In April, the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson claimed that President Trump manufactured the immigration crisis. In his new column “This is the reality of Trump’s America,” Robinson again asserts that the deteriorating situation at our southern border is entirely due to the actions of President Trump. He characterizes this dilemma as a “humanitarian crisis of Trump’s making.”
Is this true? Have President Trump’s immigration policies created this crisis?
Robinson’s short piece is a reaction to Isaac Chotiner’s New Yorker interview with Warren Binford, a law professor who toured a Clint, Texas, facility that currently houses about 350 unaccompanied alien children (UAC). The facility is only built to hold 104. The conditions are grim and reinforce the need for Congress to pass emergency funding to ensure that the Federal agencies charged with caring for UACs do not run out of money. But to actually address the source of the crisis, Congress needs to do some heavier lifting. Emergency supplemental funding bills fall woefully short of fixing the problems that created this emergency.
President Trump did not create this crisis. Our existing asylum loopholes did. As early as 2014, Federal officials realized that the nature of apprehensions began changing from single adults to UACs and family units claiming asylum. Since that time, smugglers advertised these loopholes to Central and South America. They told would-be migrants that the authorities set you free if you had a child with you. They even convinced families to send their children alone on the journey, assuring them that unaccompanied children are quickly released. The smugglers appear to understand the consequences of our catch-and-release policies better than some congressional leaders.
Between October 2018 and May 2019, Border Patrol apprehended 593,507 individuals. Almost two-thirds (65.6 percent) of all apprehensions are family units and UACs. In FY 2018 and 2017, they comprised only 39 and 38 percent of all apprehensions, respectively. The catastrophe at the border is worsening not because of Trump administration policies but because of Congress’ refusal to address known deficiencies in our asylum law. Our weak laws and lack of political will incentivize migrants to journey northward and claim asylum.
Robinson charges that President Trump “responded with lies (blaming the Obama administration) [and]deflection (blaming Democrats in Congress).” He is wrong to excuse President Obama and congressional Democrats from blame. President Obama’s administration saw the beginning of this crisis and did nothing of substance to address it. Indeed, his primary immigration achievement was the unveiling of his likely unconstitutional DACA amnesty.
Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, continue to sit on their hands. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that changes to the Flores settlement, TVPRA or asylum were off the table. But the crisis at the border will continue unabated unless Congress addresses these exact shortcomings.
Robinson says that this is the reality of Trump’s America. The reality is that our broken asylum laws incentivize people to come north. These loopholes existed long before Donald Trump descended the golden escalator of Trump Tower to announce his presidential campaign. Without permanent legislative changes to our asylum system, today’s reality will continue long after President Trump departs the White House.