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The Challenge at the Border Shows No Signs of Abating (New Yorker)

May 26, 2019

From the article:

"Early last week, when a sixteen-year-old boy from Guatemala became the third migrant child in six months to die in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the sixth child to die after being detained by the agency, it was an acute reminder that the humanitarian challenge at the border shows no signs of abating. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died at a border station in Weslaco, Texas, after being given a diagnosis of influenza. It’s not clear that medical negligence played a role in his death—a nurse-practitioner examined him and prescribed Tamiflu, though he was not taken to a hospital—but it is clear that he died in a system where the quality of mercy is under extreme strain.

The border-patrol system is chiefly designed to handle the people who in previous decades made up most of the migrants on the border: men crossing from Mexico alone, drawn by the prospect of employment in this country, which they tried to enter undetected. Today, the majority of migrants are women and children fleeing endemic violence in Central America, and often reporting at border stations to request asylum. By law, they can’t be deported until their claims are given a hearing. They end up being detained for days or weeks, often in what are intended to be temporary holding cells; now even these are overwhelmed. News photos from the past few months have shown migrants pressed behind razor wire under the Paso del Norte International Bridge, in El Paso. And their numbers have been climbing: in April, Customs and Border Protection detained close to a hundred and ten thousand people on the Mexican border, bringing the number of arrests to its highest point since 2007 [...]

The Kushner proposal apparently does not address key issues such as the dacaprogram, the overburdened asylum system, or aid to Central American countries that could help stem the current flow of migrants. In fact, at the end of March, Trump ordered the State Department to cut four hundred and fifty million dollars in aid that goes toward, among other things, promoting economic development and reducing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. He said that he meant to punish those countries for 'doing nothing for us.'

It was a remarkably shortsighted move. Aid is not a cure-all, but it has more practical promise than anything else that the Administration has tried. A 2017 study by the Center for Global Development documents a clear relationship between increases in the violence that such aid is intended to reduce, in part, and in migration from Central America: between 2011 and 2016, the study found, for every ten additional homicides in a Guatemalan, Honduran, or Salvadoran town, there were six more people trying to cross the border. Trump’s crackdown on migrants will have to beat out, for sheer misery, the conditions that they are trying to escape, and in our democracy—to the President’s chagrin—that’s just not legally or politically possible."

This article appears in the print edition of the June 3, 2019, issue, with the headline “No Mercy.”


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Director of Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy and Senior Fellow