In the past 48 hours, thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America have descended upon US cities all along the southwest border after being apprehended in south Texas. This past weekend, the El Paso Times reported that two flights carrying 130 people landed in El Paso, Texas for immigrant processing in different parts of the city. The Arizona Republic reported that by the end of that weekend, more than 1,000 children were expected to fill a makeshift detention center in Nogales, Arizona.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has reacted with outrage, saying in a statement, “This is a crisis of the federal government’s creation, and the fact that the border remains unsecure–now apparently intentionally–while this operation continues full-steam ahead is deplorable.” Brewer also said the federal officials have told her the practice will continue for the foreseeable future.
But Brewer doesn’t need federal officials to tell her that. Word has already spread to the countries of origin–Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala–for these immigrants now being transported for processing and released. They are telling their families that now is the time to come to the United States because they are being let go to reunite with family members across the country. A Guatemalan illegal immigrant named Maria was shipped from south Texas with her two daughters to El Paso after being apprehended on June 6th. She told the El Paso Times that before being released from immigration custody, immigration officials communicated with her sister to arrange travel plans to Tennessee.
And newly-released illegal immigrants are not the only ones sending word back to Central America that now is the time to make the perilous northward journey. This is an enormous boon to the human smuggling business, and the coyotes who guide these migrants to our southwest border are receiving a windfall. Smuggling fees have risen to an average of $4,000 per immigrant for a land crossing. Because virtually all coyotes are employed by Mexico’s drug cartels, the more illegal immigrants we see crossing into the US, the richer the cartels are becoming.
It would be easy to say, Stop releasing them and fly them back to Central America! However, legally that’s not possible. Word has also spread in Mexico and Central America that once an immigrant claims something called “credible fear,” Border Patrol is legally obligated to grant them an interview to determine why they are afraid of returning to their home country. If that fear is deemed credible, then the immigrants have the right to appear before an immigration judge. This is why thousands of immigrants are being released with the obligation to report to the nearest ICE official within 15 days for their hearings.
The humanitarian crisis that has transpired along our southwest border in the past week is not a one-time occurrence; it has been a long time in the making. For the past two years, Border Patrol agents in south Texas have been apprehending more Central American immigrants than Mexican immigrants. Nine months ago, statistics emerging from CBP showed that for the first time in a decade, more illegal immigrants were being apprehended in Texas than in Arizona. Although economic conditions in Central America have been poor for decades, the security situation in Honduras in El Salvador have deteriorated sharply due to violent gang activity, and both the Los Zetas and Sinaloa Mexican drug cartels have infiltrated Guatemala.
This is not a spigot that can be turned off overnight. The impetus for pushing people out of these countries will continue, and probably only get worse. Immigration policies and asylum laws that are drawing people in–whether their implantation is being reported accurately or not–will not change in the near future. Even though CBP is trying to spread the message through Spanish-language media in Mexico and Central America that everyone is still subject to deportation proceedings and Border Patrol is still apprehending and detaining illegal immigrants, potential border crossers are still more likely to believe what their safe-and-sound-in-Tennessee relatives are telling them over what they may view as US government propaganda.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security are only now taking reactive measures in response to the flood of illegal immigrants into south Texas. President Obama has ordered FEMA to take charge of the response, and numerous non-governmental organizations and charities are stepping up to help these immigrants, especially children traveling alone. But the federal government still refuses to say how many immigrants have been transported using taxpayer dollars to other border cities, or how many immigrants have been released and later shown up as ordered 15 days later for their hearings. According to the Associated Press, the Office of Management and Budget told Congress last month that the government would need an extra $1.4 billion to deal with the situation.
As long as the economic and security situations in Mexico and Central America remain unchanged, and as long as current immigration and border enforcement policies remain unchanged, this humanitarian border crisis will continue unchanged. And as more time passes, giving released illegal immigrants and the coyotes who brought them here time to spread the word, the crisis will only get worse from here.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about the evolution of cross-border migration in her new book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.