The crisis building up on the Mexican border

You don’t expect to find refugee camps in America. But if you’d visited El Paso, Texas, in March, you’d have found one, said Mitchell Ferman in The New York Times. You’d have seen hundreds of migrant families crowded into a makeshift holding pen underneath a highway overpass. Hemmed in by razor wire, both adults and children slept there on gravel for several days, with little hot food. A similar encampment, fenced in with portable toilets, water coolers and camouflage netting for shade, has recently mushroomed in McAllen, Texas, one of the busiest crossing points along the border. And the US military is in the process of erecting six “tent cities” near the border with the capacity to hold 7,500 migrants at a time.

You may detest Trump’s border wall, said William A. Galston in The Wall Street Journal, but that there is a crisis at the Mexican border is undeniable. The number of people taken into US custody in the first three months of the year is nearly double that of the same period last year; monthly apprehensions topped 100,000 in both March and April. That’s not counting the several hundred thousand a year (700,000 in 2017) who enter on a legal visa – many by plane – and then simply don’t leave. Immigration judges face a backlog of 859,000 cases: applicants wait up to five years for their cases to be heard, despite a legal requirement of 180 days. But as both Democrats and Republicans are busy scoring points of the border issue, the lives of thousands hang in the balance. Supposing, however, that the politicians “were serious about addressing the refugee problem, what would they do”?

Reform the asylum laws for a start, said Robert C. Bonner and James R. Jones in the LA Times. The sharp increase in illegal border crossings – 500% since this time last year – has been in the number of family units. Rather than trying to sneak in, many of these families – almost half of which consist of a single man and a child – hand themselves in to claim asylum. The child, it’s feared, is often being “used as a pawn”: families with children can usually only be held for 20 days, and once released from custody the family can disappear before their case is processed. And as the law says you don’t have to be at an official port of entry to file an asylum claim, all smugglers have to do is drop families off at remote parts of the border. To temper this crisis, these rules will have to change. We also need far more immigration judges to speed up the application process.

Let’s not forget, though, that Trump played a big part in bringing on the crisis, said The New York Times. He has cut off aid to the Central American countries from which people are fleeing poverty and violence. His push to keep new arrivals locked up for as long as possible is overwhelming a system that wasn’t built to house people long-term; six migrant children have died in US custody in the past eight months. Unlike the ad-hoc holding pens, the new tents at least have air conditioning, beds, showers and TVs. But as John Morris, the acting deputy chief patrol agent, has said, they are just a “Band-Aid”. What we need is for Republicans and Democrats “to dial back the fighting words, resist the temptation to finger-point and find a creative way through this minefield”.