Kobach: The United States Is Giving the Caravans a Huge Incentive to Keep Coming

Migrant Caravan, Green Card, Immigration Court, EBT Card
Getty/AP Images

We are witnessing an extraordinary collapse of the rule of law in our immigration system as hundreds of thousands of migrants exploit our generous asylum system by making bogus claims of asylum after entering the United States illegally. 

As I wrote recently, caravan after caravan of illegal aliens from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador has been pushing toward our border.  Mexico is warning that the “mother of all caravans” – over 20,000 people – is gathering in Honduras.  Border apprehensions exceeded 100,000 in March – the highest monthly total in twelve years.

I just visited the border yet again recently.  Unfortunately, the news is not getting better.  Indeed, there is no end in sight for the current crisis.  Worse, official U.S. policy is creating massive incentives for the caravans to keep coming.

We are providing huge incentives for migrants to enter illegally and walk up to Border Patrol agents to demand a ride to the Border Patrol stations so they can make what is likely a bogus asylum claim.  We know the claims are likely to be bogus, because the overwhelming majority of these migrants are denied asylum when their hearings eventually occur.  U.S. policy has created three huge magnets for the caravans to keep coming:

1.  We are giving the migrants employment authorization right away.  ICE has been operating under an Obama Administration policy that started in 2010 of granting the newly-arrived asylum applicants who pass the initial “credible fear” screening “immigration parole,” which gives them temporary lawful presence in the United States.  With parole comes the opportunity to obtain a work permit without first waiting the normal 150 days to apply.  The immigration regulations of the United States spell that out at 8 C.F.R. 274a.12(c)(11).  That work permit enables the alien to obtain employment and compete against U.S. citizens and against those aliens who did it the right way by entering the United States legally.  And it’s not short-term work authorization either.

2.  The asylum hearing dates are five to six years in the future.  It’s not the six-month or one-year period that we’ve seen in the past.  Because of the huge backlog in the immigration courts, the migrants are receiving court dates set many years in the future.  In the meantime, they get to work legally in the United States.  It’s as if they are handed a six-year work visa as soon as they arrive.

3.  It appears that we may be giving the migrants EBT cards.  Many of the aliens who claim asylum are now applying for free EBT card for SNAP (food stamps) benefits. The cards come pre-charged with money so the migrants can start spending, courtesy of the American taxpayer.  Depending on how many are in the group, the card value can range from about $200 a month for an individual to well over $1000 a month for a family unit, depending on its size.  And word has gotten out.  As a Border Patrol agent told me, one newly arrived migrant came up and asked about the form to fill out so she could get her “free food card.” 

U.S. law allows those who actually obtain asylum to qualify for federal welfare benefits, but now it appears that many asylum applicants may be getting them too.  Again, the Obama Administration parole policy seems to be the problem; the fact that the migrants are being given parole is opening the door to the welfare benefits.  A parolee need only be in the United States for a year before becoming eligible.  And it appears that many are getting EBT cards well before that.

Meanwhile, back in their home countries, those who try to enter the United States the right way – legally – must wait years in the hope of obtaining a temporary work permit that lasts three years at most.  And they must demonstrate that they will not need welfare benefits when they arrive.  In other words, we are treating caravan members who enter the United States illegally much better than we treat their countrymen who follow the law.  Join a caravan and make a bogus asylum claim – and you can work in the United States for twice as long, you’ll get welfare benefits; and you don’t need to ask permission to come in the first place.

In short, U.S. policy has created huge incentives to break the law and join the caravans.  The alien who breaks the law is treated far better than the alien who follows the law.  Why DHS has continued the Obama policy of granting parole to asylum applicants is anybody’s guess.  But the consequences are playing out dramatically in the current crisis.

Something has to change and soon.  In addition to eliminating these incentives, there are other steps that should be taken.  I recently laid out a three-point plan to solve this crisis.  If the United States doesn’t change course quickly, it will only get worse.  Much worse.

Kris W. Kobach served as the Secretary of State of Kansas during 2011-2019.  An expert in immigration law and policy, he coauthored the Arizona SB-1070 immigration law and represented in federal court the 10 ICE agents who sued to stop Obama’s 2012 DACA executive amnesty. During 2001-03, he served as U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief adviser on immigration and border security at the U.S. Department of Justice.  His website is kriskobach.com.


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