CNN published a report today about a 31-year-old mother of three who made the journey from her home in El Salvador to the U.S. border. After attempting to enter the U.S. twice as a family and being escorted back across the border into Mexico, her 16-year-old son suggested they separate:
“We can’t go back to El Salvador. They’ll kill us,” the 16-year-old said.
Instead, he said, he’d cross the border with his 12-year-old brother, leaving their mom and younger brother behind.
“It’s the only way we can get across,” he told her.
CNN points out that this isn’t a rare occurrence at this point but a pretty common one. It’s family separation before the border rather than after:
Her story highlights a troubling trend at the border that advocates have criticized as another kind of family separation fueled by US government policies.
A top Border Patrol official told CNN last week that more than 400 children who were taken into US custody as “unaccompanied minors” in south Texas had previously tried to cross with their families. Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings, who leads the busiest Border Patrol sector in the United States, says it’s a phenomenon his agents are seeing more and more.
Every one of those families that self-separated did so because of President Biden’s decision not to remove minors from the country. In this case, the two brothers wound up in a facility in New York. The mom, whose name isn’t used in the story, is still hoping she can somehow join them along with her youngest son who is seven.
Is anyone in this family eligible for the asylum they are applying for? The answer seems to be maybe. The mom claims that her oldest son was beat up and threatened by gangs and that was the impetus for him to leave. The story doesn’t get into any details about that claim. Can they prove it happened? Do they have any evidence to present before a judge? If so it’s not mentioned.
Few stories about migrants at the border mention this but in the same way migrants learn that unaccompanied minors can enter the U.S. while families and single adults cannot, migrants also learn what to say to immigration authorities once they arrive. They know that claiming to have a “credible fear” of violence or persecution is a ticket in while saying you just want a better life is not going to cut it and could get you deported. The mom in this story claims her motive was a mix of both things:
“We couldn’t stay there because of the maras,” she says, using a Spanish term commonly used to describe transnational gangs…
“I was earning $5 a day, and that was just enough to pay for food,” she says. “I never even had enough to get them a pair of shoes.”
Heading to the United States seemed like the best way to save her sons.
Having no money is an understandable reason for wanting to migrate to the U.S. but it’s not the basis for a legitimate claim of asylum.
According to a system that tracks immigration court cases, we started FY2021 with a record backlog of 1.27 million cases. Looking at just the asylum cases decided in October 2020, “1,532 (70%) were denied, while 668 cases (30%) were granted asylum or some other form of relief.” In other words, the overwhelming majority of these claims which come from families just like this one will be denied eventually. But of course that doesn’t mean the people who made the claims will have to leave. That’s another thing migrants know about our broken immigration system. Once you make it into the interior of the country there’s a 95% chance you’ll never be made to leave.