As immigrants seek refuge, America struggles to live up to its promise

The immigration debate poses a moral dilemma for America.

5/10/2021 5:15:00 AM

'It takes effort to see the best in America when the border comes into view as I drive a dusty road that runs along the southern edge of San Diego,' writes tyrone_beason.

The immigration debate poses a moral dilemma for America.

two hours to the east in Imperial County after passing through a hole in the border fence.Tragedy struck again in early May when an overloaded boat crashed off San Diego in a suspected human smuggling attempt,killing at least three peopleand injuring dozens.

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“These are very vulnerable people,” Chavez says. “It calls upon us as Americans to make sure this is a just process.”::A Honduran boy holding a sign asking President Biden for help is one of hundreds of migrants camping by the main border crossing in Tijuana, hoping they’ll get to wait in the U.S. while their cases proceed.

(Tyrone Beason / Los Angeles Times)On the day the Remain in Mexico policy ends, I exit a customs building onto a small plaza in downtown Tijuana, where I’m greeted by confusion and fear.Hundreds of masked migrants from Central America and Haiti, some cradling babies, have gathered to see whether Biden’s empathetic tone on immigration means they’ll soon get to plead for asylum and live in the U.S. while their cases proceed.

A Honduran boy holds a cardboard sign with a handwritten plea: “You promised to help us, Mr. President,” it reads in Spanish.I don’t have the heart to tell him the truth. Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Mexicans, despite filing the most asylum applications in recent years, have had the lowest success rates among all nationalities, according to a nonpartisan team of researchers based at Syracuse University that tracks immigration cases.

AdvertisementA father and baby are among hundreds of Haitians waiting in Tijuana in hopes of applying for asylum across the border in the U.S.(Tyrone Beason / Los Angeles Times)Asylum is never guaranteed and the need for it is hard to prove, something Chavez says many Americans don’t realize.

A young man from Haiti, who gives just his first name as Vilmy, explains that he’s been living in Tijuana for over a year while waiting for his turn to apply for asylum.Vilmy leans in close, then asks, “Is there anything you can do to help us?”His willingness to sacrifice so much — his homeland, his roots, his language — to start a new life in my country leaves me speechless.

As much as I might want to flee America when its bigotry feels like a curse, on this side of the border I’m the one who’s blessed — as much an example of this country’s wide-open sense of possibility as any white American.Asylum seekers line up for a meal in Tijuana as they wait to cross into California. An increase in migrants, including thousands of unaccompanied children, has overwhelmed the U.S. immigration system.

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(Alejandro Tamayo / San Diego Union-Tribune)Vilmy seems unaware that America’s immigration system historically has regarded Haitian refugees as undeserving of asylum. In the last year,under the pretext of helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., despite knowing the refugees face danger from political turmoil back home in Haiti, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed News.

For its part,the Biden administration is slowly moving to reunite immigrant familiesseparated under Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris has announced more than $300 million in aid to Central America to help stem the flow of migrants from that region. And after facing criticism over delays in lifting the Trump administration’s historically low cap on refugee admissions, Biden has quadrupled the yearly limit to 62,500.

Legal aid groups that have been given access to migrant facilities housing unaccompanied minors have reported disturbing conditions in recent months: Children confined to crowded tents are prevented from venturing outdoors for days at a time, or have to go days without showers. Many slept on gym mats with foil sheets. At one facility in Texas, lawyers found children as young as 1.

Advertisement“Racism is real in America, and it always has been; xenophobia is real in America, and always has been.”Vice President Kamala HarrisChildren join other asylum seekers waiting in line for food at the main border crossing in Tijuana.(Alejandro Tamayo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Americans are deeply conflicted over Biden’s performance on immigration so far.An ABC News/Ipsos poll taken in late Marchfound that 89% of Riis’ fellow Republicans and 54% of independents disapproved.Even some Democrats are unhappy. Only 64% of them approved of Biden’s actions on immigration, a much smaller share than were pleased with his handling the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the economic recovery.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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