are the most populous regions. In addition, young people are more willing to migrate than adults. 

Migration is here for the long-term. It will continue, despite all the laws that prohibit it and the borders around it. Hoover, along with many other individuals and human rights organizations, work tirelessly for migrants to have a smoother path in the hope of a better future.

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