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The Social, Political, and Environmental Forces Contributing to the Immigration Crisis at the Texas-Mexico Border Fresh

By Mitchell A. Kaplan PhD, Studies in Rio Grande Valley History, Vol. 17, 2020


Why Immigration Matters in the United States Since the birth of our nation, more than two centuries ago, the United States has been a country that has benefited from the many strengths of the immigration experience. Beginning in the colonial era through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. experienced three major waves of European immigration that formed the foundation of our social institutions and the roots of our democratic society. European immigration is the social catalyst responsible for the creation of our nation’s present economic structure and growing prosperity and has played a vital role in introducing the diverse cultural traditions and values that have shaped our heritage and been assimilated into the American way of life.1

Findings from a recent analysis of data from the American Community Survey by the Migration Policy Institute reveal that there are currently somewhere between 40 to 45 million foreign-born individuals living in the United States who can trace their ancestry to another country in the industrialized or third world and especially Latin America.2

Socioeconomic Benefits of Immigration Research on the demographic characteristics of the current U.S. foreign-born population by the Center for American Progress reveals that there are presently 21 million naturalized citizens and 23 million noncitizens residing in the United States today.3

Of that number, an estimated 13 million of the noncitizen group are legal permanent residents, and 11 million are undocumented migrants with no legally authorized residency status.4

Anti-immigrant political conservatives seek to stem the recent flow of undocumented immigration into the United States and have propagandized the argument that newcomers hurt our economy. They claim that recent arrivals take jobs away from American citizens, drive American wages down, and drain too much taxpayer money from our social service system.5

However, research findings in the immigration literature have highly disputed all of these claims. Documented studies provide substantive evidence that newcomers even those that are undocumented bring economic resources into communities in the United States where they settle that serve to support the growth of local economies and create a source of tax revenue that helps to sustain the viability of social programs that provide healthcare and other services to Americans who need them. According to a report published by Professor Giovanni Peri of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 2013, historical records show that early immigration laws placed considerable restrictions on the number of foreign-born individuals that were legally allowed to enter the United States during the first wave of immigration, which ended in 1929. However, these restrictions changed in 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which abolished the quota system and allowed the flow of immigrant mobility to this country to increase substantially over the next 30 years.6

Even though millions around the world still view the United States as a haven of democratic freedom and socioeconomic opportunity, our current outdated immigration laws make it very difficult for newcomers, both those that are highly educated and those that are not, from entering our country legally. Advocates for immigration reform argue that the misalignment between restrictive immigration laws and U.S. economic incentives represent one of the primary reasons for the rapid expansion of the undocumented immigrant population in our country.7

 Although the United States has a long-standing reputation for offering many sought-after socioeconomic benefits and personal freedoms to those who desire to immigrate to this country from around the world, newcomers soon learn that the acquisition of these attractive benefits and freedoms is fraught with social obstacles that need to be overcome before the achievement of these goals can be realized. Historians argue that newcomers to this country often face a discriminatory backlash from more established groups, which is based on stereotyped perceptions about their race, ethnicity, and national heritage. Such is the case of the large volume of Central American and Mexican migrant families and children seeking asylum at the Texas-Mexico border. The following sections of this article will examine the underlying social and environmental causes driving the current border migration crisis as well as provide an assessment of how the implementation of hardline immigration containment policies by the Trump administration has impacted the treatment of migrant families and unaccompanied children who have been apprehended by border patrol officials and are presently being held in government operated detention centers. Social Forces Motivating the Immigration Crisis at the Texas-Mexico Border.

The United States is currently facing one of the most challenging politically debated expansions of undocumented immigration in American history. Each month, thousands of asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras make the dangerous journey across Mexico for an opportunity to cross the Texas-Mexico border into the United States. They are refugees from war-torn countries where poverty rates among the general population are extremely high, and unemployment, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and gang violence are rampant. Research shows that unsafe social conditions in their homeland is one of the main motivating forces driving the current influx of asylum-seeking migrants at the border. Findings from a 2014 study conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees reveal that 58 percent of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum at the border are motivated by safety concerns associated with gang violence fueled by the drug trade in their native country. According to a public statement by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agency, “Salvadorian and Honduran children come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.” Extensive violence and poverty also exist in Guatemala and El Salvador as well. Many of the Guatemalan and Salvadoran children arriving at the Texas-Mexico border come from poor rural communities in their home country and are seeking not only asylum but also economic opportunity and the chance to be reunited with family living in the United States. Unfortunately, false rumors spread by profit-seeking gangs have misled thousands of Central American families to believe that once granted asylum in the United States, their children would be placed with the families of relatives living here. However, as congressional lawmakers have already observed, nothing could be further from the truth.8 The humanitarian crisis at the Texas-Mexico border is escalating month by month and has become a critical issue of discussion among Republicans and Democrats in both congress and the senate. Republican lawmakers have consistently blamed the liberal immigration policies of the Obama administration for the worsening border crisis. They claim that the former president took inadequate action regarding the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws and have been deeply critical of his 2012 decision not to deport Dreamers: young adults brought into the United States illegally as children by their undocumented parents.9

Republicans believe that the liberal immigration policies put into effect during President Obama’s time in office are what is responsible for giving the present cohort of asylum-seeking families the notion that their children will receive similar treatment from the current administration, which has turned out to be completely false. 10

Since taking office in January 2017, President Trump has sought to make containment of undocumented immigration the centerpiece of his presidency. However, his administration’s efforts to accomplish this so far through the implementation of more restrictive immigration policies and tougher deportation laws have yet to promote an effective means of achieving this goal, especially in the case of the rising influx of asylum-seeking undocumented migrant families at our nation’s Texas-Mexico border. The following section of this article will examine the detrimental role that U.S. foreign and domestic policies in Central America has played in contributing to the worsening of the present border crisis. U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policies and the Escalation of the Border Crisis Academicians and grass-root advocates who have analyzed the causes of the present immigration crisis have pointed out that years of flawed U.S. foreign policy in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are partially responsible for the expanding growth of refugee populations at our nation’s Texas-Mexico border. In an article by Natalia Cardona, justice and equity manager for the human rights and environmental protection organization known as, states “The immigration crisis at the border is the culmination of decades of U.S.- financed violence, unjust economic policies like the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and the devastating effects of climate change.”11

She argues that changing weather patterns driven by climate change are an undeniable factor in the increasing waves of mass migration from Central America to the United States. This is especially true in parts of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua which are located along what scientists call the “Dry Corridor” areas hard hit in recent years by more frequent natural disasters such as extreme drought and flooding that have contributed to the worsening of conditions associated with agricultural production in small multi-generational farming communities.12

For example, in the eastern part of El Salvador, longer and hotter periods of drought have had a devastating impact on the region’s corn crop, which has had a strong influential effect on the decision of peasant farmers to migrate.13

Scientists point out that climate change has been exacerbating the effects of El Niño, which causes atmospheric conditions to become altered in ways that lead to a 30 to 40 percent decrease in rainfall totals and causes greenhouse gas emissions to rise more frequently. Such changes in environmental conditions have a significant impact on crop loss and exert considerable influence on available food supplies used to feed the region’s population The effects of climate change have also meant a decrease in seasonal work for subsistence-level farmers, causing levels of family unemployment, poverty, and hunger in this population to rise, subsequently resulting in a significant increase in migration patterns for the sake of family survival.14

Data from research conducted by the World Food Program estimates that somewhere between tens to hundreds of thousands of people living in the Central American countries that comprise the Dry Corridor have been displaced by extreme weather patterns associated with climate change, which has resulted in increased food insecurity. The drying-out of farming soil, in combination with the alternating increased intensity of floods in this region, has been the catalyst responsible for the rising incidence of death among the civilian population and has destroyed the few crops that are still able to grow there.15

The study also found that persistent drought has caused levels of food insecurity in the region to reach record highs. For example, in Guatemala, the data showed that between 2014 and 2016, 95 percent of Dry Corridor residents in the study  reported food insufficiency and harvest loss as the main reasons for their decision to emigrate to the Texas-Mexico border of the United States. Similar motivations were found among study participants from El Salvador who reported poverty and insect plagues associated with increased levels of sustained drought as the key factors driving their decision to emigrate. 16

Statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency reveal that there were more than 237,000 migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras apprehended at the border in 2014, for the first time surpassing the number arriving from Mexico. The data also reveals that the number of migrant apprehensions from Central America at the border has been rising steadily for more than a decade. Findings from research conducted by Zavaleta and Kaplan (2018) attest to the fact that there has been a staggering increase in the number of Central American migrant apprehensions at border crossings in recent years. The data indicate that in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas between 2008 and 2018, border patrol officials acknowledged one of the most substantial expansions of illegal immigrant apprehensions in the last ten years. U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics estimate that the total number of illegals apprehended by border patrol agents policing the Lower Rio Grande Valley side of the Texas border reached an all-time high of 486,651 in 2014, and has consistently hovered at close to 400,000 for every year since then.17

In 2007, there were only 51,000 Central-American migrants apprehended at border crossings in comparison to more than 800,000 Mexicans. Ten years later, in 2017, the numbers reported paint a considerably different picture of the migratory border population, with more than 160,000 migrants from Central America apprehended at the border compared to just 128,000 Mexican migrants apprehended that year. The data provide substantial evidence that, while there are other important social factors exerting influence over border migration from Central America, for migrants living in the Dry Corridor, sustained drought and hunger are the key factors controlling their border emigration patterns. In addition to the U.S. lack of accountability for the global effects of climate change, our nation’s economic and military policy in Central America in recent decades has also played a major role in the escalation of the current immigration crisis at the Texas-Mexico border. Economic trade policies, such as Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), have destroyed the economic sustainability of rural farming communities in the Northern Triangle and displaced millions of residents who have been forced to migrate because of the damage inflicted on their communities by one-sided trade agreements. Climate change and economic trade policies are not the only social forces driving the immigration crisis at the Texas-Mexico border. Years of U.S.-backed military intervention in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, such as government coups, civil wars, military occupations, and the training and funding of death squads, have consistently contributed to the spread of violence in these Central American nations. Advocacy groups like contend that military intervention in the Central American countries along the Dry Corridor is a response to the financial interests of corrupt profit-making American corporations seeking to acquire cheap land, labor, and resources at the expense of the social welfare of regional residents. These U.S.-supported military actions have resulted in rising levels of extreme poverty and regional destabilization that has caused thousands of undocumented migrant families to seek asylum in the United States at the Texas-Mexico border.18

 Despite the substantive evidence that U.S.-supported free trade, climate, and military policies in Central America over the past four decades are the root causes responsible for the wars, economic damage, and global warming that is driving the expansion of the undocumented immigration crisis at the border, the Trump administration has refused to acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the current escalation of the border crisis. Instead, the administration has chosen to claim that asylum-seeking migrant children and families attempting to enter the United States through border entry points represent a threat to national security and has sought to stem the tide of migration through the implementation of harsh immigration policies designed to discourage these immigrants from entering the country. Contribution of Trump Administration Immigration Policy to the Border Crisis In their unrelenting effort to curtail the flow of thousands of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum protection at the Texas-Mexico border, in April 2018, Trump administration introduced a policy known as zero-tolerance. The policy called for the prosecution of individuals and families who attempt to enter the country illegally. The zero-tolerance policy has turned out to be one of the most highly contested immigration policies in U.S. history because of the way it is has been implemented. The administration argues that restrictive rules are necessary at this time because the recent uptick in the number of asylum-seeking migrant families who want to cross the Texas-Mexico border into our country has more than doubled in the past two years. Government statistics indicate that in the fiscal year 2008, fewer than 5,000 migrants passed through the first step in the asylum process at the border. Ten years later, in 2018, that number has risen to 91,786, an increase of close to 2000 percent.19 The administration believes that the recent surge in migrant families and unaccompanied children seeking asylum protection at the border is the fault of long-standing loopholes in the system and has continuously promised to do whatever it takes to close the gap that is fueling expanding influx. However, several grassroots advocacy groups have argued, contrary to this belief, that the real cause of the spike in the number of asylum-seeking migrants at the border stems from a confluence of world events associated with environmental devastation, gang activity, and political volatility inside Central America. They believe that the administration’s hardline interventions at the border are costly and extremely counterproductive.20

The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy has brought a substantial amount of national attention to how the asylum system in the United States works. An analysis of the most recent government statistics available by the American Council on Immigration reveals that although applications for asylum protection in the United States have nearly doubled since the early years of the 21st century, the grant rate for these applications has declined significantly since the 1990s. These statistics are substantiated by a recent commentary made by Geoffrey Hoffman, distinguished professor of asylum law at the University of Houston Law Center and Director of the Law Center’s Immigration Clinic in a television interview. Professor Hoffman remarked that: The grant rate for U.S. asylum applications has been declining for several years. And if you look at grant rate statistics, especially those associated with immigration court proceedings, one will note that the rate of people being denied asylum is actually going up. Right now, the average application denial rate for those seeking asylum stands at somewhere between 60 to 70 percent, and that rate is rising steadily. It is very troubling. Some immigration judges have exceeded these figures and presently have asylum application denial rates that have reached above 90 percent.21

This commentary and statistical analysis raise some serious legal, moral, and ethical questions about the rules and regulations that govern the current immigration system and the eligibility criteria that are utilized by the government to determine who will be granted asylum protection under it. Those migrants who are unsuccessful at navigating the system and have their applications denied must return to their native country either voluntarily or face court-ordered deportation and be forced to leave.

One of the most highly criticized aspects of the administration’s illegal immigration determent policy is family separation, which has been amass with human rights controversy from the start and has been the subject of numerous legal challenges in the federal court system. Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that family separation is illegal because, under international law, the practice represents a direct violation of the basic human rights of children and families. They further contend that the practice violates international treaties and conventions with which the United States is under obligation to comply. When officers encountered asylum-seeking migrant families at border crossings, the first thing they used to do is ask to see their immigration papers to prove that they were not attempting to enter the United States illegally. If they are unable to produce the proper paperwork requested, officers usually would proceed to take migrant family members aside for further detailed interrogation. As part of the interrogation, process officers would usually ask them if they feared for their lives should they be forced to be deported back to their native country. If the family members expressed fear of terrible social conditions in their homeland, officers proceed to turn the case over to the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit (ICE) for further action. DHS then proceeds to begin the asylum process, which usually consists of multiple face-to-face interviews, background checks, and security screenings for each asylum-seeking family. If there are one or more minor children in the family, they are to be kept together with their parents throughout the asylum verification process. The Department of Homeland Security must subsequently make every effort to expedite the processing of children and families so that they are not held in detention facilities for longer than is necessary. Upon completion of the asylum proceedings, families are granted a hearing before an immigration judge who will listen to the facts of their case and determine whether the applicant’s fear of persecution in their homeland because of social factors such as race, religion, national origin, or political opinion is indeed credible. The judge will then proceed to decide if there is enough evidence to support the validity of the family’s request for asylum or if deportation procedures are necessary.22

This is how the asylum system used to work before the Trump administration changed the rules and introduced the zero-tolerance policy. The new policy has criminalized migrant adults and minor children seeking political asylum protection at the border. Why Trump Administration Policies have failed to end the Security Crisis at the Texas-Mexico Border Despite the administration’s continued efforts to restrict the flow of illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border, border security analysts who have worked with previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, on these issues strongly suggest that the administration’s policies are responsible for making the security crisis at the border worse. Data from February 2019 reveals that more than 76,000 unauthorized migrants were apprehended at border crossings, one of the highest monthly totals in 11 years.23

Border security officials at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) project that, if current trends continue, the total number of unauthorized migrants apprehended at the border could well reach 150,000 before the end of 2019.24

Current CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan has stated that the immigration system at the border is “at the breaking point.” Overcrowded migrant detention centers, in combination with a lack of resources and border patrol understaffing, has created a situation at the Texas-Mexico border, which is overwhelming and unmanageable for the current number of border patrol agents to handle effectively. Migrant children and families detained at border crossings are being housed in cages under unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Many of those being held at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities (ICE) under these conditions have suffered severe psychological trauma mitigated by the administration’s family separation policy, have been dehumanized as well as physically and sexually abused by private contractors overseeing their care, and more than twenty have died from medical neglect while being detained in these facilities. Recent reports exposing the dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of death among migrant children held in ICE custody are highlighted in an article by Katie Shepherd, an attorney at the American Immigration Council. The article, which was published online in May of 2019, provides considerable justification for just how severe the problem of inadequate medical care has become in government-operated border protection facilities. It documents the cases of four Guatemalan children between the ages of two-and-a-half and sixteen whose recent deaths have been attributed to untreated or under-treated illnesses such as the flu, bacterial infections, and pneumonia —medical conditions they acquired as a result of being housed in unsafe conditions at border detainment centers for extended periods. Shepherd argues that the recent upswing in reported child deaths at border protection centers is another testament to the federal government’s failing capacity to find an effective means of responsibly caring for migrant children and families reprimanded to their care. 25

Border-rights advocates at the ACLU argue that these violations are taking place because the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) has been given the authority under newly implemented Trump administration regulations to hold asylum-seeking migrant children apprehended at border crossings in detention facilities for unspecified periods of time, a regulation that is in direct conflict with the Flores Agreement legal guidelines set up to provide humane conditions for immigrant children in detention. 26

 The brutal treatment of migrant children and families housed in detention facilities along the Texas-Mexico border resulting from the administration’s zero-tolerance policy has drawn sharp criticism from service providers in the medical, scientific, and mental health communities across the country. In public statements issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association, the Society for Neuroscience, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, organizational leaders have urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to take immediate action to end the policy because it conflicts with their primary mission as service providers, which is to protect and promote the health and well-being of children. In their statement, leaders of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) address the irreversible damage that the stress of family separation inflicts on the physical and emotional development of children. They argue that “We know that family separation causes irreparable harm to children. This type of highly stressful experience can disrupt the building of a child’s brain architecture, which will have a direct impact on their cognitive development and mental health.” 27

 In addition to the professional opposition to zero-tolerance policy voiced by groups of practicing physicians and mental health workers, the policy has also received substantial public denouncement from leaders in the religious community, who have publicly condemned the administration’s use of the Bible as justification for the separation of families at the Texas Mexico border. Many of these interfaith groups have organized demonstrations to protest the Trump administration’s continued utilization of the policy, which they consider to be a moral atrocity that is both cruel and inhumane. In a public opposition statement supported by several Christian, Reformed Jewish, and Islamic organizations, released in June of 2018, shortly after the policy was implemented, the leadership emphasizes that the current policy of family separation places the general health and basic security of migrant children seeking asylum at the border in extreme jeopardy and calls upon the administration to put an end to the needless suffering of families who have been affected. The following is an excerpt from that statement which summarizes their position: We affirm the family as the foundational societal structure to support the human community and understand that the household is an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical, and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children. As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the administration to stop their policy of separating families.28

As part of their public protest against the practice of family separation under the zero-tolerance policy, several outspoken leaders of the religious community across the denominational spectrum formed an interfaith coalition on immigration in 2018. The coalition’s purpose was to send a strong message to national leaders in the Trump administration that family unity must be protected and that policies that promote government-sanctioned separation, prosecution, detention, and abuse of parents and children seeking asylum at the Texas-Mexico border must end. White House domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller the principal architect of family separation policy and, a strong supporter of the Trump administration’s hardline approach to border security, has consistently advocated for the eradication of refugee admission programs and has publicly stated that he wants the programs closed down by next year, which would cap U.S. refugee admissions at zero, thereby severely restricting the ability of resettlement agencies to process future asylum claims. To date, the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) present an even more daunting scenario. They estimate that somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 migrant separated children currently reside in government-controlled detention facilities with little hope of being reunited with their parents or other caregivers. They have become displaced in the chaos of a border protection system that is breaking down in response to misguided immigration policies, political stunts, and failed leadership concerning the development and implementation of workable policies that can effectively deal with issues that are causing the political asylum crisis at the Texas-Mexico border to explode.29

Policy Recommendations for Resolution of the Border Crisis While liberals and conservatives continue to struggle to come up with workable reform measures that will resolve the explosive, illegal immigration crisis at our nation’s border, analysts at the National Immigration Forum, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the promotion of responsible federal immigration policy, have developed a multi-step plan which they believe could end the illegal immigration crisis at the border. The plan contains a set of policy recommendations that outline practical short- term solutions that would allow border security staff to improve the management and processing of the increasing number of Central American migrant families and unaccompanied children seeking political asylum at the border as well as long-term solutions that will address the underlying causes driving them to leave their homelands to migrate to the United States. Forum analysts argue that successful implementation of the suggested recommendations in their plan will require a cooperative effort from government officials to develop a well-communicated predictable approach to reforming the immigration system in ways that will provide more effective humane treatment of asylum-seeking migrant families and children along with a sustained multi-year commitment from border protection staff to carry out the changes. A summary of the National Immigration Forum’s policy recommendations for reforming the immigration system in ways that will effectively resolve the migrant crisis at the Texas-Mexico border is presented in excerpts from a working paper entitled Addressing the Increase in Central American Migrants published online in May 2019. A detailed description of these recommendations is put forward by Ali Noorani, executive director of the NIF. In terms of solutions, both long and short term, Ms. Noorani recommends the implementation of the following reform measures:

1. Provide effective utilization of available resources and increase those resources as necessary to better manage the flow of migrants.

2. Maximize the utilization of alternatives to detention (ATD’s) for migrant families and children who are not a threat to national security and detain only those who are.

3. Ensure an orderly release of migrants who are not a safety threat.

4. Provide migrant families with up-to-date, accurate information about U.S. immigration and asylum laws.

5. Form partnership relationships with government officials in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries to find ways to effectively eliminate human smuggling operations, and increase intelligence cooperation to prevent this type of illegal activity at ports of entry at the Texas-Mexico border.

6. The United States Congress and Senate need to work together to pass bipartisan immigration reform legislation that will bring the operations of the immigration system into the 21st century by creating pathways for those migrants who want to enter the country legally to find work or reunite with family, while at the same time increasing border security.

7. Address the social factors that are causing Central Americans to leave their homelands in the first place through the provision of critically needed U.S. foreign aid to eliminate social, economic, and environmental disparities to make these countries more habitable for those who are currently migrating to the Texas-Mexico border.

8. Work collaboratively with the United Nations General Assembly and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to address the challenges the countries of the Northern Triangle face by:

• Establishing in-country relocation areas and safe zones, which would allow migrants who have been internally displaced to remain in their homes with protection from violence and persecution so they would not be forced to flee their native country.

• Adopting and implementing the United Nation’s Comprehensive Regional Framework for Protection and Solutions, which helps countries develop a national plan that recognizes the regional impact of migration and provides opportunities for those affected to learn from each other the best ways to deal with it.

• Engaging the countries of the Northern Triangle in the signing and ratification of the United Nation’s Arm’s Trade Treaty that would serve to place stronger regulations on the flow of small arms into these countries.

9. Assist Mexico to improve its refugee and asylum system through a partnership with the United States that will enable:

• The Secretary of State and the Department of Homeland Security to work in collaboration with Mexican law enforcement officials to address the problem of drug and gang violence and to investigate and curtail the criminal activities of local cartels that are responsible for the smuggling of drugs and migrants into the United States illegally from Mexico across the southern border.

• The Mexican government to develop a more effective asylum system that can accept greater numbers of asylum applications and process them in a more time-efficient manner that would eliminate backlogs and create temporary visas and authorizations enabling migrants from the Northern Triangle to stay in Mexico legally.

 • The United States to assist the Mexican government in developing a public/private refugee program modeled after the twinning arrangement between our two countries which requires that countries share information about the design and implementation of refugee programs.

• The United States to help the Mexican government establish shelters for unaccompanied children (UACs) approaching entry ports at the Texas-Mexico border.

10. Work in a collaborative agreement with the Mexican government to establish an immigrant worker program that will make the flow of workers into Southern Mexico safer and more beneficial for migrant families from the Northern Triangle and Mexico’s economy.


In sum, as the discussion in this article demonstrates, the underlying causes of the current humanitarian and security crisis at our nation’s Texas-Mexico border stem from longstanding socioeconomic, political, and environmental factors in Central America. Even though the growth of the undocumented migrant population at the border has failed to yield to current restrictive immigration policies put in place by the current administration, it is not too late to legislate reform measures that will change the system for the better. To bring about system-wide change will require a bipartisan, cooperative agreement from those on both ends of the political spectrum to halt the stalemate that is preventing the passage of needed reform legislation. The implementation of legislative reform will restore the immigration system to its former level of efficiency and greatly enhance the type of human services it can provide to those who need them. This kind of systematic transformation will invariably lead to a substantial improvement in the way human services are delivered to vulnerable migrant populations and serve to eliminate inhumane treatment disparities such as those currently being experienced by asylum-seekers at the Texas-Mexico border of our nation.


1 See

2 Migration Policy Institute tabulation of data U.S. Census Bureau, 2010- 2017, American Community Surveys, and the 1970, 1990, and 2000 Decennial Census, Campbell J. Gibson and Emily Lennon “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population in the United States 1850 to 1990” (Working Paper no. 29 U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C. 1999).

3 Bureau of the Census, Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign-Born Populations: 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2015), Retrieved from https:// S0501&prodType=table.

 4 Sherman, Amy (July 28, 2015). “Donald Trump wrongly says the number of illegal immigrants is 30 million or higher”. PolitiFact. Archived from the original on November 17, 2016; and Passel, Jeffrey S. and D’Vera Cohn, “Overall Number of U.S. Unauthorized Immigrants Holds Steady Since 2009” (Washington: Pew Research Center, 2016), Retrieved from overall-number-of-u-s-unauthorized-immigrants-holds-steady-since-2009/.

5 of immigration/ November 18, 2009.

6 See Giovanni Peri, Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies Fall 2013, Retrieved from 253

7 Ibid.

8 Greenblatt, Alan, “What’s Causing the Latest Immigration Crisis – A Brief Explainer”, Politics, July 9, 2014, Retrieved from https://www.

9 Hennessy-Fiske, Molly and Simon, Richard, “Republicans Blame Obama Policies for Immigration Crisis on Border,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2014, Retrieved from https:/ html.

10 Ibid.

11 Cardona, Natalia,” The United States Bears Responsibility for the Immigration Crisis”, June 29, 2018, Retrieved from

12 Ibid.

13 Brigida, Anna-Catherine and Meza, Frederick, “Every Day You Become More Desperate: Extreme weather in Central America’s Dry Corridor is forcing farmers to make the hardest decision” October 4, 2018, Retrieved from https://

14 Brigida, Anna-Catherine Nearly 60% of migrants from Guatemala’s Dry Corridor cite climate change and food security as their reason for leaving, Univision Blog Post, May 11, 2018, Retrieved from https://catholicclimatemovement. global/nearly-60-of-migrants-from-guatemalas-dry-corridor-cited-climate-change-andfood-security-as-their-reason-for-leaving/.

15 Op. cit.,, June 29, 2018.

16 Op. cit., Food and Environment Network Blog, October 4, 2018.

17 Zavaleta, Antonio N. and Kaplan, Mitchell A., “Immigrant Caging on the Texas-Mexico Border” Rio Grande Guardian, October 17, 2018, Retrieved from

18 Op. cit.,, June 29, 2018.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Chakrabarti, Meghna, How the Asylum System Works, Interview segment that aired on Here and Now, June 22,2018, Retrieved from here and now/2018/06/22/how-us-asylum-system-works.

22 Hirsi, Ibrahim, “How more migrant children separated from their parents at the border could end up in Minnesota “, July 2, 2018, Retrieved from

23 Dickerson, Caitlin, “Border at Breaking Point as More Than 76,000 Unauthorized Migrants Cross in a Month”, New York Times, March 5, 2019, Retrieved from

24 Ibid, Politico Magazine, April 5, 2019.

25 Shepherd, Katie, “The Death Toll of Migrant Children in U.S. Custody Continues to Rise” May 21, 2019, Retrieved from http://immigrationimpact. com/2019/05/21/death-toll-migrant-children-us-custody-rise/#.XYlvcXZKhjQ.

26 Pompa, Cynthia, “Immigrant Kids Keep Dying in CBP Detention Centers, and DHS Won’t Take Accountability”, ACLU blog, June 24, 2019, Retrieved from

27 Miller, Korin, “Why Trump’s Family Separation Policy Could Be Detrimental to Parents and Children’s Mental Health”, June 20 2018 Retrieved from

28 Linkins, Jason, “Religious leaders unite against Trump’s cruel immigration policies”,, June 16, 2018, Retrieved from https://thinkprogress. org/religious-leaders-unite-against-trumps-cruel-immigration-policies-fe6db28722c3.

29 Ainsley, Julia, Politico Magazine, April 5, 2019.

30 Noorani, Ali, “10 ways to resolve the border crisis” The Hill, April 8, 2019, Retrieved from; and “Addressing the Increase in Central American Migrants: Working Paper”, National Immigration Forum, May 2, 2019, Retrieved from https://

Dr. Tony Zavaleta grew up in Brownsville and is a member of one of the 13 founding families of northern Mexico. He is the nephew of Dr. Joe Zavaleta and Prax Orive, each of whom served on the TSC Board.

Dr. Zavaleta graduated from Saint Joseph Academy in 1964 and entered Texas Southmost College, graduating and transferring to The University of Texas at Austin in 1966, where he completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1976. Moving back to Brownsville in 1976, Dr. Zavaleta began teaching sociology and anthropology at Texas Southmost College and at Pan American University at Brownsville. Dr. Zavaleta became the first Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for UTB/TSC, and also served as the Dean of the College of Mathematics and Science and Technology. He next served as Vice President for Partnership Affairs, where he coordinated all of the work between the TSC Board and UTB, and then became the Vice President for External Affairs, which included governmental relations and all external programs such as Workforce Training and Continuing Education. Dr. Zavaleta served as Interim Provost, the chief operating officer of UTB/TSC, and then as the Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. In 2011 he retired from the administration to return to full-time teaching. Dr. Zavaleta retired in May 2016 after 40 years of service.

Dr. Zavaleta is regarded as one of the top experts on the US-Mexico Border, and frequently speaks throughout Mexico and the U.S. Dr. Zavaleta was appointed to two Federal commissions by Presidents Reagan and Obama, and he served two terms on the Brownsville City Commission, followed by a term on the City of Brownsville Civil Service Commission.

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