Whatever happens tonight, migrants are coming
Trump will likely make the case for his ridiculous border wall, but there are a few other options
It feels like Election Night all over again. One, I’m back in El Paso, where I gorged on the hope and anxiety of Beto supporters for about 36 hours before watching him concede fairly early in the night. Two, the preparation pattern I’m engaging in is the same as that night, when reporters must be ready for several different outcomes, but can’t afford to bet too heavily on a single one of them.
So you wait and read, looking for any clues of what might happen. You tap sources on the shoulder and remind them that you’ll need reaction in the moments after the events occur.
Maybe tonight is a little easier, because we don’t have to wait for poll results to come in and there is an H-Hour for this news event: 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, when Trump will have his way and get eight uninterrupted minutes to (apparently) make his case for a border wall.
Maybe tonight is a little easier, too, because we’re basically all prepared for a scenario in which Trump will mislead the American public with facts and figures of highly questionable accuracy — lies, basically. (In addition, he’ll look seriously into the camera in a desperate attempt to convince us he Understands These Things, all while probably having that weird dry mouth thing happen that seems to occur any time he has to speak from a teleprompter.)
But in addition to simply making his case for what Charles Pierce calls his very “big, stupid wall,” there are a few other things Trump can announce tonight. All are not very likely. But all are on the table. To wit:
One of the things that has clearly irked Trump — and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who I’ll get to in a second — is the fact that you just can’t keep every undocumented immigrant locked up indefinitely until they’re either granted some form of release or deported. The Flores settlement is a Supreme Court case stipulating parents detained with their children can not be held for more than 20 days. A migrant advocate here in El Paso told me she’s concerned that Trump will in some way try to suspend Flores, which Nielsen described as a “loophole” when asked about the Supreme Court decision in a congressional hearing around Christmas.
Most of the migrants who were dropped at the bus station in El Paso fit into this category: they were released primarily because they had kids with them. Suspending or ignoring Flores would keep those people locked up — and massively expand the number of migrants in detention thanks to the surge in family migration we’re currently experiencing. Lest you think the government can’t possibly hold that many people, keep in mind that ICE put out a request for information over the summer for the construction of a facility or facilities to hold 12,000 people on a military base somewhere along the border.
Suspend bond (highly unlikely)
Since at least late October, a decision whether to suspend bond for migrants in US custody has been pending at the office of the Attorney General, now headed by fake University of Iowa football all-American and cabinet meeting kiss-ass Matt Whitaker. Any given day, Whitaker can announce that the Department of Justice will not allow immigration agencies to offer bond to asylum-seekers.
Elizabeth Simpson of the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigration Project wrote the complaint that the group filed with DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. We spoke just before Jeff Sessions was fired. Following Whitaker’s psuedo-appointment as acting AG, she told me she didn’t know what to expect from him. But she said a decision to suspend bond would “make it harder for asylum-seekers to be released, even after they passed a credible fear interview.” Migrants, she said, would be “more likely to give up on their cases and accept deportation back to the dangerous conditions from which they fled.”
It’s highly unlikely that Trump would bring up this relatively obscure matter, which is still being decided within the AG’s office. In November, a DOJ spokesperson told me the decision was still pending but wouldn’t provide any update.
So, we wait.
Formerly launch ‘Remain in Mexico’
In the same hearing at which she called Flores a “loophole,” Nielsen was able to avoid answering questions about a controversial — and seemingly impossible — plan that DHS announced just moments after the hearing began.
Called Remain in Mexico, the plan calls for all asylum-seekers who have passed a credible fear interview to … remain in Mexico until they are either granted or denied asylum. (No one ever accused anyone in the Trump administration of being terribly clever at naming things.)
Those asylum cases can take months and in some cases years to process. Numbers of asylum claims from last year give us an idea what implementation of the plan would look like.
In fiscal year 2018, more than 54,000 of the 396,570 migrants arrested for crossing illegally made at least an attempt to claim asylum. And that’s only those who didn’t claim asylum legally at a port of entry. In the 12-month period of fiscal year 2018, if those numbers maintain don’t increase, as Mexico’s interior minister suggested yesterday, we know that Mexico would have to take in more than 54,000 migrants under Remain in Mexico.
It’s safe to say that Mexico is not prepared for that. Yesterday, Juarez’s mayor told me the city has a maximum capacity of a little more than 7,000 migrants. Accommodating that number of migrants would require the city to convert public gymnasiums into shelters and staff them with city employees. Eventually, this would cause the city to “collapse,” Juarez’s director of human rights told me.
Currently, there are only about 200 migrants in all of Juarez.
Trump probably doesn’t understand any of this. I’m sure he’s only vaguely aware of Flores and likely has no idea about the pending decision to suspend bond, let alone its complexities. He surely knows nothing about the capacity of Mexican border cities like Juarez to handle the immediate influx of thousands of migrants that would occur if Remain in Mexico were implemented.
He is a simple person who believes there is a simple solution to one of the most complex migration issues in the world: a wall. That’s probably what he’ll try to hammer home tonight. All of the above will probably come down to the courts to decide.
P.S. My story with Zach’s photos went live at VICE this morning. Yesterday I spoke with migrants in Juarez for The Daily Beast. Regardless of what Trump says tonight or what policies are implemented, they are coming.