Exclusive — Jessica Vaughan: Trump Should Declare Migrant Caravan ‘an Immigration Emergency,’ Build Tent City Detention Centers

Central American migrants taking part in a caravan called 'Migrant Viacrucis' towards the United States march to protest against US President Donald Trump's policies as they remain stranded in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, on April 3, 2018. The hundreds of Central Americans in the 'Way of the Cross' migrant …
VICTORIA RAZO/AFP/Getty Images

Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, recommended the Trump administration declare an “immigration emergency” and begin construction of tent city detention centers to address the potential increase in illegal border crossings from the migrant caravan traveling through Mexico for the U.S. border.

Vaughan offered her remarks in a Wednesday interview on Breitbart News Tonight with SiriusXM hosts Rebecca Mansour and Joel Pollak.

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Mansour quoted Department of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen’s statement that the caravan migrants attempting to enter the United States illegally “will be referred for prosecution,” and those who are legally seeking asylum at a port of entry “may be detained while their claims are adjudicated efficiently and expeditiously” and “will be promptly removed from the United States” if their claims are fraudulent.  

Mansour asked Vaughan to explain what federal authorities are doing to expeditiously adjudicate the asylum claims from the caravan’s estimated 600 migrants approaching the California port of entry.

Vaughan replied, “There are a number of things they could do. I don’t think they want to tip their hand too much  because there’s also a caravan of lawyers that’s been recruited from the United States to go meet the caravan of migrants. I don’t think that their choice of Tijuana as a crossing point is just random. I think it’s because they want to try to get into California where there will be more sympathetic judges for the inevitable lawsuit against violating their fundamental human right to an American citizen, as they put it.”

Vaughan recommended denying the caravan’s migrants entry to the U.S. and having them wait in Mexico while federal authorities process their anticipated asylum claims. The caravan’s organizers have stated their plans to enter the U.S. via the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego, California.

Vaughan said, “[The migrants] said that they’re going to enter the legal port of entry. The problem they could very well face is that recently we haven’t been letting in everyone to make an asylum claim that shows up at the legal port of entry. I’ve been down to that port, it’s called San Ysidro, and — this was two  years ago — the line was out the door. We were still having the same problem with people just showing up, but that was a different administration. The detention space is limited at that location, so what they started doing was telling people — and they got Mexico to actually agree to this — that we’re only going to take ten people a day, and so people literally had to take a number. It was like the deli counter. People would take their number and they’d have to wait in Tijuana for a chance to make their claim.”

Vaughan recommended increasing the number of asylum officers and immigration judges stationed at the San Ysidro port of entry to expedite the asylum requests from the caravan’s migrants. 

“Those who are not admitted can be turned right back, because you don’t actually get into the United States until you’re admitted,” Vaughan explained. “Just showing up at the turnstile is not getting into the United States, so they can be denied entry right then and there if they’re not found to be eligible to enter. None of them have visas. That, I think, would be the easiest option is to set up a one-stop shop — it’s not really asylum adjudication, I would call it asylum fraud rejection right there — because these people do not qualify for asylum.”

Vaughan explained how economically-driven migration does not amount to a legitimate pursuit of asylum. “Most of them are coming for economic reasons,” she said. “I know the administration understands this, they have made this long journey through Mexico. Mexico gave them a visa to be in Mexico and offered them the opportunity to apply for asylum in Mexico, so there’s no reason for them to continue on to the United States. They’ve been offered safe haven, and that can be factored into how we treat these cases.”

Vaughan described the migrant caravan as a challenge to American sovereignty. “This is a test of our resolve to enforce the border and enforce immigration laws. The organizers are trying to make a scene and make the Trump administration look mean and heartless for denying these poor people who walked all the way from Honduras for the chance to live a better life here.”

Vaughan warned of the potential for violence if the caravan of migrants are denied entry to the U.S. “These migrants are props of the caravan organizers, and they think they’re actually going to get in, and it could get a little bit ugly if they don’t,” she cautioned. “I don’t think they’re going to take this very easily, but we have to be firm. We can also tell people that they can apply for asylum in our consulate in Tijuana. We have a branch of the U.S. embassy there and they could wait there while their claim is adjudicated. We can take a couple of weeks to hear their case from our consulate in Tijuana, or Mexico City or anywhere else in the country of Mexico; save them a long journey.”

Vaughan called on the Trump administration to maintain its promises to enforce immigration laws.

“I think the vast majority of them are simply going to be turned around,” she stated. “I hope so. If they are not, then this is a real breach of trust with the American people between Americans and the Trump administration, because the administration has been talking tough and it has to turn out to be not just trash talking but actually enforcing our immigration laws and not allowing a group of demonstrators to basically force their way into the United States just because they want to.

Vaughan also warned that the migrants who are prevented from entering the U.S. at a legal port of entry through the asylum process may try to cross the border illegally with the help of smugglers. She noted that some of the migrant caravan previously included “MS-13 gang members” and “previously deported criminals.”

“Criminals and gang members who broke off from the caravan early on stayed away from the ports of entry and they’ve tried to enter illegally,” she said. “A number of them have been apprehended by the border patrol. Some of them were MS-13 gang members. Others were previously deported criminals. They wanted no part of the legal port of entry.”

Vaughan said  any Central American asylum applicants who did not file asylum claims in Mexico should have their applications denied. “Even if they are genuine asylum seekers, they should apply in Mexico,” she said. “If you are really fearing for your life, you go to the first safe place.”

Vaughan noted how asylum applicants are legally entitled to request a judge’s review of their application if initially denied by an asylum officer. “If the asylum officer says no, then under law they get to say, ‘I’d like to have a judge hear my case,’ like an appeal,” she explained. “Then it goes to a judge, but we can have a judge sitting at the desk next door, right next to the asylum officer, and hear them out and make a decision.”

Vaughan continued, “Under the Trump administration, asylum officers and judges have been instructed to adhere to the law and to remember … that merely seeking a better life is not a grounds for asylum, that claiming to witness a crime is not grounds for asylum, general violence in their country is not grounds for asylum.  Hopefully they’ll be careful in who they pick to go work on the border and not some of these USCIS employees who’ve set up this resistance movement within the agency. If they follow the law, fewer of these people will be admitted into the United States.”

Mansour asked what the difference is between asylum seekers and refugees. Vaughan explained that refugee status is a matter of international law determined by the United Nations.

“A lot of the groups that support the caravan and a generous immigration system are referring to these people as refugees, but that’s not the proper term,” Vaughan said. “A refugee is someone who is fleeing persecution and who has been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees … and the United States agrees to take a certain number of people through that program. This year it’s going to be 45,000. The UN screens them and then they turn them over to us for further screening, so it’s more of a process.”

Vaughan then explained that “asylum seekers are people who show up on our doorstep, like at the port of entry, or the border patrol finds them and they claim asylum. Also, people who are within the country — let’s say you come in on a visa — you have one year in which to make an asylum if you want to, and that’s why we also see a lot of people making what we call ‘defensive asylum claims,’ like they overstay their visa, they come to the attention of ICE and get arrested, and then they say, ‘Oh, no! I want asylum.’ But you have to do that within the first year of arriving.”

Vaughan explained how the asylum system is overloaded through fraudulent and exploitative applications. The asylum claim is being used as a backdoor into the country for people who don’t qualify for any other admission,” she said. “People game the asylum system all the time. … Under the law, they’re supposed to be put into detention and held in custody until their asylum claim is adjudicated. … When people are in detention they are on a docket that means their case gets heard much quickly.”

Vaughan pointed to the Obama administration’s implementation of a “catch and release” policy as incentivizing abuse of the asylum application process. “So the Obama administration said, ‘No, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re going to release people,’ and then we started seeing more and more people start claiming asylum,” she explained. “Once people figured out that if you made an asylum claim you would be released from custody, and once your claim has been pending for 180 days you can apply for a work permit. So people  were just making the claim, waiting it out, getting the work permit. A large percentage of them never show up for their immigration hearings, but they weren’t a priority for deportation, either. The Obama administration just looked the other way.”

Vaughan continued, “There were so many people applying for asylum that the immigration courts got very backlogged. Last time I heard, if you show up and ask for an asylum hearing, depending on where you show up, it could be four or five years before your hearing. So that’s a huge incentive. It’s like a free pass to live here and work for five years, maybe three, or indefinitely if you skip out on your proceedings. So that’s how … hundreds of thousands of others have been able to game this. The number of asylum claims went up by 18 times over a period of just a few years. It went from like 6000 a year to thousands and thousands a year. It’s out of control.

Vaughan observed how the volume of frivolous asylum applications hurts those in genuine pursuit of asylum. “The real sad part about it is the people who really qualified for asylum, they’re stuck in limbo for years, and many of them have family members who are living in the country that they came from and may be genuinely at risk, but their case doesn’t move along because the courts are bogged down with all these bogus claims,” she stated.

Vaughan added, “It’s been estimated that there could be as high as a 70 percent fraud rate in the asylum program.”

Mansour asked Vaughan if constructing temporary “tent cities” would help supplement the existing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers and reduce the overflow problem driving the “catch and release” policies.

Vaughan specified that “tent cities” would increase ICE’s capacity to detain foreigners who enter the country illegally. “I think it would help for those cases that come in across the border illegally, because they actually do make it to the United States so we can’t return them directly,” she said. “We can’t make them wait in Mexico. They make it here through our porous border, and they should not be released.”

Vaughan recommended the declaration of an “immigration emergency” and deployment of existing military resources reserved for dealing with a massive migration crisis. 

“I think this is enough of a problem right now that it should be declared an immigration emergency,” said Vaughan. “My understanding is that there’s more flexibility available to the executive branch in a situation like this, and they have a plan that they test and think about, it’s like war-gaming a migration emergency. They have the tents that they’re supposed to keep available for such an event. I think the army actually is in charge of the supplies. They could set them up right next to existing detention centers along the border, and they could house people there until they could adjudicate their asylum claim.”

Vaughan continued, “The administration has already said that they plan to send down these asylum officers and lawyers and even prosecutors, because this is the other part of it. Jeff Sessions has said that people who cross the border are going to be prosecuted for the misdemeanor crime that it is, and potentially do time. You can give people a choice, you can sit here and be processed or we’ll prosecute. You can either go home quickly using expedited removal or you can sit in detention and we’re going to charge you with a crime and that’s going to affect your future ability to ever come to the United States; not only that, but you’ll go to real federal prison. I think that will convince some people to take the expedited route home.”

Vaughan described existing infrastructure for detaining and processing illegal aliens as overloaded. “Congress has not provided the administration with enough funding for detention to fully address this problem,” she said. “If they set up these tents, I think it would be more cost-effective and they would actually be able to keep more people in detention in that kind of temporary situation than they’re able to in the real ICE detention centers that exist already, the brick and mortar, so to speak, detention centers. That may be what they have to do. It’s getting that bad.

Vaughan added, “Since October, there have been something like 50,000 families and children arriving illegally, not to mention all of the men who are coming on their own. This caravan does seem to mostly be teenage [males] or men in their twenties. So they can be dealt with though expedited removal, and if they claim asylum, we ought to have like a night court asylum review process set up right there. It would be due process, but it would be quick due process. That would be a benefit to everybody.”

Vaughan described the caravan migrants as “props” who are “being used” by an “open borders group” seeking to “instigate a lawsuit that they think they might be able to win.”

Vaughan concluded, “We need a wall.”

Breitbart News Tonight broadcasts live Monday through Friday on SiriusXM’s Patriot channel 125 from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Pacific).

Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.

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