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  • Mary L. Hanna

Build Courts, Not Walls, on the U.S-Mexican Border

Written by: Ashwin Telang, Contributing Author

In recent years, immigrants have been faced with a double-edged sword. No matter which way they turn, they are exploited and exposed to oppression. At home, they are guided by the hand of persecution, rape, violence, and horrific living conditions. When they enter the U.S., immigrants are met with disrespect, racial profiling, psychological abuse, and unsanitary, crowded living spaces. It is long past time that America smooths one edge of the sword, making the U.S. a safe and organized place for immigrants to seek asylum.

Nearly 50,000 people are piled up in unsafe Mexican shelters, waiting to get a chance to enter the U.S. According to the Fifth Circuit, “Nearly 4 million people are currently waiting abroad in the family-based immigration backlogs.” Nolan Rappaport, journalist at The Hill, relayed in July of 2022 that over 13 million immigration cases still must be processed. These immigrants come from a myriad of different places: Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Cameroon, Russia, Venezuela, Ukraine, and China (to name a few). Owing to blistering heat and crowded spaces, over 800 people died while seeking shelter in the United States. Current disorganization at the border leaves millions of immigrants to suffer. Currently, over 76% of unaccompanied children immigrants are detained by the federal government. These detention centersincubate potentially fatal diseases, have provided dangerously undercooked meat, and where sexual abuse is a real and constant threat. And because of border disorganization, these children wait for years in horrifying detention.

Photo Credit: The Hill

Some pundits are fond of alleging that the U.S. is incapable of processing or absorbing all the people seeking asylum in the U.S. However, Ellis Island (the historic immigration landing point for those seeking entry into America from 1892-1954) processed at least1,900 people per day.

Assuming they passed an interview and appeared to pose no health risk, the vast majority of immigrants were treated courteously and respectfully, free to begin their new lives in America after only a few short hours on Ellis Island. Only two percent of the arriving immigrants were excluded from entry. And as a result, over 100 million Americans today can trace an ancestor back through Ellis Island. Sadly, our current rejection rate for those seeking asylum in the U.S. is 73%.

America must focus on building a safe, orderly, and humane border. This doesn’t mean building more walls. Rather, it means building courts and installing more judges at the border. Walling off immigrants does nothing to solve this humanitarian crisis, instead locking immigrants into a larger cycle of poverty and instability. In an attempt to end crime and overcrowding, Arizona recently built a border wall using shipping crates. The $90 million that Arizona used to erect this wall could have been used for much more productive solutions. After all, most immigrants were still left struggling behind the border, and many felt forced to enter Arizona illegally. America must address the lack of courts and cleanse our immigration system of such dysfunction. Border walls do nothing but push the problem back into Mexico.

Photo Credit: The Guardian

As conditions grow more dangerous and violent in Latin America, immigration backlog is only expected to increase. To manage the flow of migrants more efficiently and humanely, America needs more judges. There are less than 600 judges at the U.S. border tasked with instituting over 4 million immigration cases. There is thus no question why America’s border is so unorganized and crowded — There aren’t enough judges to process all the requests. The president of the National Association of Immigration, Mimi Tsankov, said “It’s very worrisome. The fundamental requirement for a full and fair hearing is notice of your hearing and the ability to attend your hearing.”

More judges would not only speed up the process of entry but ensure that immigrants spend less time homeless or in detention.

Many argue that America can’t handle the weight of more immigrants, but the shocking truth is that America can’t survive without these immigrants. America certainly has the capacity to hold more immigrants and indeed needs them to fill holes in the economy. Immigrants fill lost jobs in the agricultural sector, work nontraditional hours, and add vital services to their local communities. Some studies even suggest that we need more immigrants to defeat the rising tide of inflation. And unlike their Ellis Island predecessors, today’s immigrants are much more likely to have a specialized trade, and nearly 84% are partially or entirely fluent in English.

Meta Peace Team has first-hand experience witnessing the horrific, congested U.S./Mexico border. MPT’s International team members offer protective accompaniment and human rights monitoring while the organizations that they partner with at the border undertake the overwhelming burden of humanitarian aid. All understand the magnitude of this crisis and the critical need to speed up the naturalization process. Immigrants will suffer less if their cases go by faster. And one of the only ways to do this is by increasing judges and providing more courts at the border.

America’s immigration system certainly requires an overhaul. Installing more judges in immigration courts is only a small — yet impactful — part of a broader plan to make America a peaceful place for immigrants. After immigrants go through courts, they must receive economic accommodations to get situated in America. America must further codify protections and punishments against discrimination and surging xenophobia. There’s a long road ahead, but supporting the work of Meta Peace Team can help accelerate America’s peaceful and more just immigration transition.

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