Lawful asylum claims shouldn’t count as ‘apprehensions,’ activists say

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Migrant advocates allege Border Patrol numbers don't reflect reality at the border

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) ⁠— Migrant advocates in Texas and Arizona wonder if the number of Border Patrol apprehensions in the past fiscal year wouldn’t have been so high if asylum seekers hadn’t been made to wait for extended periods of time in Mexico.

Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan on Tuesday reported the apprehension of more than 975,000 migrants at the southern border between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019. The arrests represent an 88 percent increase over the previous 12 months and were fueled by the migrant surge and caravans that originated in Central America.

Department of Homeland Security officials this spring referred to the surging number of apprehensions and the overflow of detainees at processing centers as a crisis and requested emergency funds from Congress. They ultimately received $4.6 billion.

President Trump has also utilized the migrant surge to promote the need for building additional border walls. This is what makes border activists uncomfortable.

The nearly 1 million migrant apprehensions “is a relative number because people turned themselves in. It’s not that they were trying to sneak into the border,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’ Border Network for Human Rights. “What we have is a humanitarian and refugee crisis, and since people were not allowed to come to ports of entry — they were rejected at ports of entry — they actually had to go between ports of entry to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents, and they count that as an apprehension.”

In El Paso and other American border cities this year, immigration officials turned back Central American, Cuban and migrants from other nations back to wait in Mexico for initial appointments or for follow-up court dates, the latter under the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program.

Garcia and others said the wait in Mexico without economic resources forced many asylum seekers to pick up their belongings, cross the desert or the Rio Grande and turn themselves over to the Border Patrol.

“I think that is a very tricky number (the 975,000) because, if people were allowed to present themselves legally (for an asylum hearing), they wouldn’t have that high number. The vast majority of the people were just refugees,” Garcia said.

Without that context, Garcia said, the Trump administration is utilizing the number of apprehensions to promote the idea that the border remains out of control and that more wall and more personnel is needed to guard it.

“People are desperate. They’re fleeing from violence and persecution and trying — by any means — to get to a safe place,” added Nejra Sumic, refugee organizer in Arizona for We Are All America. She said the number of asylum seekers continues to plummet, not only because Mexico is stopping them south of the border, but also because the Trump administration is applying new policies that “basically ban Central Americans from applying for asylum here.”

Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic organization, concurred that the nearly 1 million migrant apprehensions are misleading, given that the majority of those persons came to file an application for asylum and ended up classified as illegal entries.

“The fact of the matter of the ‘apprehensions’ are people who presented themselves voluntarily and are requesting asylum legally. So the numbers are not real,” he said.

The LULAC leader said making people who are not Mexicans wait for extended periods of time in Mexico for an asylum hearing in the United States is “a total violation of our Constitution and our laws and there will be accountability at some point in the future.”

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