MORRISTOWN, New Jersey — During the first months of 2021, an influx of people attempted to cross over the Southern border into the United States. Over the course of March 2021 alone, 170,000 thousand people — many of whom were unaccompanied minors — arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. Though there are multiple partisan allegations about the causes, there are also more complex reasons for the increase in the rates of people seeking asylum or migration.
Causes of the Southern Border Crisis
COVID-19: The novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted the Southern border crisis in myriad ways. For one thing, COVID-19 has harmed the economies of rural and urban areas in countries already struggling economically. The pandemic pushed more than 45 million people in Central America into poverty in 2020. Additionally, data about border crossing over the past decade shows that Pandemic-era legislation that President Trump instituted did not discourage immigration, it just delayed it. As a result, there appears to be a surge now. This legislation, called Title 42, may have also made it more likely for turned away migrants to try to enter the United States multiple times since they face fewer legal repercussions.
High Levels of Violence, Crime and Corruption: Many of the people arriving at the border are asylum seekers, fleeing persecution for their sexual/gender identity or gang violence. Specifically, there has been an increase in unaccompanied minors fleeing this violence. These children’s families often believe the journey to the United States would be safer than remaining in their hometowns. Back home, gang violence is rampant. There is also governmental corruption and mismanagement that lowers the quality of life in some of these countries. The government in El Salvador, for example, spends nearly 70% of the country’s yearly budget on repaying loans. However, the richest citizens pay very low amounts of money in taxes. This means there is little funding for the communities that need it the most.
Climate Change and Environmental Crises: In November 2020, two destructive hurricanes, Eta and Lota, swept through Central America. The storms exacerbated issues many people were already facing, making additional people vulnerable. Honduras and Guatemala, which are responsible for many of the migrants, were especially hard hit. Also, frequent earthquakes and floods across South and Central America increase factors like food insecurity that push people to immigrate.
Current and Historic Policy: According to members of the House of Representatives, multi-national corporations and American policy toward South and Central America have exacerbated issues such as poverty, violence, climate change and instability, which perpetuate immigration. For instance, aid to South American countries has often been directed to the war on drugs. Unfortunately, instead of helping people, this often exacerbates corruption as many politicians benefit from the drug trade in some way.
Additionally, the Trump administration slashed aid to the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador– which is responsible for many of the recent immigrants. Experts explain that the lack of funding made people in the area even more desperate and likely to seek asylum. Finally, though the Biden Administration has not eased up on much of the previous administration’s immigration policy, many smugglers in South America are compelling families to send their children to the border with the expectation that they will have a much easier time entering the U.S.
Seasonal Patterns: The data from the past nine years suggests that the current increase follows a predictable seasonal pattern. A bump from the novel coronavirus and related legislation stands as a slight outlier. Historically, higher numbers of migrants arrive at the border in the spring when the weather is warmer and before the temperatures reach the potentially deadly highs of the summer months. The U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at the University of California San Diego collected data showing that this year only differs because the backup of immigrants could not make the journey or get processed during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
The American Response
Many members of the House of Representatives are proposing resolutions to ease the pressure at the border and ensure safe, comfortable accommodations. One resolution, HR 64, intends to reunite and maintain family units, ensure access to legal counsel, maintain Fourth Amendment rights, assure migrants and asylum seekers of any status have access to healthcare and housing and reroute money that currently goes to detention centers to help case management.
Additionally, representatives proposed HR 709, or the Border Crisis Prevention Act of 2021. This would change the current legislation that deals with immigration and asylum seekers. It would update the system and make it more ethical. Among other things, the bill would provide funds to ensure enough safe, comfortable and hygienic detention spaces to house everyone at the border.
Finally, HR 1340 or the Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act seeks to create an Office of Legal Access Programs. These would educate migrants and asylum seekers about their “legal rights under U.S. immigration law.” Specifically, it will help the most vulnerable populations, such as unaccompanied minors, determine what steps to take in the migration process.
A More Caring Immigration System
There are many reasons that have conflated to make Southern border crisis. Regardless of the reasons, the United States has the moral and legal responsibility to care for these people as they make their way through the immigration system. With new legislation in place, the U.S. can maintain the safety and human rights of all people at the Southern border.
– Elyssa Nielsen