Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice


Compassion | Crackdown on illegal crossings mean more migrants at America’s front door
by Rob Holmes
Posted 6/27/18, 04:32 pm

Officials in U.S. southern border cities noted an uptick in asylum claims amid the chaos created by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings.

A growing number of immigrants are coming to an official border crossing, or “front door,” and waiting patiently to make asylum claims, Reuters reported. If admitted into the country, they can begin the immigration process rather than face immediate prosecution as criminals.

“They don’t go through the mountains or deserts anymore, they go to the front door,” San Diego State University migration expert Victor Clark Alfaro told Reuters.

But as people funnel toward legal border entry points, many languish on the doorstep while their case is decided. Migrants themselves monitor the waiting lists as they hunker down in dozens of temporary camps along the border or in shelters like Centro Madre Assunta in Tijuana, Mexico, run by Adelia Contini, a Brazilian nun. Each day some 30 to 60 people are invited into the country for an interview at the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The list there had more than 1,150 names as of this week.

Asylum is not automatic, and it’s unlikely to be granted in cases filed for fear of domestic or gang violence.

Amid the outrage over family separation of illegal immigrants, a practice President Donald Trump told officials to stop last week, the federal government has given assurances that asylum seekers following the legal route can stay together and get processed as a unit.

“If an adult enters at a port of entry and claims asylum, they will not face prosecution for illegal entry. They have not committed a crime by coming to the port of entry,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a White House press briefing last week. 

Even though asylum provides a legal route into the United States, the overloaded U.S. immigration system can barely cope with the demand.

“Over the last 10 years, there has been a 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims, resulting in an asylum backlog today in our country of 600,000 cases,” Nielsen said

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, created a legislative plan to deal with the backlog, including doubling the number of immigration judges and whittling the case processing time to 14 days. But lawmakers have not yet put their votes behind it.

The Trump administration plans to continue its zero tolerance policy but in a way that leaves families intact. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said his agency and the Justice Department are aiming for a situation “where adults who bring their kids across the border—who violate our laws and risk their lives at the border—can be prosecuted without an extended separation from their children.”

Homeland Security announced this week the reunification of 522 migrant children with their parents or guardians. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has detained more than 2,000 minors separated from parents as a result of the zero tolerance policy. Those currently make up only 17 percent of the about 12,000 minors in HHS funded facilities. The other children—83 percent—arrived alone in the United States.

Nielsen insisted Congress held the key to improving border security and outlined three immigration reforms for lawmakers to tackle. While Congress considers the latest immigration bills, the U.S. military will begin housing immigrants at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Just last week, the federal government told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to provide housing for up to 20,000 children.

Working for tips

Washington, D.C., voters gave tipped workers a raise earlier this month. Ballot Initiative 77, the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2017, scraps the current $3.33 tipped minimum wage and sets up eight baby steps to move to $15 per hour by 2025. The federal tipped minimum wage is lower than Washington’s at $2.13 per hour. But employers must chip in to pay their tipped workers more if the minimum plus tips does not equal a total of at least $7.25.

Cities and counties may set higher minimums than the federal minimum wage rate under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Washington’s current minimum wage for workers is $12.50 an hour and is slated to increase to $15 in 2020. By 2025, tipped and nontipped hourly workers will have the same minimum earnings.

The One Fair Wage campaign said workers in the restaurant industry are “three times as likely to live in poverty” than the rest of the U.S. workforce. And wage increase advocates such as Restaurant Opportunities Center United director Diana Ramirez say tipping is a factor: She told Washington City Paper that tipping was a form of racial injustice and sexual harassment since minorities and women were more likely to be among the 14 million Americans working tipped jobs prevalent in restaurants and bars.

But a mandatory minimum wage hike hits businesses, which in turn might hire fewer people.

“Many of these jobs are held by entry-level workers with limited experience or vocational skills, the very employees meant to be helped” by a wage increase, according to the National Restaurant Association. The association cited an open letter signed by 500 economists and scholars in 2014 attesting that mandatory wage increases would not reduce poverty. The signers advocated instead a “mix of solutions … rather than across-the-board mandates that raise the cost of labor.”

The Initiative 77 minimum wage boost for Washington, ironically, will not apply to government employees or government contractors. —R.H.

YouTube YouTube Jack Graham

First daughter boosts migrant ministry

Ivanka Trump surprised the pastor of a North Texas church with a $50,000 donation to help its ministry to migrants. 

Trump, an Orthodox Jew, saw a tweet by Pastor Jack Graham of the 38,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, underscoring the church’s desire to “express the love of Jesus” in its Latino migrant ministry, KXAS-TV reported. The tweet said: “We @Prestonwood are currently working to provide solutions to care for children during this terrible immigration crisis. … We are broken-hearted and determined to act.”

Trump sent the money before last Wednesday’s change of policy in how the administration handles immigrant families.

You’d think Trump critics would applaud such an act of generosity, but no. One pro-gay website, Inquisitr, condemned Ivanka Trump’s contribution because Prestonwood affirms Biblical marriage and its pastor served on President Donald Trump’s Religious Advisory Council. —R.H.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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