The United States has comfortably absorbed waves of immigrants throughout its existence. Most of those new Americans are now valued contributing members of their respective communities.
The mass arrival of Central American refugees at our southern border, however, has overwhelmed our immigration system. Efforts have been made to deter the long, dangerous treks through Mexico to get here, but tens of thousands of migrants apparently believe the risk of violence and even death is greater in their home countries than on the thousand-mile journey through Mexico.
Many arrive here only to see their requests for asylum rejected, and they are forced to return home.
Rio Grande Valley representatives in Congress have filed a bill that seeks to prevent such fruitless trips while reducing the strain on our domestic immigration processing system.
U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Henry Cuellar of Laredo, all Democrats, filed House Resolution 2347, the Border and Refugee Assistance Act of 2019, which would enable residents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to apply for U.S. entry visas or seek asylum at embassies and consulates in their home countries. Securing a visa would enable them to cross into our country legally, while rejection would let them know that the long, arduous trip north probably would be in vain.
“Congressmen Vela, Cuellar and I agree that we must do more in the Northern Triangle (of Central America) to address the push factors of mass migration and provide relief to our communities,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “By adjudicating refugee claims in their own country, we can help prevent a costly and dangerous trek across thousands of miles, and at the same time reduce the impact that this traffic has along our borders. This is just one part of an overall solution that requires coordination, innovation, common sense and a sustained investment of time, energy and resources.”
Cuellar noted that home-country processing would place fewer people in the hands of human traffickers who might exploit and victimize them.
“It will also diminish the backlog of cases pending in immigration courts by reducing the number of new cases and deter fraudulent asylum claims that prevent the timely protection for legitimate refugees fleeing dire and dangerous circumstances,” Cuellar added in a joint news release from the Congress members’ offices.
The bill calls for investment in the Central American countries “to uphold access to humanitarian protection consistent with U.S. law and international standards,” noting that processing claims “is only one component of a comprehensive strategy” to increase economic and security conditions. This might include support for safe houses for people who believe they must escape immediate threats or who can’t return home once they’ve applied for asylum.
Few people have expressed confidence that the bill will become law, given the Senate Republican majority’s history of killing immigration reform. This bill, which would localize asylum requests and place those who review them in those countries, where they could better assess the validity of the applicants’ claims, deserves serious consideration.