In an earlier post titled “My Credo – National Immigration Policy”, I outlined my views on a conceptual framework for granting permanent residence to immigrants seeking to come to the United States. In that post I addressed how asylum seekers should be considered as follows: “6) Asylum seekers – case by case consideration based on conditions and associated circumstances in their country of origin leading to the need for asylum.”
Currently we have a crisis on our southern border with a major influx of people crossing the border illegally and seeking to claim asylum. That led me to decide I need to expand my treatment of that particular criteria for granting permanent residence in the US.
Most of the people arriving at our southern border claim either fear of gang violence or poverty as the reason for seeking asylum. It is hard not to emphasize with their plight. It is well known that poverty and violence are rampant in Central America as well as Mexico to a slightly lessor degree. I don’t fault them for trying to get into the US. If I were in that situation I would try almost anything to improve my family’s lives and prospects just as they are. Nevertheless, as the public policy of our nation we must consider whether poverty and local threats of violence alone are the right criteria for the United States to grant asylum to people who simply show up at, or cross, our borders? After a lot of soul searching, I believe it is not!
Poverty and violence are a global phenomenon. According to the World Bank there are nearly 700 million people worldwide who live in abject poverty. Similarly, there are perhaps another billion people who are regularly in danger of or actually subjected to gang, political, racial, religious, and/or ethnic violence. Most of those people would jump at the chance to come to the US. But we cannot admit them all. The question seems to be: should we give preferential consideration to those who simply violate our borders because they have more access than people in other parts of the world? I don’t think so. As one of the wealthier nations I believe we have a broader responsibility to world order.
The United States can only practically accept a small fraction of the world’s population who truly need asylum from war, persecution, and other crises. Therefore we have to choose carefully and humanely who is granted asylum based on some rational criteria and prioritization.
I do not think the people from Central America should be allowed to overwhelm our capacity to process asylum considerations because it is easier for them to cut in line. People in other parts of the world likely have stronger cases for asylum. And in many such cases the crisis may have been precipitated or exacerbated by our own foreign policy.
Given all that, I offer the following criteria for who should be considered qualified for asylum in the United States:
a) refugees fleeing from a civil war;
b) people fleeing violent regional racial, religious, ethnic, or political persecution;
c) people from areas suffering longterm famine.
In my mind, for the asylum criteria to apply, agencies of the United Nations must have affirmed that the conditions above are widespread in the region designated and have asked that the international community respond to the severe need for relief of this extreme human suffering.
I endorse wise use of US programs, policies, and funding to address root causes that lead Central Americans to want to leave their home countries in the first place; more economic and political stability in those countries will be good for us as well. I am even willing to consider some mild level of immigration preference to those who live in our hemispheric neighborhood. Any such preference, however, must be limited and conducted within a normal immigration quota system along the lines of what I described in my earlier post. Using political asylum as a vehicle for skirting normal processes, or just accepting those who show up, is never the appropriate option for rational and humane immigration policy.