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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Why we all must make the immigration crisis Trump created, personal

For the last sixty years, Kenya has offered safe sanctuary for millions of refugees. Despite our modest economy, we host no less than 468,000 registered refugees in Dadaab, Kakuma and elsewhere. For this reason alone, we must make what is happening on the southern border of United States of America very personal.

Except for its indigenous peoples, America is essentially a country of immigrants. Since the seventeenth century, European, African and Asian immigrants have gone to America seeking economic opportunities or to be forced to work as slaves. Today, the majority of the 50,000 migrants arriving at the Mexico-America border are from three Central America countries.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have some of the highest unemployment, poverty and crime levels in the world. Squeezed between hopeless and violence, thousands of their citizens have moving northwards. Many of them are families and unaccompanied minors. Increasingly also, many migrants on the American border are African. With increased restrictions accessing Europe, thousands of Cameroonians, Congolese, Eritreans, Somalis and other Africans are crossing the Atlantic Ocean and nine South American borders to enter the US and Canada.

President Donald Trump has argued that the high volume of immigrants constitutes a crisis and is driving up high levels of crime and drug abuse. Both statements are factually incorrect. Illegal border crossings are at their lowest since 1971. It is the criminal cartels on both sides of the border that control the small arms and drugs trade not migrating families. There is a crisis though. The crisis lies in the policies his Administration has manufactured to criminalize families that seek to enter America.

Under the “Remain in Mexico” policy or Migrant Protection Policies, the Administration has deployed four distinct strategies to document and process asylum applications before immigrants enter America or detain and deport undocumented workers en mass back to Mexico.

Along the border-points, under-resourced shelters and camps have mushroomed. As parents are deported and children are detained, more than 1,500 families have been separated. Criminal cartels lie in wait outside the shelters in Mexico. They kidnap migrants for ransom or press them to work in drug labs or as drug-smugglers.

In the words of a local Catholic priest, "The borders are no place for children. Shelters have become prisons. These policies are pushing people into the arms of criminal cartels. We need a good US immigration policy not a migrant rejection policy."

The system is cruelly designed to frustrate migration rather than award asylum to those that need it most. Detained on the Mexican side, most asylum-seekers must travel 30 kilometres back and forth to an America court to plead their case or be advised by American lawyers. Faced with these challenges, only seven people out of 50,000 applicants have won the right to stay in America so far.

Under US pressure, the Mexican government is now regularly detaining and deporting asylum-seekers on its southern border. 71,000 immigrants have been deported this year already. Nearly 3,000 African migrants have also been detained. This is four times more than in 2014.

America could easily devote its ample resources to address the causes forcing people to flee but it doesn’t under the Trump Administration. Current policies do not address the conflict, drought or poverty that forces Latin Americans and Africans to flee their homes. By fuelling racism, xenophobia and fear, the Administration has politicized the rights of human beings and endangered thousands.

Recognising that America has crossed its own borderline as a democracy, some Americans have resurrected the nineteen-century tradition of the anti-slavery underground freedom railroad. American citizens working with American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyers for Good Government and Team Brownsville among others have catalysed safe-houses, shelters and legal defence teams. They include Scott Warren who faces a federal crime for leaving food and water supplies for those trying to cross the desert. They also include Nancy Rodriguez and Larry Cox who run the Casa Bugambilia shelter in Matamoros, Mexico.

The right to asylum has been recognized since ancient Greece and Egypt. Governments enshrined the principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. All human beings have the right to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness, no matter their immigration status.

Rather than leading the world by upholding these principles, the Trump Administration is intentionally violating them in the cruellest manner possible. The US immigration system is in desperate need of a comprehensive overhaul. The repeal of the Migrant Protection Policy would be the first step.

First published Saturday Standard, October 26, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


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