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What’s really going on at the US southern border?

By Oxfam
A section of the US-Mexico border in Tijuana. By Tomas Castelazo - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

The president’s visit to Texas continues to distract from the real crisis taking place.

Today President Trump touches down at the McAllen International Airport for his latest political stunt—an encore to his nationally televised speech Tuesday night stoking fears and spreading lies about the situation at the US-Mexico border.

The truth is the urgent humanitarian needs at the border have been exacerbated by his administration’s very own policies: the separation of children from their parents; the detention of migrant families; measures to slow down and prevent asylum-seekers from making their claims; and the failure to address the root causes of migration from Central America.

So what’s the real crisis? Thousands of Central Americans every year are forced to leave their homes because of violence, criminal gangs, instability, poverty, and economic hardship. And the US has only made the situation worse, exploiting the pain of victims of violence to demonize these families instead of taking a hard look at why they flee in the first place.

Here’s what’s really going on at the southern border.

Fact #1: The US is processing very few claims for asylum every day, leaving desperate families in limbo

Right from the get-go the administration made clear its disinterest in fulfilling its obligations under US and international law. Instead of devoting resources to process the uptick in asylum claims expeditiously, the administration has left thousands of migrants stranded.

Every morning, migrants in Tijuana, Mexico gather to find out whether US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will hear their cases. At the San Ysidro port of entry, CBP agreed to hear just 36 claims for asylum yesterday out of more than 2,800 people awaiting processing. Preventing asylum seekers from filing their claim, or requiring them to stay in a third country, is a violation of national and international law and of their human rights.

Many parts of Mexico are also not safe, especially the border. By forcing asylum-seekers to stay there, the US is complicit in endangering the lives of thousands of people. Just weeks ago, two young men were murdered in Mexico as they sought protection in the US.

Fact #2: Families and children fleeing violence and poverty are coming to the border

There is agreement that the number of families arriving is significant. The Washington Post reports that more than 27,500 migrant parents and their children were taken into custody in December according to the CBP—highlighting the importance of the US working to address the root causes of migration.

Many of these families and youth are like those we recently met at the Guatemalan-Mexico border where Oxfam has provided humanitarian aid through local partners. Farmers, a honey vendor, families threatened by gang violence—we must reject the notion that those arriving at the border are criminals and refuse to respond to them based on fear.

Fact #3: Building a wall is expensive, ineffective, and pointless

A wall, which could cost anywhere from $8 billion to as much as $67 billion by some estimates, and/or a militarized border will do nothing to stem the flow of people leaving dangerous situations. Instead, it will only drain resources away from real solutions to the problems America and our neighbors face.

The US should address the root causes of this recent surge in migration by investing its resources toward programs that support people’s rights, fight corruption, prevent violence, invest in sustainable rural development, provide access to justice, and address sexual and gender-based violence.

Fact #4: People are coming to the United States in hope of safety and a better life

Oxfam has been working in Central America for more than three decades to combat violence and challenge inequalitythe real reasons people flee their homes in the first place. We support those struggling with economic hardship, we empower women to improve their livelihoods and grow their businesses, and we support their fight against gender-based violence.

The toxic narrative that asylum-seekers are arriving to the US illegally and invading the US is just plain wrong. Our nation is a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable. We should live up to our legacy as a welcoming nation that was built by the hard work of immigrants. They deserve humane treatment and a fair shot at their legal right to asylum.

Oxfam has responded along the migration routes in Guatemala and Mexico with humanitarian aid, including distribution of hygiene kits, food packages, and water, and installation of portable toilets, showers, and drinking water points for thousands in need.

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