A fair approach would begin with recognizing that a person seeking asylum has a right to be heard, as an individual, by immigration authorities. Trump seems to think that if he orders authorities to stop listening to the migrants’ stories they’ll just go away. Or perhaps he thinks that if they try to enter the country anyway he can use the pictures as fodder for his drive to build a wall. Last week, he told Politico that border security was, politically, “a total winner,” adding that he will veto funding bills, shutting down much of the government, unless he gets the money for his wall. He wants five billion dollars; Schumer has counter-offered an earlier figure of $1.6 billion for non-wall security, and some fencing. A key deadline falls on December 7th.
Traditionally, the basis for a successful asylum claim has been a well-grounded fear of persecution, based on one’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. That last term has had a shifting meaning in immigration law. Under the Obama Administration, it came to include many survivors of domestic violence. Trump’s former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, reversed course, instructing immigration judges to turn down claims citing domestic or gang violence, which is rife in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Conditions in those countries, combined with a growing awareness of the legal possibilities, have contributed to an increase in the number of migrants, particularly families, who seek asylum. There is now a backlog of about a million immigration cases.