Border crisis in US is nothing new

A border crisis is nothing new. That is a fact. As long as countries have had borders, people have been trying to cross them any way they can.

Twenty years ago, when Central American refugees consulted with US immigration attorneys, they often spoke of the dangers that remained in their home countries due to guerrilla factions. Many of these people applied for political asylum. They were part of the 1990s border crisis.

Legal remedies such as The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, as well as Temporary Protected Status for certain natives of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua became effective between 1997 and 2001 in response to that era’s crises.  These programs have given sanctuary to thousands of immigrants in the United States.

It is only in the last five years that we have seen the results of the record number of deportations that, in the eyes of many immigration advocates, characterized President Obama’s administration. Earlier this month, the border crisis meant that a plane left Texas for Honduras, destined for a city with the highest murder rate in the world.  On this aircraft sat 29 recent arrivals from Central America, many of them children. Another flight left with about double the passengers as the first.

Arguably all of the people on those airplanes were denied basic due process. 

Our government, by previously removing thousands of California-based gang members, and returning them to their home nation of El Salvador, has inadvertently created the current border crisis.  Those individuals have invaded and established sophisticated crime syndicates, not only in Salvadoran neighborhoods, but in Guatemala and Honduras as well.

Also we see the effects:  images of Central American children warehoused in makeshift detention centers, all over our televisions, print media and the internet.

However, none of this comes as a surprise to anyone working in the field of American Immigration Law.  We were watching and waiting for the last few years. The border crisis was to be expected.

Many observers will ask, “What choice did the Department of Homeland Security have?”  After all, The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, signed by then-President Clinton, redefined a host of crimes, resulting in the aforementioned deportations.

But regardless of the causes, when an eight year old from Central America limps into a veteran immigration lawyer’s office in 2014, with adult relatives prepared to show fresh bullet wounds in that child’s flesh, it gives one pause for contemplation.

Moreover, when one enters Essex County Jail in Newark, New Jersey, to meet with newly arrived Salvadorans and Hondurans, all in their late teens and early twenties, the same thoughts dawn on the visitor.

The issue of basic human rights and the border crisis cannot be dismissed so easily. There has always been more than a touch of bitter irony in consulting with victims of crimes committed in foreign lands, as those very same immigrants who suffered back home now find themselves transported from the Southwest border crisis to spend months in federal custody in the Northeast.

The system is criticized roundly by both champions and opponents of immigration reform, for different reasons.  Supporters often believe strongly in freeing these young men and women, given our nation’s long-standing policy of allowing foreign nationals a right to request protection, in the form of our asylum laws.  Those who argue against changing our laws, again somewhat ironically, want nothing more than for these immigrants to be quickly returned to Central America, a notion which our President has echoed frequently in recent weeks.

The idea that these youth were sent here due to misguided beliefs about American “amnesty” is not reasonable.  If that were the case, the United States’ border crisis would include kids from Nicaragua, Ecuador and Peru too, not merely El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Solutions never come easily in a humanitarian dilemma. Nevertheless, our government should not ignore long-standing policies of affording protection to those who seek it, solely due to the numbers of youngsters that now seek refuge.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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