The US Border Patrol announced a surge in Central American migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, spurring concern that asylum seekers may face immediate deportation and/or violence at the hands of vigilantes. Popular sentiment toward immigrants has soured with the ascension of ultra-nationalist Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential race.
Undocumented immigrants are said to be primarily traveling the long, dangerous journey atop railcars from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The immigrants, primarily women and children, are fleeing pervasive violence at the hands of brutal groups including MS-13, a notorious gang known to decapitate opponents.
US officials worry that not only those fleeing violence, but also gang members looking to expand their territory, will arrive to the country. US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson recently traveled to Central America to publicly state that, "I am here today to send a message that our borders in the United States are not open to irregular migration."
That message has been strengthened by Republican candidate Trump, who has labeled Mexican immigrants as "murderers and rapists," before suggesting that, "some of them are good people, I guess." Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, for her part, has called for the mass deportation of Central American children, to "send a message" to the people of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
For many the message to those outside America who seek a better life seems to be abandon all hope, but, in spite of the danger, people continue to risk their lives.
From October 2015 to March 2016, the US Border Patrol averaged 330 arrests of Central American migrants daily, an increase of 100% over the same period a year earlier, despite the removal of the welcome mat by the Obama Administration. Much like refugees in Europe, those traveling from Central America are designated by the United States as economic migrants, rather than refugees, to avoid providing internationally-mandated protection.
In recent years many undocumented immigrants apprehended at the border to the United States remained in the country for many years, due to backlogs in US immigration courts. Asylum applicants faced an average wait time of two years before a court would decide whether to deport them and, due to US court rulings that prevent prison detention, undocumented immigrants joined their families across the US while waiting for judgment.
This policy, referred to by conservatives dismissively as "catch and release" or "de facto amnesty," has long provided hope to those fleeing distressed countries. Now the policy has changed.
The Obama Administration now uniformly denies asylum claims for Central American immigrants, moving toward immediate deportation for recent arrivals, notwithstanding pending immigration court proceedings, a practice cheered by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The Statue of Liberty prominently declares, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," but in modern-day America both Republicans and Democrats appear to agree that those doors must now be shut.