We’re hearing about a historic amount of people coming to the U.S. Border. But what is true about what we’re seeing in the news?
1) Is the border open (because it can certainly feel that way)?
2) What does the data from the border tell us about who is being let in and who is being deported? Is everyone being let in?
3) Is this current administration doing enough? (This feels unsustainable).
Women of Welcome Director Briana Stensrud sat down to discuss these topics with our friend Matthew Soerens, the VP of Advocacy & Policy for World Relief. We believe the Church should be leading in these conversations, so we’re here to help from a non-partisan, biblical perspective. So, settle in and learn along with us with some highlights from this insightful discussion.
Let’s start off with the big question: Are the borders open? Let’s be clear, there is no unregulated or unmitigated access into the country. But, when you see so many people coming to the border and appearing to get in, then shipped across the country on buses, it looks like the border is open. What would you say to that, Matt?
The border is open to certain categories of people and it is absolutely closed to certain categories of people. It is important to know that most of the people we are seeing cross the border are being apprehended. They are being processed by the U.S. Border Patrol and in some cases, it is determined that they are cleared to pursue an asylum claim and are then allowed into the interior of the United States with a notice to appear for Immigration Court.
In many other cases, they’re returned very quickly or deported back to their country of origin. However, sometimes it’s hard to return people to their countries of origin, like Venezuela, and they’re often in those cases being returned to Mexico. It is worth noting since May there has been a really large number of deportations. There have been more than 250,000 people either deported or returned since May 12th, which is actually more than in 2019 when we had a similar surge of people showing up at the border.
The answer is complicated. I wish it was as simple as yes or no, but actually there are good reasons that it’s complicated because our laws rightly treat people differently based on their circumstances.
The data is also telling us historically we’re having more family units show up at the border than ever before, even more than in the previous administration, and so that is something to know. There are certain media outlets that only want to show footage of single adult males coming across, but if you look carefully there are women and children, including young children and babies on mother’s backs.
Again at Women of Welcome and World Relief, we’re not saying that everybody who wants to come to the United States should be allowed to come to the United States. At some point it’s unsustainable. We do have limited resources, but the fact of the matter is, we need to have a balanced approach. Not everybody who is approaching the border is coming in, but there are massive amounts of people who are trying to be processed at the border and a lot of them, hundreds of thousands of them, are getting processed. Right?
A lot of people are being processed and a lot of other people have been returned. Of those arriving, there is a lag in the data of knowing how many are allowed to stay. It’s elementary school math. You have the denominator, the total number of people coming in, but it’ll take a while before we get the numerator of how many of those people are allowed into the United States to pursue an asylum claim.
Although we know, anyone who does get into that category they go through some processing first. They are vetted and if there’s any reason to think that they are a public safety threat, they are not allowed into that process. The further question is, of those people how many actually end up qualifying for asylum and how many do not?
What we do know is that many people are going to qualify for asylum because they have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons under the law like race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
We also know many other people are probably not going to win their asylum claims and that isn’t because it’s fraud necessarily, it’s often because they’re fleeing poverty, which I’m very sympathetic to. If I was desperately unable to feed my kids, I would probably consider something similar, but that’s not actually going to qualify you for asylum under the law.
There is a record number of deportations and there is a record number of arrivals and there is also a record number of family units that are showing up at the border. All three of those things can be true! The other big questions are, is the administration doing enough and is this sustainable? Right now according to our laws, we do not have a cap on asylum seekers. Is this sustainable?
What is unsustainable is having this large number of people who are actually allowed by the U.S. government into the United States pending an asylum hearing who are still not allowed to work. That is unsustainable! You can’t tell people you have to wait here for five years or more for an asylum hearing, but you can’t apply for work authorizations for at least six months, and it might be much longer than that because it could take time to find an attorney to help you file the asylum claim.
There are some positive steps happening from the current administration. Just the other day they announced temporary protected status for Venezuelans. That will allow a large number of Venezuelans to apply for work authorization on a quicker basis. Honestly, a large number of people is not a problem, we have more job openings than we have people showing up in New York City. The problem is they are not allowed to work legally and provide for themselves and their family.
So are they doing enough? They are doing some things well, and in other ways, they are failing to keep up with capacity. I would say that in many ways their hands are tied.
This is actually a problem that Congress has failed to address for literally decades. The border patrol needs more resources. The ports of entry need more resources. We need more immigration and asylum officers and judges to be able to hear cases on a timely basis so it doesn’t take years for an asylum decision.
There are actually legislative proposals to do those things, and I think that’s the story that doesn’t get out enough. There’s a bill for example called the Dignity Act that as of today has seven Republican and seven Democratic co-sponsors, which is very rare in the world of bipartisan. I would argue that if people want us to have more resources to deal with the large number of people coming to the border, and I think we do need that, you really must ask your members of Congress to support the Dignity Act, a bill that actually could conceivably pass into law.
It would provide 35 billion dollars for support at the border. It would dramatically increase asylum adjudication capacity, and it would also address immigrants who are already in the United States like those who came 20 to 30 years ago. This bill could actually pass because it meets some of the Democrats’ top concerns and some of the Republicans’ top concerns.
Frankly, if any member of Congress is telling you they are going to do this with just their party, they are lying to you because that is not the way Congress works. In their wisdom or faulty, the American people have elected a split Congress so one party controls one and the other party controls the other. If they can’t figure out how to talk to each other and work together towards consensus, nothing is going to change.
The bottom line is the way things are right now, it is unsustainable. We don’t have the resources set up for the amount of people that need to come. Some of that can be delegated by the President, but the huge massive change that we need happens in Congress and they are not doing their job. This is where we have to use our voices to say we want something better at the border!
One of the questions that comes up quite frequently is how much is too much? What is the cap? I mean at some point should we just close the border or is that unsustainable as well? It feels very obvious, but that is a question that comes up so many times. Why can’t we just shut the border down or close it completely?
We have examples in American history, and even more recently, of what happenes when you close the border. You can go back to the World War II era when we closed down the border and sent Jewish people fleeing persecution from the Nazis back to Europe. That is why we have the asylum laws that we have today because we basically said as a country we won’t do that again. If people can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution we believe in the dignity of human life enough that we’re not going to turn them away.
Then, even more recently, because of covid there was a public health reason to shut down the border. You could argue whether it was a real reason or a pretext, eventually, I think it became more of a pretext, but we sent even the most vulnerable people – little children who were unaccompanied – back to situations of danger, including potential trafficking and abuse. We didn’t follow good laws that our country has that are designed to protect children.
Women of Welcome was a big part of pushing back against that at the time, and I’m glad that you all were doing that. It was incredibly effective. Thankfully, we’re not doing that at the moment and that’s a good thing. We always have to have a safety valve for people for whom getting out of a bad situation requires them to get to another country.
You do have some people showing up at the border who definitely should not be allowed to cross because they are unsafe. Thank God for the border patrol and the vetting that we have in place. But, then you do have legitimate families who are coming because of persecution. Some people are simply coming out of a desperation of poverty and frankly, those folks will be expelled. I mean, sadly they will be because they will not qualify for asylum, but the point is it’s not working, it’s not sustainable. We need Congress to act!
We agree with Bri and Matt that the current situation at the border isn’t working, but closing it is not an option. Instead, we must respond to those seeking safety in the U.S. with compassion and use our voices to demand that Congress act! get our free resource here to help you reach out to your lawmakers)!
P.S. You can watch the discussion in its entirety on Instagram.