There are some important things to consider about the caravan of asylum seekers coming to the US border. I am sharing these thoughts as an immigration lawyer who has practiced asylum law for ten years.
1. Ever since our failure to protect Jews during the Holocaust, the United States has righted that failure by recognizing its obligation to protect individuals fleeing persecution in their own countries. We have signed international treaties and written our own internal laws honoring this responsibility. Our asylum laws require that an individual be in the United States in order to apply for asylum (see 8 USC 1158). These people are not coming here illegally. They are following what our law requires to seek asylum in the United States.
2. We have a process for asylum seekers: they are placed in detention and processed through a credible fear interview process with an asylum officer. In this interview, they discuss what happened to them in their home country and an asylum officer decides whether they are likely to qualify for asylum in front of a judge.
3. If the applicant fails the initial interview, they have one appeal and then get deported if not successful. This whole process takes a few weeks. This year, we average about 7,000 credible fear interviews per month. (See USCIS’s credible fear statistics, available online). If they pass, they go into removal proceedings and begin to prepare for their final asylum hearing. In 2017, judges heard 30,179 cases and denied 61% of those cases. (See TRAC immigration figures). So only a fraction of the individuals in the caravan would ultimately be permitted to stay in the United States.
4. The caravan of asylum seekers come from Honduras, which has the highest crime rate on the planet. They are families fleeing violence, with children as young as infants on the journey. The criminals and gang members stay in Honduras, where they are powerful and commit crime with impunity. The asylum seekers are coming together fleeing those gang members. They come in a caravan because there is safety in numbers.
5. The asylum seekers are walking across Central America with their children and some belongings, without bathroom facilities, kitchens, or a place to sleep. Imagine what it would take for you to grab your children, leave your home, and walk to Canada. How bad would things have to be for you?
6. Now, imagine your neighbor’s house was on fire and he came to your door with his family. What would you do?
These people are our neighbors and they are in danger. It is our moral and legal obligation to allow them the right to apply for asylum. The numbers are not that high, in fact this group represents the same amount of asylum interviews we typically process in one month. We have a system in place that will not be overwhelmed by this group.
In 50 years our children and grandchildren will look back on this time and ask how we responded. In the same way that we are curious about how our parents behaved during the Civil Rights eras for people of color, women, and LGBTQ people, our kids will look to us to see which side we joined in the immigration debate. Be on the right side of justice.