Having agreed to send thousands more troops to the border to help with surveillance, the Pentagon on Tuesday told Congress that building a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico is, in fact, not a national emergency.
President Donald Trump, however, has threatened to declare an emergency at the border if Congress does not allocate $5.7 billion for his border wall. He even took to his favorite platform on Wednesday morning to insist that a wall (or barrier) is necessity:
If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019
But human rights advocates at the border see another kind of emergency in the making.
An Amnesty International team in Mexico planning to check on the welfare of Central American migrants staying at the El Barretal shelter near Tijuana on Tuesday got an unexpected call as it was en route.
Amnesty International USA’s executive director Margaret Huang told ThinkProgress that people at the shelter told her that they had only been notified at 10 p.m. on Monday night that the shelter was closing the next day.
“We spoke to some people outside of the shelter, who had been ordered to leave but had no place to go and no way of getting there, ” said Huang.
“They were devastated and they were just wandering around outside. But they were also reluctant to speak with us because there were lots and lots of police out there. They didn’t want to speak to us in front of Mexican authorities out of fear of retribution,” she said.
A policy of irresponsibility
This very chaotic situation is, she said, the direct result of President Trump’s border policy.
His “Migrant Protection Protocols” — aka the “Remain in Mexico” policy — essentially force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications are considered (as opposed to being allowed to wait in the United States for their immigration court date).
As of Wednesday morning, one person was reported to have been deported, but he joins many others on the Mexican side of the border who have been unable to cross the border to apply for asylum in the United States.
“Who is responsible for the safety of people who have been determined to have a credible fear of persecution? How ill they be able to come back to the U.S. for their [immigration] court appearances?” asked Huang, pointing out that the United States is sending people back across the border without any protection or support.
The president’s policy has, in effect, created a humanitarian crisis where there was none, which is why the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, has decided to open a new permanent office in Tijuana.
“If people were allowed to go to the border, and place their asylum claims, and have their claims heard, as is their right, under both U.S. law and international law, we would not have the level of crisis that we’re seeing in Tijuana and in other parts of the border,” said Huang, who was in El Paso, Texas on Wednesday, preparing to cross the border into Mexico.
As it stands, these migrant caravans — created to maximize safety as people make their way north — will keep coming, and more people will continue to be trapped in the chaos at the U.S. border with Mexico.
And for many migrants, that’s the best-case scenario at this point: According the the UNHCR, around 4,000 migrants have either died or gone missing in the past four years while making the dangerous trek through Mexico. Those who make it alive and are deported back, said Huang, are vulnerable and need protection.
“What happens if those people have been followed by the people who originally targeted or persecuted them? Who is responsible?” asked Huang. “The Mexican government has made very clear that they are not responsible, because it’s not their decision to have those people return to Mexico. And the U.S. is trying to avoid any responsibility.”
A “hot mess”
There’s no sign that the president will tone down his current policy. In fact, he has only allowed for three weeks before either another government shutdown or declaring an emergency at the border.
“The wall is not a national security imperative, but a political imperative for this president,” said Ned Price, director of policy and communications at National Security Action (who previously served as special assistant to President Barack Obama before joining the the CIA from 2006 to 2017).
‘It’s something that he promised his supporters on the campaign trail….and now the president is trying to make good on that political debt,” Price told ThinkProgress.
It’s not just his defense officials that the president is ignoring.
After intelligence officials on Tuesday night briefed senators on the fact that Iran was still complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal and that North Korea has not gotten rid of any missiles yet, the president took to Twitter to call them “naive” and suggested they go “back to school.”
Price said that that fact the president seems to basing his decisions on “another stream of information that is separate and apart from what his intelligence community is telling him” is “tremendously dangerous.”
The canyon-like chasm between the president and his officials — defense and intelligence — is also problematic for the American public, which is stuck somewhere between believing the president or the institutions charged with upholding national security.
In this situation, “truth becomes something that is subjective. Truth becomes relative,” said Price.
As the truth becomes a grey zone for Americans, the border is fast turning into the Twilight Zone for migrants, most of whom are Central Americans fleeing horrendous violence in their home countries, only to be bounced from the United States back into Mexico, without direct access to legal counsel.
And although Mexican immigration authorities stated on Monday that they would not accept any minors deported by the United States, it is unclear whether that applies to unaccompanied minors or if it would cover any family that includes minors. In fact, nothing about the current policies at the border — nor their enforcement — remains clear.
“Everybody is a little fuzzy on thee details … in all honesty, it’s a hot mess,” said Huang.
The only thing that’s clear, she said, is that this is “a humanitarian crisis that is being caused by the U.S. policy.”