January 31, 2023
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National Recap: Asylum seekers at southwest border increase

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Dec. 10 that the number of migrants seeking asylum due to fear at the southwest border increased by nearly 70 percent between 2017 and 2018. The percentage was pulled from new statistics recently released by the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the DHS, 92,959 claims of credible fear were made in the 2018 fiscal year by migrants who were attempting to enter the U.S. southwest border. Last fiscal year, there were only 55,584 claims of credible fear, indicating a 67 percent increase. All of these claims were made by people deemed inadmissible to enter the country by the CBP or caught crossing the border between ports of entry.

On Nov. 9, President Donald Trump signed a presidential proclamation that will completely bar migrants who cross into the U.S. illegally through the southern border from seeking asylum.

After documenting each migrant who cites fear as their reason for crossing the border, the CBP initiates the transfer of migrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement so it can begin the asylum process. After a cursory interview, asylumseekers are typically released from custody within a few days. Trump claims this “catch and release” system allows people who enter the country illegally to exploit the system.

Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of CBP, said in a statement Dec. 10 that these claims are straining federal resources, particularly the already backlogged immigration system. He also urged Congress to act in order to resolve the current immigration and border “crisis” for the long term.

“These numbers reflect a dramatic increase in initial fear claims by those encountered on the border, which is straining border security, immigration enforcement and courts, and other federal resources,” McAleenan said. “As the majority of these claims will not be successful when they are adjudicated by an immigration court, we need Congress to act to address these vulnerabilities in our immigration system, which continue to negatively impact border security efforts.”

McAleenan appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11 for an oversight hearing in light of criticism of the CBP’s prevention of migrants approaching the border crossings to seek asylum. While testifying, he fielded questions about several enforcement tactics, including separation of children from their parents at the border and border wall cost projections.

McAleenan was also asked if Border Patrol agents targeted children with tear gas during the Nov. 25 clash at the border, an event in which hundreds of migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, rushed the border at once. He said that they did not and that agents only utilized tear gas and pepper ball rounds after “agitators” began throwing rocks at the wall.

An anonymous CBP official told The Washington Post that the ports of entry were never meant to accommodate large groups of people crossing into the U.S. at once. He justified Border Patrol agents’ most recent actions as being necessary for a time of low resources.

“CBP officers at ports of entry have multiple responsibilities,” the official said. “We must prioritize our personnel resources to address our counterterrorism mission, the narcotics interdiction efforts, our economic security mission in terms of trade enforcement and, of course, we must facilitate lawful trade and travel.”

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke