“Short-term immigration policies that attempt to address this problem by detaining people or criminalizing asylum seekers don’t go to the root of problem,” she said. “This is just going to keep happening until the U.S. addresses the problems that it contributed to creating.”
But winning an asylum case and the right to live permanently in the United States is a tall order.
Only 20 percent of asylum seekers win their cases, which can take years to wind their way through the clogged immigration courts. Meanwhile, many of them are released from detention, especially families, because children cannot legally be detained for more than 20 days.
The Trump administration condemns that practice, known as “catch and release,” because it enables migrants who are unlikely to qualify for asylum to remain in the United States for an extended time — or possibly forever, though illegally.
“While their asylum case is working its way through the court process, the applicant is generally released into the United States and given a work permit — where they wait, often for years,” said Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. “If eventually denied asylum, they can simply become part of the illegal population that ICE would have to seek out and remove in the future,” she said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Others say that the United States has the obligation to follow this process, even as the number of asylum seekers arriving at its doorstep soars.
“If the majority of people in the last caravan have been determined to have a credible fear, it supports the idea that there is palpable fear. They should be given the opportunity to go before an immigration judge,” said Thomas Haine, a former trial lawyer for ICE who is now in a private practice in San Diego.
Vladimir Cortez of El Salvador was among those who joined last year’s Easter caravan. After eight days in United States custody at the border, where he expressed a fear of returning to his home country, ICE transferred him to a detention center in Adelanto, Calif. He passed a credible-fear interview. With the help of a lawyer, Mr. Cortez, who is gay, filed an asylum claim that revolved around the discrimination that he said he suffered on account of his sexual orientation.