USA: Border protection commissioner talks ‘zero tolerance,’ family separations and how to discourage immigration

Good insights into the operationalizing of the various policies at play by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan:

…How are you handling the family separations?

We still have children in the same place where we had unaccompanied children.

It’s really important for your readers to understand the difference between the concept of family separation and prosecuting adults who cross the border illegally, even if they are bringing in children with them.

We do not have a policy of administrative separation. We are not doing that. Families or people that come across as a group, as a family-unit group, are being separated only if the adults are being prosecuted or if there’s a determination made by the agent that there’s not actually a family relationship, which has happened several hundred times just in the sector this year.

We do see the attempt by smugglers and those crossing to try to exploit the loopholes created by court decisions which don’t allow for ICE to detain family units through the completion of their immigration process. So they have to release them within 20 days. That means it’s incentivizing people to pretend to be families even if they’re not. That’s [happened] 600 times just in Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year.

We’re prosecuting the parents; they’re temporarily separated for prosecutors. So they go to the U.S. marshals; they will be prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office. Then they’re detained by ICE while the child is sent to Health and Human Services, in the custody of HHS.

So that’s incentivizing people to come fraudulently with kids?

That’s the catch-and-release loophole due to the interpretation of the Flores [2015 class-action lawsuit] settlement by the 9th Circuit District Court that says that ICE cannot detain families more than 20 days. So instead of being allowed to keep that family together through their immigration process, ICE is forced to release the family. So that’s the loophole that incentivizes people to present as a family even if they’re not.

Is there anything you can say about the U.S. potentially classifying Mexico as a “safe third country” for asylum seekers, which would force them to seek asylum there?

I’ve traveled to a refugee camp in Turkey, the Norway border with Russia, the southern border of Mexico with Guatemala — all to understand migration phenomena. And from those experiences, it’s very clear that the best way to manage migration flows and to assist populations that are struggling in their home country is for destination countries and transit countries to be aligned, and for efforts to aid the populations in their country of origin.

U.S. policy very clearly, for this administration, is to support Central American security and prosperity. We need to invest in their governance efforts and their economic development and in their security against gangs, smugglers, drug cartels and so forth to help prevent the push factors from existing in those countries and to help support their economic development.

But migration flows respond to incentives and success. If they believe that they will be allowed to stay in the destination country, they will try to make it. If they believe that they will be slowed down or turned around by a transit country, that will change the process.

All you have to do is look at the Arctic route in Norway. In 2015, in three months,. 5,500 people from 38 countries arrived from Russia. The Norwegians worked with Russia to recognize the Russian asylum system and that shut down overnight — those 5,500 stopped coming.

With [German] Chancellor Angela Merkel and [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, they reached an agreement in 2015 on the flow of Syrian nationals through Turkey to Greece and said that they would support refugee camps in Turkey. Those flows stopped overnight from Turkey to Greece.

You need to collaborate on regional migration. Mexico has been a leader in the region. They’ve gathered Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Panama and the U.S. together to talk about ways we can all get better at managing our policies in this area. Continued dialogue would be outstanding — to partner with all countries in the region on migration flows….

Source: Border protection commissioner talks ‘zero tolerance,’ family separations and how to discourage immigration