FEMA Called to Handle Disaster on the Border, While AZ Congressman Introduces Real Solutions to Address It
FAIR Take | March 2021
The Biden administration announced last week that it plans to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s efforts to manage the mass-migration crisis on the southwest border. The crisis has escalated so severely since January 2021 that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials are expecting apprehension numbers to reach a 20-year high.
FEMA, whose mission is to “help people during and after disasters,” is said to be receiving, sheltering, and transferring unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) for at least 90 days. The last time DHS deployed FEMA to the border was in 2014, to respond to a similar border surge spurred by the Obama administration’s creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the announcement of severely restrictive non-enforcement policies.
DHS Secretary Mayorkas told Congress yesterday that the “challenge” at the border was due to the Trump administration’s dismantlement of the asylum system. (Secretary Mayorkas has steadfastly refused to call the situation a crisis or emergency, despite receiving substantial criticism.) This narrative is plainly untrue. Department of Justice statistics show that between fiscal years 2009 to 2016, during the Obama administration, immigration judges granted asylum to an average of 8,958 aliens a year (a total of 71,660 aliens). Immigration judges during the Trump administration, on the other hand, granted asylum to approximately 14,249 aliens a year between fiscal years 2017 to 2020, totaling 56,996 grants of asylum in just half the time.
The vast increase in asylum grants during the Trump administration is attributable to the bolstering of the asylum system, not its dismantlement. During this period, the Trump administration engaged in significant hiring of both asylum officers, who conduct credible fear interviews, and immigration judges, who ultimately decide whether an alien is truly eligible to receive asylum. By simultaneously strengthening enforcement and deterrent efforts (such as implementing section 235(b)(2)(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is now well-known as the Migrant Protection Protocols or the “Remain in Mexico” policy) the Trump administration made significant progress addressing the exploitation of the U.S. asylum system by primarily economic migrants, which significantly reduced incentives for aliens to illegally enter the United States, while processing historic numbers of asylum claims.
Additionally, the conditions in Central America that Secretary Mayorkas cited for inspiring this most recent border crisis, namely: high rates of poverty and crime, have not changed substantially over the past few years, even given the COVID-19 crisis that began in early 2020. What has changed, however, is the U.S. government’s messaging and enforcement policies, or rather, non-enforcement policies. People in the United States and around the world have noticed and are responding.
While the Biden administration and Congressional leadership are focusing their efforts on facilitating the transfer of recent border-crossers into the interior of the United States and passing mass-amnesty bills, just a handful of elected representatives have acted to address the true causes of the crisis. Of note, Congressman Andy Biggs (AZ-05) introduced the Stopping Border Surges Act this week to close numerous loopholes that are serving as magnets for surges at the border. In addition to fixing problems caused by the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement that impede DHS’s ability to detain family units, the bill also closes critical loopholes to ensure DHS is able to quickly and safely return UACs home, and promotes increased integrity and reducing fraud in the asylum system.