Immigrant rights advocates react to the Trump shutdown

Await reason to return to congress and solutions to replace fear

President Donald Trump has made good on his promise to shutdown the government if the new budget lacks funding for a border wall. While some are disappointed that many federal employees will be furloughed through the holidays (Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents ironically among them), advocates for immigrant rights are relieved that so many US Senators didn’t bow to Trump’s demand. “It’s unfortunate that the president and Congress can’t come to a sensible agreement that the majority of people accept,” said Diego Bonesetti, Legal Services Director, Michigan United. “but I think more funding, given the abusive way in which this administration wields its power, would only have made things worse.”

Bonesetti notes that America has seen an influx of refugees many times in recent history, such as Vietnamese ‘boat people’ and the Mariel boatlift of Cubans. But the difference this time is the American response. Instead of directing resources to helping people, the Trump administration is “slow walking” access to asylum. “Where they normally should have 100 credible fear interviews a day, they were running 40-80 a day. And instead of bringing personnel from other parts of the country to increase capacity to process these applications, they’ve frustrated people until they say ‘I’ll just go to the border, turn myself in and then they’ll have to take my application’.”

Melanie Goldberg, the legal director of Justice For Our Neighbors has seen the asylum process through the eyes of migrants who she’s served. “They don’t know our immigration laws. They don’t know our asylum system. What they know is that they fear for their lives and are trying to come to a place where they and their families can be safer.” Goldberg says the movement of people from dangerous situations is not new nor unique. She thinks the $5 billion would be better allocated to agencies that see the cases through such as USCIS and the immigration court system. “I look forward to the sensitive and sensible actions of the next congress. I hope that when they tackle immigration reform that they will remain true to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution’.”

“Everybody knows that the border wall is ineffective, expensive and also a major environmental hazard,” said Oscar Castañeda. “This administration keeps sabotaging the political process of the country, despite the fact that Americans seem to be growing friendlier to foreigners.” The Chairman of the Civil Rights for Immigrants Task Force at Action of Greater Lansing encourages everyone to remember this core American value. This year Gallup and the Pew Research Center reported that a record 75% of them think that immigration is good for the country, up from 66% in 2012.

“Despite all the negative narrative and dog whistle messages, Americans still think that immigration is a good thing,” said Castañeda. “We need to be consistent, we need to be clear and we need to be in communication with our representatives and remind them that they have control now and they can help put pressure in this situation.”