Shared from the 2018-06-24 The Denver Post eEdition
Crisis is testing world’s resources
The unprecedented global displacement is the new normal, a U.N. report says.
By David Nakamura The Washington Post
In the wake of an international uproar over the Trump administration’s now-reversed decision to separate immigrant families, the rate of illegal border crossings remains historically low. Immigrant advocates have accused the president of intentionally sowing chaos to put Democrats on the defensive over immigration and rally his conservative base.
But behind the images of frightened children housed in cage-like detention facilities lies a real and intractable crisis that has received less political attention: The dramatic surge over the past half-decade of families and children fleeing Central America, part of an unprecedented worldwide migration phenomenon that has overwhelmed international support systems and scrambled global politics.
Last week, the United Nations Refugee Agency released an annual report that cited a record-high 68.5 million migrants, including 25 million refugees, pouring out of places as far-flung as Syria, Myanmar, Congo and Venezuela. Analysts cited war, economic hardship, unstable governments and climate change to suggest the unprecedented displacement is the new normal and bound to get worse — with no clear international road map over how to address the phenomenon.
Growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States has led countries to pursue hard-line policies and offer less support to refugee programs operated by the United Nations. Given those political constraints, analysts suggested, the uncontrolled movement of desperate populations has become a much bigger problem than what can be solved by a U.S. president.
“The institutions, internationally and nationally, are wholly unequipped to deal with the challenge,” said Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Igarapé Institute, a Brazil-based think tank. “In a way, the U.S. and Canada have been sheltered a long time from these kinds of challenges. But now I think they are starting to feel the level of crises are reaching such a peak that it’s forcing them to confront the brittleness and fragility of the immigration system. How long before the system breaks or the political will is mustered to respond to the challenge?”
In the United States, the federal government’s inadequate response to the Central American migrants has now resulted in two political imbroglios. The first came in 2014, when the Obama administration disregarded warning signs and was caught unprepared for a surge of unaccompanied minors and families with children.
Thousands slept on concrete floors at Border Patrol stations in Texas as the government scrambled to find shelters for them.
Veterans of the Obama White House recall their raw apprehension after the initial scramble to deal with the humanitarian emergency gave way to a dawning realization of the sheer scale of what was happening. By the end of 2014, nearly 140,000 children and families had crossed the border from Mexico without authorization — the vast majority coming from the gang-violence-plagued nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, known as the “Northern Triangle.”
“There is the immediate political crisis, the images flashing on CNN,” said Amy Pope, who helped coordinate the administration’s response as a deputy homeland security adviser at the White House. “But then you have what’s actually behind it all. There was no sign that was going away.”
It hasn’t gone away. The Obama administration attempted to mount a broad response, including a $4 billion emergency aid package from Congress for additional shelters, $750 million in economic assistance for the Northern Triangle countries, closer border coordination with Mexico and the personal attention of Vice President Joe Biden, who traveled to the region. But by President Barack Obama’s last year, the total arrests of Central Americans at the border had surpassed the 2014 figures.
Those figures, after dipping at the start of Donald Trump’s tenure as president, are on pace to approach all-time highs again this year.
Over the first eight months of fiscal 2018, nearly 91,500 Central American families have been apprehended, part of a broader border surge that has threatened to undermine the president, before the midterm elections, on his key campaign promise to curb illegal immigration.