“So they’re not all Mexican?” pt. 1

by Jordan Brownlow

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion concerning migration from the US Southern border, so I want to kick off my writing here at Be Refuge by going over the basics. First off, I will be using the term “asylum seekers” instead of “refugee” to refer to the men, women and children migrating from Latin America. The key difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee is location - an asylum seeker is physically in the United States when they apply for protection, whereas a refugee applies prior to arrival.

The vast majority of migrants coming to the US from Latin America seeking protection freely turn themselves into border patrol to apply for asylum. In order to be approved for asylum, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she is fleeing violence and or persecution in their home country due to race, caste, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a certain social group. According to US law, applicants cannot be held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more than 36 hours and their applications must be processed and either approved or denied within 180 days.

Beginning in 2014, there has been a surge of asylum applicants coming from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (referred to as the “Northern Triangle”) arriving at the US Southwest border. Most tragically, this surge saw a dramatic increase in the number of women arriving with young children, as well as an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors making the 1500 mile journey. It’s also worth noting that during this time, migration from Mexico reached historically low levels (down from 1.6 million in 2000 to a mere 229,178 in 2014, with the number of migrants returning to Mexico surpassing the number coming to the US). This increase in asylum seekers has led to a backlog in the asylum process and the creation of “family detention centers,” where mothers and unaccompanied minors are held in jail like conditions, in some extreme cases for up to two years, waiting for their applications to be processed. Despite numerous scandals (read here about children being given double and even triple the adult-dosage of vaccines, here about suicide rates, and here for information about sexual assault in the centers), and both federal and international courts ruling the detention center system inhumane and unconstitutional, the detention centers remain in practice. Today, there are three family detention centers - two located in South Texas and one in Pennsylvania - with 44,558 recorded bookings in 2016.

Next week, I’ll discuss some of the reasons behind the 2014 surge as well as the specific asylum claims made by women and children coming from the Northern Triangle.


American Civil Liberties Union: https://www.aclu.org/map/sexual-abuse-immigration-detention-facilities

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/02/us/family-immigration-detention-centers/

Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/07/05/immigrant-children-receive-adult-dose-hepatitis-vaccine-at-detention-center.html

Journal of Human Rights and Social Work: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41134-016-0009-9#enumeration

NPR: http://www.npr.org/2017/02/20/516292239/immigrants-suicide-raises-questions-about-safety-of-detention-centers

San Antonio Express News: http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Judge-ICE-cannot-hold-women-and-children-6405325.php

United States Committee On Homeland Security & Government Affairs: https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/download/stronger-neighbors_-stronger-borders-addressing-the-root-causes-of-the-migration-surge-from-central-america