During negotiations to end the government shutdown last week, President Trump said he might declare a national emergency over the southern border in order to bypass Congress and build his wall with defense funding. Trump repeated this threat on Sunday, then on Monday morning announced he would address the nation tonight regarding what he called “the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border.”
Do we really have a national emergency on the border, or is Trump just trying to leverage the language of crisis as part of his negotiations with Democrats? Yes and no. There is indeed a crisis on the border, but it’s not what you think.
The crisis is not, as Trump would have us believe, that record numbers of illegal immigrants are entering the country. In fact, the number of illegal immigrants apprehended on the southern border has been declining for nearly two decades, from a high of 1.6 million in 2000 to about a half-million last year. It’s true that the numbers are up relative to 2017, which saw a precipitous decline from 2016, but that increase has mostly consisted of record numbers of families and children coming from Central America seeking asylum.
As recent reports in the Washington Post and The New York Times explain, this surge of Central American families has overwhelmed border facilities that were designed to detain and process primarily single men. Sparse holding cells are now crowded with children, which has proven dangerous. Last month, two Guatemalan children died after being taken into U.S. custody.
So the surge in Central American families—and the administration’s refusal to manage it, opting instead for deterrence—is part of the crisis. But it could be mitigated by adopting different policies for admitting asylum-seekers at ports of entry, allocating more resources to process asylum claims, and hiring more immigration judges along the border, among other things. If they took the situation seriously, Democrats and Republicans might even be able to reach a compromise on all of this, including some funding for a border wall. (Read more from “There’s a National Emergency on the Border, but It’s Not What You Think” HERE)