Here’s a fact that is little known inside the confines of the United States: Along the border with Mexico, approximately 60,000 people have been put in limbo through the Migrant Protection Protocols. These are people seeking asylum or generally trying to enter the United States, but they face bureaucratic hurdles that are preventing their cases from being considered on the merits. In the era of COVID-19, this is a problem that risks unleashing a catastrophe and therefore needs to be addressed.
The basic issue is as follows: Back in March, the pandemic forced federal courts to postpone hearing asylum cases through the Migrant Protection Protocols. Those hearings were scheduled to restart in mid-July, but were again postponed when the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice issued new rules a few weeks ago that put such hearings on hold until Texas and other states meet specific criteria for reopening their economies. Under these new rules, bordering Mexican states also need to meet specific reopening criteria that basically amount to waiting until the pandemic passes and most businesses can reopen.
It would be one thing if this were a simple delay, but the truth is that these federal rules are helping create a dangerous situation where people are clustered in close proximity to each other and therefore could become a center for spreading the novel coronavirus in Mexico as well as into the United States.
What’s clear is that these policies are needlessly creating this problem. The government is capable of conducting hearings through a video conferencing system. In fact, the courts already use such systems to hold some of the hearings involving people held within detention centers, though many are still held in person. They can take this same step with the tens of thousands of people stuck along the border. The Executive Office for Immigration Review should agree to make this option known and available to those who want it and ensure access to similar resources and timelines as individuals would have regularly. This will allow asylum cases to continue to be processed, while also enhancing the safety of everyone involved.
The principle here is straightforward. Border security should also include enhancing the safety of those seeking asylum. Doing so is both a moral and practical thing to do in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. It’s also a better approach than holding in-person hearings.
Regardless of what our immigration policies are, a great country shouldn’t implement policies that make a crisis along its border more likely. In fact, it should take deliberate steps to reduce the risk and foster the rule of law by addressing asylum cases quickly and fairly. Doing so is both more humane and better policy than leaving tens of thousands of people stuck in limbo.
— THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS