What would your “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay look like? More to the point, what would Congress’ look like? While the House and the Senate adjourned for all of August (and had little to show for June and July), the White House was hard at work addressing the crisis at the border.
With three initiatives — the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), the asylum cooperation agreement with Guatemala, and the interim final rule for migrants requesting asylum at the southern border — the Trump administration has sought to enforce existing law consistently and fairly and to regain control of our borders.
Additionally, the administration has successfully pressed Mexico to step up enforcement of its own laws, a move which cut illegal border crossings into the U.S. by 30% from July to August.
The MPP, sometimes referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, directly addresses the immigration magnet at the root of our border crisis — the promise of asylum, a way to get to the front of the line for legal immigration.
Our asylum system is designed to help those who are truly fleeing danger — those with a “credible fear” of persecution by their government. It’s not designed for those simply seeking a better job or even a better life. Under the old rules, asylum seekers would be released into the U.S. as they await their court dates (and many would simply not appear for court). By sending asylum claimants back to Mexico — still thousands of miles from the danger they say they’re fleeing — the administration is removing that temptation.
The Trump administration is also working to address asylum claims through its new asylum cooperation agreement with Guatemala — requiring migrants to seek asylum in Guatemala rather than in the U.S. Again, the point of the U.S. asylum system is to protect those who are truly in danger. Once migrants enter into a safe third country, they’re out of danger (though now, many of them undertake the long and dangerous trek to the U.S. southern border, often at the mercy of human traffickers). The agreement with Guatemala will help our migration crisis by discouraging false claims made by those who, when pressed, admit they’re only coming to the U.S. for a better job.
It will also help curb human trafficking. It will, as President Trump said, help “put the coyotes and smugglers out of business.”
The administration’s interim final rule — which would declare migrants ineligible for asylum if they passed through Mexico without applying for asylum there — would also help discourage fake claims.
But a federal judge has blocked that rule from going into effect with a temporary injunction, and he’s now indicating he could make that permanent. That would be a disservice — both to the U.S. immigration system and to genuine asylum seekers themselves.
The judge’s reasoning is that the new rule “is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.” It’s not. It’s entirely consistent with the goal of ensuring safety — and fairness — to the persecuted. The current influx of asylum seekers, on the other hand, has completely overwhelmed a system that should be deliberate, thoughtful, and comprehensive.
The Trump administration will fight that ruling — as it should — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Finally, the administration has convinced Mexico to enforce its own laws and its own borders, and the result has been a decrease in the flow of migrants from Central America. Immigration officials put the decrease at about 30% — at a time of the year when border crossings normally increase, not decrease.
Mexico is simply guarding its border — as all sovereign nations have a right to do — instead of allowing Central Americans to pass through and place a greater strain on the U.S. border. And it’s deporting those who enter Mexico illegally.
Critics of the administration say these measures are heartless — that we are a nation of immigrants, and migrants are only coming for the freedom and opportunities we enjoy.
But these criticisms conflate two things — legal immigration and illegal immigration. If we just stop enforcing our immigration laws because they’re difficult, or unpopular, then we’re setting aside the rule of law — the very thing that makes the United States different from the Central American countries many are fleeing.
Critics also conflate asylum seekers with economic refugees. They’re different, as are the ways that U.S. immigration laws deal with them. The bar for asylum seekers is high; the line for migrants looking for a better life is long. Confusing the two only muddles the debate.
Ultimately, Congress must do its job by implementing immigration reform that’s in the best interest of the United States and its citizens. Until then, the Trump administration is doing what it can, and making a difference.
Summer is over for both the House and the Senate. They’ll return to find that the White House hasn’t been idle.
The Honorable John N. Hostettler is the Vice President for Federal Affairs for States Trust at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2007 representing Indiana’s Eighth District.