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By Julia Ainsley
WASHINGTON – Undocumented immigrants are increasingly choosing to cross the US border illegally rather than queuing for asylum at legal entry points, according to US customs and protection data. borders obtained by NBC News.
Immigration lawyers and human rights advocates say that asylum seekers opt for smuggling because they are increasingly frustrated by the queues of asylum. Waiting caused by Trump administration policies. Human rights activists say that immigrants who would otherwise have come to legal ports now go between entry points where, if they are captured, they can stay in the country. while waiting for an asylum hearing.
In recent months, CBP has limited the number of immigrants eligible for asylum at the points of entry and has begun to return applicants to the country. Asylum, who must now wait in Mexico while their case is settled.
CBP data show that, at the same time, the proportion of immigrants taken during an illegal crossing rather than through legal entry points has increased.
It went from 73% of border crossings between October 2017 and January 2018 to 83% for the same period ending January 31st. The percentage of declarations at legal points of entry has dropped from 27% to 17%, even as the number of border crossings has risen sharply, according to the data.
An official from the Department of Homeland Security, of which CBP is a part, said those who dropped out of legal entry points could not have legitimate asylum claims.
"The fact that illegitimate asylum seekers may be abandoning their efforts to our [ports of entry] means that legitimate asylum seekers at the [ports of entry] can receive protections much more quickly – this was our goal from the beginning, "said the DHS official.The department declined to comment on the registration.
Waiting in Tijuana
In January, US officials signed an agreement with Mexico forcing asylum-seekers arriving at the San Diego port of entry to return to Tijuana across the border. There they have to wait for months or years, often in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, while an American immigration judge determines whether asylum can be granted. The policy, known as "Staying in Mexico," may soon spread to other points of entry if Mexico agrees to shelter immigrants in other places.
Smugglers, meanwhile, do not have to wait in Mexico, even if they get caught. Two DHS officials told NBC News that it was not planned to send asylum seekers across the border if they were illegally taken, mainly because the Mexican government did not have the infrastructure to host them in often remote places.
If they are caught and do not ask for asylum or do not pass the first asylum check, the procedure requires that they be repatriated to their home country. Most of today's borders do not come from Mexico, but from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Immigration lawyers and lawyers say immigrants are aware of living conditions in cities like Tijuana and are increasingly choosing to risk border patrol apprehension when illegally entering the United States instead to wait in Mexico.
Michelle Brané, Director of the Women's Refugee Commission, said that nine out of 10 female immigrants she interviewed by CBP would tell her and her staff that they had chose to cross illegally after other immigrants told them that the right to enter legally would mean a long wait. in a dangerous place.
"They said," There was a line and they told me that I would be turned away "or" People said that it was too dangerous and that you can not get in. " this way, "Brane said.
The best known line is in Tijuana, where thousands of immigrants have been waiting in shelters and tent camps since last autumn, hoping to ask for asylum before to enter San Diego.
The Mexican government closed an important migrant shelter in December due to unhealthy conditions. Another was closed last month, forcing families to disperse and often live on the streets. Also in December, two migrant boys were taken out of their shelter and murdered.
Immigrants from Tijuana keep what is known as "the listia", the list, to decide who can approach the US border every day to seek asylum, according to affidavits from lawyers specializing in law of immigration. Due to a US policy known as counting, only 40 to 100 immigrants a day are allowed to enter. The CBP only allows up to 20 migrants a day to travel to Eagle Pass, Texas, where another group of about 1,800 immigrants has recently arrived.
According to the DHS, the count is due to the fact that it is possible to treat as many asylum seekers per day due to limited resources. However, the Trump administration has not increased its staffing for processing asylum claims at the border, although it has increased the number of border police and the number of soldiers.
A calculated risk
The number of undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico was not close to the levels seen in the early 2000s. But the total number of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border has increased for a year. According to CBP figures, between October 2017 and January 2018, 150,346 people crossed the border, which increased to 242,667 over the same four-month period ending in January 2019.
The biggest increase came from the number of people crossing illegally. CBP seized more than 200,000 illegal stowaways between October 2018 and January, compared with 109,543 a year earlier, almost double the total number of smuggling.
Kennji Kizuka, senior researcher and policy analyst at Human Rights First, said he had seen immigrants frustrated with the wait and tried to try their luck to cross clandestinely.
"The people were leaving and saying that they were about to cross, they had just given up waiting to be on the list after learning how long it was, how many months they were there. would be there and how horrible the conditions were, "said Kizuka. I said.
But crossing between legal entry points also involves dangers.
At the end of last year, two children who crossed with their parents died in CBP custody after being picked up in remote areas after long journeys, where access to water and other essential needs is severely limited.
Border Patrol leader Carla Provost told Congress Tuesday that for the first time in the history of the United States, unaccompanied families and children made up 60% of people arrested between two points in the United States. ;Entrance. In addition, Provost said border patrols noted that families and unaccompanied children were traveling in greater numbers: nearly 68 groups ranging from 100 to 350 so far in 2019, compared with 13 the year last and two the year before.
Immigration advocates claim that large groups are partly due to a "digital security" strategy, with families and children being warned of the dangers, not just during the journey, but in the expectation of their entry into the United States in northern Mexico.