As President Trump continues to demand billions for what he calls a “beautiful” border wall, a Catholic bishop from the United States–Mexico border and other immigration-reform advocates visited Washington, D.C. earlier this week to challenge what they described as persistent myths that lead to immoral and ineffective immigration policies.
“Please hear the stories of immigrants,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas told about seventy-five congressional staff members during a briefing on Capitol Hill. “Don’t let the political morass in Washington take you over. Stand for something. Listen to your conscience.” At the briefing, the El-Paso based Hope Border Institute released a new report—“Sealing the Border: Criminalization of Asylum Seekers in the Trump Era”—that details human-rights violations by immigration-enforcement agencies against migrants and asylum seekers.
“An analysis of nearly 300 documented cases revealed that the Trump administration has looked to El Paso as a laboratory for its brutal model of immigration and border enforcement,” according to the thirty-eight-page report. “By effectively nationalizing troubling policies, practices, patterns and a culture of abuse unique to the El Paso Sector, the Trump administration has weaponized border enforcement, immigrant detention and the immigration courts, solidifying an iron triangle of deterrence against bona fide asylum seekers, forcing them to make the painful choice between deportation and prolonged detention.”
Dylan Corbett, the executive director of the Hope Border Institute and a former staffer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained that the militarization of the border has come at both a human and fiscal cost. President Trump’s insistence on more fencing on the border to stop crime and violence, he said, is a solution in search of the problem. According to FBI data, El Paso and other border communities have been ranked as some of the safest cities in the country.
“The wall is not addressing an actual policy problem,” Corbett said. “It’s political theater.” While border fencing is usually talked about as a simple security issue, the reality is more complicated. The original wall in El Paso, constructed in the 1990s between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was built at the same time as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which became a boon to U.S. corporations even as hundreds of thousands of factory workers just across the border in Mexico earn an average of $50 a week. “The motivations for putting up that wall are economic,” Corbett said. “It ensures the flow of capital, but poor people, brown people, can’t travel freely. We are morally complicit in many of the root causes that drive migration—free trade deals, our drug consumption. We are involved. To build a wall is to close our eyes to our ethical responsibilities.”
More border fencing would also be a waste of resources and fail to address the problems that proponents claim it would solve, according to Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies. Those who argue that waves of undocumented immigrants are coming over the border perpetuate a myth that leads to distorted policy responses. The number of undocumented Mexicans coming to the United States, Appleby noted, has fallen by one million from 2010 to 2016, and net migration is down 11 percent over the last five years. Over the last decade, in fact, 600,000 more immigrants in the United States became undocumented because they overstayed the time allotted on their legal visas than because they illegally crossed the border. “A border wall would address the wrong trend,” Appleby, a former staffer at the U.S. bishops’ conference, said.