When Congress left town last week without passing legislation to address the border crisis, Republicans immediately pointed fingers at the Democrats. "If President Obama needs these resources, he will urge Senate Democrats to put politics aside, come back to work, and approve our bill," House Speaker John Boehner said. But there’s an important reason why the Democrats are opposed to the bill Boehner and Co. passed: It would prevent many Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran children from receiving asylum, which is not something the U.S. has granted to many Central Americans over the years—not compared to most other countries, anyway.
Between 2003-2012, the U.S. granted asylum to more than 250,000 people from more than 100 countries, according to the most recent data available from the Department of Homeland Security. Less than 4 percent came from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala combined, while more than a quarter came from China.
But the number of Central Americans receiving asylum is indeed rising. Fiscal 2013 saw the number of "credible-fear" declarations—the first step in seeking asylum—nearly triple to 36,026 over the previous year, according to the Wall Street Journal. That prompted the usual fear-mongering from Republican politicians. "In a reflection of the Obama administration's undermining of the enforcement of our immigration laws, these credible-fear claimants almost always get approved and are released into our communities," Representative Jason Chaffetz said during a House committee hearing in December. Such rhetoric only got worse during this year's border crisis, a surge of more than 57,000 migrant children that's certain to cause yet another spike in credible-fear declarations.
Assuming, that is, that the migrants are even given a chance to do so. Some Republicans would rather send them back as soon as possible.
The crux of the GOP's border plan is to amend the 2008 law—signed by President George W. Bush—that requires unaccompanied minors who are not from Canada or Mexico to receive a hearing before an immigration court. The rationale was to cut down on cases of sex trafficking and grant minors asylum when necessary. Now, reducing sex trafficking isn't the GOP’s top priority; stemming the flow of Central American migrants is (even though reports indicate that the flow has subsided already). But many of these kids need protection just as much as the ones being sex trafficked.
If the GOP’s plan became law—which it won't, because it's a non-starter in the Senate—many of those who should qualify for asylum would be sent back to their dangerous homelands. The plan provides insufficient resources for the backlogged immigration courts to hear all of the cases, does not ensure legal representation, and nonetheless expects the courts to adjudicate these cases quickly and fairly for thousands of kids.
“If you’re going to set this up for speed, then you’re going to sacrifice justice. You’re going to sacrifice fairness,” said David Leopold, an immigration lawyer in Cleveland with David Wolfe Leopold and Associates. “The idea is to do it right. The idea is not to do it at rocket speed. To react to this crisis by immediately gutting due process is totally the wrong approach and it shows that some of these people making these decisions in Washington don’t really understand how the law works.”
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.