A belligerent border policy

Trump is strongly pushing back against migrants and the U.S. courts are yielding in regard

September 13, 2019 12:15 am | Updated 01:26 am IST

Migrants wait at the el Chaparra Mexico-United States border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico on September 12, 2019. With a little help from the Supreme Court and Mexico, U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration is finally gaining traction.

Migrants wait at the el Chaparra Mexico-United States border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico on September 12, 2019. With a little help from the Supreme Court and Mexico, U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration is finally gaining traction.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court green-lighted the Trump administration’s most far-reaching effort yet to make it more arduous for migrants from Central and Latin America, and indeed other parts of the world, to obtain asylum at the U.S.’s border with Mexico. Now the U.S. government can deny asylum requests from migrants at the southern border who have travelled through Mexico or another country, yet failed to seek asylum there. This will impact tens of thousands of migrants who follow this route through Mexico.

In a strongly worded dissent on the court’s opinion on this case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Once again the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution... Although this Nation has long kept its doors open to refugees — and although the stakes for asylum seekers could not be higher – the Government implemented its rule without first providing the public notice and inviting the public input generally required by law.”

The courts are yielding

The latest salvo from the White House comes in the wake of years of a spiralling migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. While tensions have been rising along that vector since the early days of the Trump administration, matters seemed to be escalating when, in February, Mr. Trump declared a national emergency in the context of what he described as “an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country” from across the border with Mexico.

In July this year, the Supreme Court authorised a move by the White House to redirect $2.5 billion approved by the U.S. Congress for the Pentagon towards fulfilling Mr. Trump’s campaign promise of building a wall along the country’s southern border. It would appear that in the face of Mr. Trump’s persistent efforts towards pushing back on the inflow of immigrants, the courts are finally yielding in regard.

Last month the Department of Homeland Security announced a new regulation to indefinitely detain migrant families, including children, in an ostensible bid to end the controversial “family separations” of recent years, which have seen children removed from their parents and sometimes held in mass detention facilities. This regulation seeks to do away with the ‘Flores Settlement Agreement’, which requires the release of migrant children after a maximum of 20 days of detention.

The harsh message from Washington seems to have reached the migrant communities too. According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of migrants arrested at the southern border, a proxy for overall unauthorised immigration flows, dipped by 30% in August 2019, a greater fall than for the same period during prior years.

Back to Mexico

While Mr. Trump regularly claims that his immigration policies are yielding results, in this case it may simply be that his administration’s policies are shifting the costs of tackling with the migrant crisis to Mexico, which many consider to be under-equipped to offer humanitarian aid on the required scale.

More than 37,500 migrants turned away to Mexico are now contending with the U.S.’s Migrant Protection Protocols, which require them to await a decision on their asylum applications abroad, not on U.S. soil. Aid agencies have documented these migrants facing threats by criminal gangs and risks of kidnapping and assault in the squalid conditions under which they have been forced to take up temporary accommodation in Mexico. These migrants also lack livelihood opportunities.

Every nation has a right to protect its borders from undocumented migration of considerable volume. However, the severity of the response of the Trump administration to the current migrant crisis begs the question of whether it is truly the will of the American people that their government treat their southern neighbours in an inhumane manner.

narayan@thehindu.co.in

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