To curb immigration into the United States, the government has forced migrants to traverse hostile terrain at the southern border through the Sonoran Desert. Before this policy, migrants went through unauthorized border crossings in urban areas and border towns. However, the Southern Border Organization informs that the Clinton administration, in an anti-immigration wave, used data gathered in Operation Hold the Line in El Paso in 1993 to use Operation Gatekeeper to implement Prevention Through Deterrence which closed frequent crossing points to force migrants to remote, hostile terrains. In addition to an increasing number of Border Patrol agents being placed at the Southern Border region, opening interior checkpoints, detention bed space increased, and building border wall infrastructure where there had been none.
The Undocumented Migration Project informs that the idea behind the strategy was funneling “individuals attempting to cross the border illegally through more remote and depopulated regions where the natural environment would act as a deterrent to movement.” The goal of such a strategy was due to the first year of President Clinton’s administration, where they saw 1.2 million undocumented migrants trying to enter the country; therefore, the idea was that strategy would deter migrants. Instead, Prevention Through Deterrence led to the rise of migrants who perished while attempting to enter the United States. Operation Gatekeeper continues to harm migrants after twenty-eight years of its implementation. Furthermore, under the Trump administration, the conditions at the southern border have worsened not only for migrants but asylum seekers too.
President Clinton’s policy has only been fortified since the Department of Homeland Security creation in 2002, followed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2003. Since 2000, individuals have found 3,199 migrant human remains in the Sonoran Desert, according to Coalición de Derechos Humanos in 2018. No More Deaths, a humanitarian based in southern Arizona in 2012, began tracking vandalism and usage of cached drinking water and resupplying the caches of water. The goal of No more Deaths is to end the death and suffering at the border by providing aid to migrants preparing to cross into the desert and to migrants in distress. At the same time, the organization responds to emergency calls to search for migrants who have disappeared when Border Patrol and local law enforcement refuses to respond, which the Southern Border Organization reported through data that emerged from emergency calls received by the Coalición de Derechos Humanos that Border Patrol forty percent of the time does not respond.
In contrast, twenty-three percent of the time, it is unclear, and the other thirty-seven percent of the time, Border Patrol does search. Nevertheless, Border Patrol officers have been documented repeatedly and systemically destroying vital water supplies left by humanitarian organizations or other migrants. Revealing the active role the Border Patrol plays in trying to disincentivize migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border by destroying vital water supplies and forcing migrants to cross a deadly desert that is uninhabitable.
Under the Trump administration, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), known as the Remain in Mexico program, was used in 2019. The program sent asylum seekers who entered a port of entry or crossed the border between ports of entry were given the notice to appear in an immigration court but were sent back to Mexico with the instructions to come back at a specific point of entry at a specific time for their hearing. The American Immigration Council informs that “the program did not provide due process to migrants. Representation rates for the nearly 70,000 people subjected to MPP 1.0 were exceedingly low and are likely to remain low under MPP 2.0.”
Then with the COVID-19 pandemic, pending hearings that were suspended temporarily were indefinitely suspended, causing asylum seekers in Mexico awaiting their hearing left in limbo. However, what is genuinely alarming under MPP Customs and Border Protection officers were not asking asylum seekers if they were afraid to return to Mexico. Instead, the asylum seeker had to assert on their own that they feared returning to Mexico. Only then would they be handed to an asylum officer. Furthermore, Human Rights First informs that throughout February 2021, there had been at least 1,544 publicly documented cases of “rape, kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed against individuals sent back under MPP.” The United States government, through its immigration policy, weaponized the border to prevent asylum seekers from awaiting their case to be processed in the U.S. instead, they were forced to wait in Mexico for a date and time not of their choosing, where their safety was continuously placed at risk.
If the United States continues to force migrants to go through the Sonoran Desert, there will continuously be a significant problem. Whereas the asylum situation at the U.S. border has only worsened under the Trump administration, under the Biden administration, there has been a repeal of the MPP; however, the administration has not resumed the asylum process at ports of entry. Therefore, there is a twofold issue at play the weaponization of the desert and the asylum process to disincentive migrants and asylum seekers from coming into the United States.
To fix or mitigate the issue regarding migrants, the United States, through the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, needs to redirect Border Patrol to stop forcing migrants into the Sonoran Desert. While ensuring that Border Patrol officers are no longer destroying vital water supplies, migrants need while using the Sonoran Desert during the transition period and after the fact, if it is still a chosen route. In addition to responding to all emergency calls since, forty percent of unanswered emergency calls by Border Patrol is unacceptable. All emergency calls to Border Patrol must be answered to ensure that migrants are safe. However, even if all these steps are taken, the issue at hand will still lie in an archaic border wall and overuse of Border Patrol officers at border towns to prevent safe access into the United States.
On the other side, in terms of asylum seekers, the United States has continuously failed these individuals under the Trump and Biden administration. There are still long lines for asylum seekers and an arbitrary system that forces asylum seekers to retell their fear of persecution in their homeland to an immigration judge that can deny their asylum claim. The system in place for asylum seekers must be reformed to suit individuals fleeing persecution. At the same time, the backlog of cases immigration courts handle must be addressed to streamline the process.
From the Clinton administration to the Biden administration, the United States has weaponized the southern border regardless of the political party in power. Therefore, the usage of the Sonoran Desert is to disincentivize migrants from entering the country, but that has not been the case; instead, it has led to the deaths of countless migrants. Whereas the U.S. asylum process under the MPP in the Trump administration severely harmed asylum seekers, even with its termination under the Biden administration, the asylum process in the United States must be reformed to ensure asylum seekers are placed first and foremost. Not a state actively trying to disincentivize individuals from migrating to it.