‘Decisive’ or ‘disastrous’: Fate of Trump’s immigration policies rests on voters

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Border wall construction, remain-in-Mexico among policies that could change

In this Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, photo tents and makeshift coverings fill the Federal zone on Alvaro Obregón at the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — If President Donald Trump is re-elected, his administration promises to implement and maintain strict, and perhaps even more strident immigration policies that keep undocumented migrants from entering the Southwest border. If Joe Biden is elected on Nov. 3, he says he will stop further construction of the border wall and has vowed to dismantle restrictive policies that do not allow asylum-seekers to set foot on U.S. soil, and rapidly expels them to their home countries.

The differences between the Republican incumbent and Democratic hopeful and how they would run the Department of Homeland Security are largely the differences between how the Obama administration administered immigration policies and the changes Trump made when he took over in 2017.

Trump’s immigration policies were swift, “decisive” and “game-changing,” his DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf says.

They fulfilled “the promises made to the American people nearly four years ago to secure our borders and reform a broken immigration system,” Wolf said Thursday in South Texas as he commemorated the 400th mile of new border wall construction in McAllen, Texas.
During the ceremony, Wolf and a cadre of DHS officials, repeatedly praised the president and his administration and although they did not name Biden, they eluded that a change in immigration policy would be detrimental to America’s national security and its citizens.

“Without strong border security and a functioning immigration system that helps those in need while rooting out fraud and abuse, is in fact, no country at all,” Wolf said.

“Any strategy, which pillars consist of release, protection and reward won’t just drive another massive and unprecedented illegal crisis, it will drive an illegal invasion,” U.S Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said Thursday as he stood side-by-side with Wolf and signed a plaque underneath a mammoth 32-foot-high newly built border wall marking the 400th mile of new border wall completed under the Trump administration.

Wolf promised that by the end of this calendar year, the administration will have built 450 miles of new border wall along the Southwest.

Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf speaks to reporters on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, beside a newly constructed 32-foot-tall border wall in south McAllen, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, has vowed to not construct “one more inch of border wall,” if elected president. And he has said he will reverse “Trump’s misguided policies.”

Without a consensus from Congress to reform immigration, Trump single-handedly implemented some of the strictest immigration measures by an American president in recent memory. His policies ended decades of “catch and release,” force migrants back to other countries during their adjudication immigration proceedings, and allow for their immediate expulsion by border agents, and in 2018 even allowed for the separation of families.

MPP ended catch-and-release

Trump put into action the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also called “Remain in Mexico,” whereby asylum-seekers must wait out their immigration court proceedings in Mexico, not in the United States. There currently is a backlog of over 3 million immigration cases and those placed in MPP typically must wait many months, even a year, for their immigration proceedings to be completed.

This policy ended catch-and-release, whereby migrants were apprehended and processed and allowed to remain in the United States during their asylum hearings, which could take months and even years.

Deferred adjudication allowed 100,000 “illegal aliens who crossed our borders and were released into our communities,” in fiscal year 2019, Wolf said.

Two migrants are seen on Jan. 17, 2020, among the estimated 4,000 migrants living at the time in Matamoros, Mexico, at a tent encampment on the Rio Grande. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report file photo)

At one point last year under MPP, there were an estimated 4,000 migrants living in a squalid tent encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, a stone’s throw from Brownsville, Texas. Hundreds of children were living with parents under pup tents and receiving free meals provided daily from volunteers from South Texas. Now, the camp numbers have dwindled to about 700, according to Sister Norma Pimentel, a Catholic nun who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which oversees volunteer efforts for the migrants.

Many families left after a Category 1 hurricane struck the region, bringing a torrent of rats and venomous snakes into the camp on July 26. Mexican immigration authorities also are not allowing any more newcomers into the camp and so as one family leaves, another is not allowed to take over their tent. Buses are readily provided for families by Mexican officials, which will take them to the country’s southern border with Guatemala.

Sister Norma Pimentel is seen in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, on Dec. 22, 2020, giving a tour to several congressional members at Jill Biden, Joe Biden’s wife. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report file photo)

Pimentel, who last month was named among Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, calls the camp situation “inhumane.” She points to the many babies who have been born in the camp and families who have endured triple-digit heat in the summers and recent near-freezing weather.

“Are we really people who truly care about humanity?” she said Tuesday during a Zoom panel discussion on immigration, which featured the release of a new documentary on the camp. “It’s as if they are invisible to us and nothing is happening. It falls on deaf ears. They have been there over a year.”

“All along the border we have families suffering, hurting, criminalized because we are forcing them to remain there instead of going through a legal process to identify their political asylum,” she told Border Report last month.

Biden, on his campaign website, has pledged to “end these policies, starting with Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, and restore our asylum laws so that they do what they should be designed to do — protect people fleeing persecution and who cannot return home safely.”

Said Morgan: “Let’s be straight: MPP was the driving factor that drove the end of catch-and-release. And through these network of initiatives and policies and tools we’ve been able to regain the integrity back into the immigration system.”

CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan speaks on Oct. 29, 2020, at a ceremony in McAllen, Texas, marking the 400th mile of new border wall. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Title 42 restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic allowed the Trump administration to utilize a little-known public health law, called Title 42, to restrict border travel in order to halt the spread of the deadly virus. Borders on the north and south have remained closed to all but “essential” travelers since March 20.

“Holding illegal aliens in congregate settings would have been a public health catastrophe of historic proportions,” Wolf said Thursday.

He said that 90% of undocumented migrants have been returned by CBP agents under Title 42 “within two hours,” adding, “There is no doubt that this admin COVID-related measures here at the border continues to save American lives.”

On Thursday, Wolf confirmed what Border Report reported two weeks ago, that communication between local border authorities and community leaders along the Southwest border has begun in order to determine which communities and where it would be safe to begin easing border restrictions.

‘Metering’ at Mexican border

Biden also has said he would stop the Trump administration’s “disastrous” policy called “metering,” which prior to the pandemic, limited the number of asylum-seekers allowed to cross the international bridges to claim asylum on any given day.

In South Texas, this meant that the Mexican side of international bridges suddenly became places where migrants set up sleeping bags in order not to miss having their number called by those in charge of lists. Much of the metering, it has been rumored, is controlled by drug cartels and hand-picked by Mexican authorities. It also was rumored that those with money could buy their way up the list.

“Trump’s disastrous policy of ‘metering’ — limiting the number of asylum applications accepted each day — forces people seeking asylum to wait on the streets in often dangerous Mexican border towns for weeks before they are permitted to apply. It has created a horrifying ecosystem of violence and exploitation, with cartels kidnapping, violently assaulting, and extorting migrants,” Biden says on his website.

The metering system currently has been rendered moot by Title 42 and the Trump administration has praised any and all efforts to limit those coming to this country without the proper paperwork.

The polices prevent migrants from making “non meritorious asylum claims and enables quick immigration results,” Wolf said.

3rd country agreements

Trump has reached “historic agreements” with leaders of the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where the majority of asylum-seekers have come from via South Texas since 2014, Wolf said.

“We have suspended immigration for individuals who traverse through a safe third country where they could seek asylum but chose not to do so and we have expanded programs to fast-track the asylum programs,” Wolf said.

Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden, visited the Matamoros encampment in December and decried the policies keeping migrants from the United States.

Jill Biden, wife of former vice president Joe Biden, served tamales and passed Christmas gifts to children Sunday who are living at a migrant refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“Abolishing these measures or reversing course is absolutely no way forward but that’s precisely what some of our critics are proposing. They want to block the removal of criminal aliens. They would like to resume catch & release. They would like to return to a broken asylum system. They would like to walk away from historic international agreements They would like to stop construction and actually dismantle the effective border wall system,” Wolf said.

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