In the U.S. Congress, the Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach an agreement on immigration policy governing the southern border. This is so even though the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has risen to record levels. This post offers an explanation of the policy stalemate and what an alternative, less restrictive and less punitive policy would contain.

Current picture

Katherine Bucholz reports on the number of “migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border for fiscal years 2023 and 2024. These include

“both migrants apprehended and those asking to enter legally but deemed inadmissible. Their numbers rose to almost 2.5 million in FY 2023 and stood at 785,000 three months into the new fiscal year, which would constitute another record if extrapolated” (

While President, Trump’s efforts to control the border

Bucholz continues. “Because a majority of people seeking to enter the United States recently have come from Central and South America and more have been applying for asylum, the Trump administration in 2019 overhauled its application process, making many asylum seekers wait in camps on the Mexican side without assistance. The Biden administration tried to end the policy around 1.5 years into its term, in mid-2022, but was ensnared in legal battles. Remain in Mexico was implemented after another system overhaul – the separation of families in U.S. custody and the tendency to release fewer immigration detainees on bail – had caused chaotic scenes at detention centers and an international outcry during Trump's time in office.”

Attempted compromise

In recent months, the Biden administration has come to support a conservative proposal aimed at deterring immigration.

The Senators most responsible for the bill, “the product of months of bipartisan negotiations” involved “a trio of senators – Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans.” But, as already noted, “former President Donald Trump and [Mike] Johnson attacked the border deal as too weak, and their opposition, along with McConnel’s opposition, was sufficient in the end to defeat the bill (

However, Trump has opposed even this measure, arguing that, if passed, it would give Biden and the Democrats an opportunity in November 2024 to claim a win on the immigration issue. Trump wants to be known as the only person who can fix the problem. Senate Republicans have fallen into line and have voted to reject it. The House Speaker, Mike Johnson, has followed suit and decided not to put the compromise bill to a vote.

The number of migrants wanting to enter the U.S. will likely continue to increase

While there is little progress in Congress on border policy, Georgina Gustin points out that “the World Bank projects that border problem is going to grow, as nearly 4 million people from Central America and Mexico could become climate migrants by 2050” (

In recent years, immigrants trying to enter the U.S. through the southern border have come not only from Mexico and Central America but from many other countries as well, even from China. They are fleeing violence, war, poverty, corruption, the environmental devastation accompanying global warming, as well as seeking opportunities for a “better life.” In short, there’s no good reason to believe that the flow of immigrants seeking entrance to the U.S. will subside.

Then there is internally generated migration, a subject analyzed by Jake Bittle in his book, The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration (publ. 2023). The issue of forced internal migration is not part of the current political debate, but it will be growing problem. Bittle writes:

“By the end of the century, climate change will displace more people in the United States than moved during the Great Migration [from the 1920s to the 1970s] (p.xvi).

Trump opposed compromise bill

Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick delve into this question for Associated Press (AP) in an article published on Feb 4, 2024 (

They write: “Senators have come out with a carefully negotiated $118 billion compromise that pairs tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine with new border laws aimed at shrinking the historic number of people who have come to the U.S. border with Mexico to seek asylum.

“While President Joe Biden has worked toward the deal with Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate, it faces a difficult, if not impossible, path to passage. Echoing opposition from their House counterparts, Republican senators have said the border policy doesn’t go far enough and questioned additional aid to Ukraine. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called it “an easy NO.”

They also point out, “[T]he package has also drawn strong opposition from Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee in November 2024.”

What was in the compromised legislation?

Groves and Jalonick also consider what’s in the bill.

There will be $20 billion of the 118 billion for immigration enforcement, “providing money to hire thousands more officers to evaluate asylum claims, add hundreds of more Border Patrol agents and help stop the flow of fentanyl.”

The “asylum process” will be toughened. “Under the proposal, migrants would have to show during initial screenings that they have a reasonable possibility of being granted asylum. Migrants would also be barred from making an asylum claim if they are found to have a criminal history, resettled in another country or could have found safety if they had resettled in their home country.”

“Migrants who pass the new screening would then receive a work permit, be placed in a supervision program and have their asylum case decided within 90 days. And migrants who seek asylum in between ports of entry would be put into detention while they await the initial screening for an asylum claim. The proposal calls for a large growth in detention capacity.”

“If the number of migrant encounters tallied by Customs and Border Protection reaches 4,000 a day over a five-day average across the Southern border. Once the number of encounters reaches 5,000, expulsions would automatically take effect. For context, border encounters topped 10,000 on some days during December, which was the highest month on record for illegal crossings.”

“The legislation would also authorize sanctions and anti-money laundering tools against criminal enterprises that traffic fentanyl into the U.S. And it would provide 50,000 visas for employment and family-based immigration each year for the next five years.

“However, the bill does not contain broad immigration reforms or deportation protections for unauthorized immigrants that were foundational to previous Senate deals.”

“The provision would eventually enable qualified Afghans to apply for U.S. citizenship and adjust the status of eligible evacuees to provide them with lawful permanent resident status after vetting and screening procedures.”


Trump’s influence

Chris Lehmann quotes Trump. “The former president came out against the deal while its details were still being finalized, proclaiming on TruthSocial that ‘I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people, many from parts unknown, into our once great, but soon to be great again, Country!’ In trademark mob boss argot he added, ‘I have no doubt that our wonderful Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, will only make a deal that is PERFECT ON THE BORDER” (

Johnson submits to Trump

Lehmann continues. “Johnson, whose short tour as House speaker has already served as a miniature documentary on the multivalent meanings of the word ‘quisling,’ wasted little time in showing his serially indicted, resort-bound Svengali that the message was received….When the Senate deal debated over the weekend, the speaker took to the Sunday talk shows to pronounce the agreement ‘dead on arrival’ in the House.

“But these are all policy matters, and the GOP leadership could not be more militant in advertising its collective hostility to policy. Here, too, they follow the incoherent, tantrum-throwing example of their maximum leader. Trump greeted the news of the Senate package with another TruthSocial tirade. ‘Only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill, which only gives Shutdown Authority after 5000 Encounters a day, when we already have the right to CLOSE THE BORDER NOW, which must be done,’ Trump fumed. ‘This Bill is a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party. It takes the HORRIBLE JOB the Democrats have done on Immigration and the Border, absolves them, and puts it all squarely on the shoulders of Republicans. Don’t be STUPID!!!’ In short order, Republican senators began falling over themselves in the act of backing away from their lovingly crafted border package.”

Trump’s record on the border while president

Lehmann reminds readers, “Beyond the considerable weight of historical precedent, however, Johnson’s argument was so laughably threadbare on its own terms as to be pitiable; all one had to do to dispel it was to consult the 400-plus harsh and gruesomely unethical border policies that the Trump White House introduced by executive fiat, which did nothing to reduce the volume of immigration at the country’s southern border.”

Trump’s “wall”

Wikipedia gives a useful account of Trump’s build-the-wall saga ( Trump promised to construct a much larger border wall than the one that existed during his 2016 presidential campaign, “claiming that if elected he would ‘build the wall and make Mexico pay for it.” This would be a wall, in Trump’s view, that would extend the entire almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The President of Mexico at the time, Enrique Pena Nieto, stated that his country would not pay for the wall. And, up to the present, this has been the unwavering position of the Mexican government.

On January 25, 2017, after being elected, “Trump signed Executive Order 13767, which formally directed the US government to begin attempting wall construction along the US border with Mexico using existing federal funding,” though “actual construction did not begin at this time due to the significant expense and lack of clarity on how it would be funded.

“Trump continued to grapple with Democrats in Congress through 2017 over funding and threatened at his rallies and through his tweets to shut down the government if Congress did not approve funding. Congress refused and Trump did partially shut down the federal government for 35 days, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019, and insisted that he would ‘veto any spending bill that did not include $5.7 billion in border wall funding.’ This turned out to be the longest government shut down in US history. In the end, Trump lost this battle and did not get the funding he wanted.”

Nonetheless, the persistence of Trump on obtaining funding from Congress for the border wall continued (

Congress did authorize $1.4 billion for border security, but that did not satisfy the president. On February 15, 2019, he “signed a Declaration of National Emergency, saying that the situation at the Mexico-United States border is a crisis requiring money allocated for other purposes to be used instead to build the wall.” Following this, “Congress passed a joint resolution to overturn the emergency order, but Trump vetoed the resolution.” This led Trump to say that he would go ahead and transfer already authorized funds for other purposes (e.g., military funds) to be transferred to wall building projects. Up to the present, July 2019, this effort has been stopped by the courts However, the Supreme Court then ruled to allow Trump to shift $2.5 billion from other agency budgets to border security (July 26, 2019).

According to the US Customs and Border Protection agency, as of July 2019, construction “had begun to replace old fencing [but] no new wall had yet been built” with government money. Republicans want to re-start the effort.

There are currently “a series of vertical barriers” along the border, “a discontinuous series of physical obstructions variously classified as ‘fences’ or ‘walls’” (

In January 2019, there were 580 miles of barriers in place, according to US Customs and Border Protection. There are also other security measures [many in place before Trump], “provided by a ‘virtual fence’ of sensors, cameras, and other surveillance equipment used to dispatch United States Border Patrol agents to areas where migrants are attempting to cross the border illegally. Legal expert Marjorie Cohn points out that Trump was” increasing his illegal militarization of the southern border by deploying 2,100 additional troops to join the 4,500 military personnel already there”

Other Trump policies designed to reduce migrant entry to the U.S.

In addition to the Trump wall, Trump and his administration adopted other policies designed to keep migrants from entering the country. When one policy didn’t work or is met with public outrage, Congressional opposition, and/or legal challenges, another one with the same intent is concocted. They wanted to make conditions so bad that word among migrants would get back to others in their home countries that the costs of migration to the US-Mexico border are too great to justify the arduous and dangerous trek of over a thousand miles from Central America, through Mexico, to the border with the US. In advancing such policies, they ignore or dismiss the deteriorating and unsafe conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries that compel them to migrate.

Make processing of refugee and asylum claims complex and designed to fail

Immigration lawyer Jennifer Harbury provides further details in an interview on Democracy Now on the process by which migrants seek “legal resettlement,” or legal entry, into the U.S. It’s complex that requires asylum seekers provide not only considerable documentation but must satisfy other requirements as well. And it was subverted by Trump ( Here is some of what she wrote.

“…under 8 U.S.C. 1225, [a person] goes up to the port of entry, knocks on the door and literally says, ‘I’m in danger. I need to apply for asylum.’ And as I said earlier, they then go to a credible fear interview [no criminal record] and then to a detention center, initially, and they’ll be put in proceedings before an immigration judge… if they’ve got perfectly good identification, they’ve never committed a crime, they’re not a threat to anyone, they’re just on the run from the cartels, and they have legal status relatives, citizen or LPR [legal permanent resident of the U.S.], who will take them in and sponsor them and pay all their expenses.”

At that point in the process, a person or parent and children who satisfied all these requirements would pre-Trump have “always been released” on conditional approval of resettlement. Trump contemptuously calls this a “catch and release” policy that he was determined to end and contended that most migrants under these circumstances did not return for scheduled court appearances. The evidence indicates otherwise. Caitlin Dickerson cites information from Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center that case management programs used in the past to ensure immigrants show up for court have proven to be “both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance (

Trump succeeded in reducing legal, asylum requests

In an article published on Nov. 20, 2020, for the Migration Policy Institute, Muzaffar Chishti and Jessica Bolter make four points about “the Trump effect” on legal immigration Levels ( The say that the Trump policies had “immediate and dramatic effects.”

(1) “The administration has sharply lowered refugee admissions, arguing that refugees pose a national security threat and impose a significant financial burden on federal and local governments. In FYs 2018 and 2020, the Trump administration admitted the lowest numbers of refugees since the current U.S. refugee resettlement program began in 1980: 22,491 and 11,814 respectively. This was a significant drop compared to the 84,995 refugees resettled in FY 2016.”

(2) “The administration has also significantly narrowed eligibility for asylum in the United States, for example by eliminating certain grounds for asylum and making it almost impossible to be granted asylum or, more recently, even apply for it at the border. These changes have led many to conclude that the prospects for receiving asylum in the United States have largely ended.”

(3) Despite the attempts to reduce successful asylum claims, the number of asylum seekers whose claims were approved actually increased during the Trump years—to the highest level since at least 1990. This is partly because there have been many more asylum applicants in recent years, and the backlog has been growing for several years. In many instances, applications that were approved while Trump was in office were filed during the Obama administration.

(4) “At the same time, asylum denials have increased even more than approvals, meaning that although the number of asylum grants increased, the approval rate has concurrently decreased, from 43 percent in FY 2016 to 29 percent in FY 2019. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s dramatic narrowing of opportunities to apply for asylum has contributed to fewer new applications being filed. Since these applications can take a long time to process, it is likely that, absent major policy reversals, the number of approved asylum cases will fall substantially in coming years.”

The number of immigrants seeking entry to US will likely continue to rise

According to an article by Georgina Gustin, “the World Bank projects that nearly 4 million people from Central America and Mexico could become climate migrants by 2050” (


The Causes

US military interventions

It has been well documented by historians that the countries of Central and South America have been ruled much of the time, certainly over the two hundred years, by authoritarian and self-serving government that siphon off foreign assistance money, promote foreign investment to extract resources, exploit cheap labor, and enable land grabs and unregulated treatment of corporations. And the US has been instrumental in fostering such conditions. Historian Greg Grandin provides an in-depth analysis of the US involvement in creating this system in his book, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006).

Legal scholar Majorie Cohn provides a concise summary, as follows.

“The history of U.S. intervention in the Northern Triangle countries has destabilized them and exacerbated the migrant crisis. “[W]e must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States,” (


Alison Bodine and Tamara Hansen point to how the relationship between U.S. intervention in Latin America and the severe problems in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala “is most clearly expressed by the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras” ( elaborate: “10 years ago, the United States backed a right-wing overthrow of the elected government of Manuel Zelaya. Since then, political repression, state violence, and increasing poverty in Honduras have escalated, creating structural and institutional vacuums, along with deep instability throughout the country. After the U.S. supported coup Honduras ended Manuel Zelaya’s presidency, a country with a prospect of political and economic development became a failed state.”

Trump and right-wing forces in the US frequently refer to the gangs, like MS-13, throughout the region, and how gang members are said to join migrants on their way to the US-Mexico border (

 There is little evidence that gangs are a large segment of the migrant flow to the U.S.-Mexico border. That said, gang violence is a prominent reason in causing the flight of migrants out of Central America. An often-overlooked part of the story is that the gangs, or many of them, were created in the US. On this point, Bodine and Hansen say the gangs “were first formed in U.S. prisons, and then transplanted to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala when people were released from prison and then deported.” The cite UNHCR reports to illustrate some of the consequences, and write: “Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America. Several cities, including San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are among the 10 most dangerous in the world. The most visible evidence of violence is the high rate of brutal homicides, but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence”

Diminishing opportunities

For the people in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, there are presently a growing number of farmers who cannot grow enough food to feed themselves, let alone a surplus with which to buy essentials. There are many others living in urban areas who, amid high levels of unemployment, can only find low-wage work, insecure work. And corrupt governments there offer too few and inadequate public assistance, while promoting policies that disproportionately benefit foreign corporations and their own wealthy classes. These are systemic problems.

Hannah Holleman documents in her book, Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Polices and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism, that farmers not only in Central America but around the world have been locked into an agricultural system imposed by rich, capitalist countries that drive them into debt, degrades the soils and depletes water sources. This unsustainable situation is combined and made worse by the intensifying effects of climate disruption, reflected in increasing periods of drought and other extreme weather events.

The effects of climate disruption

Oliver Milman, Emily Holden, and David Agren address how climate change is increasingly figuring into the mass migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador ( They report that “[w]hile violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the exodus, experts say the big picture is that changing climate is forcing farmers off their land – and it’s likely to get worse.” They confirm what so many others have found that most of the migrant caravans come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, “the three countries devastated by violence, organized crime and systemic corruption, [have roots] which can be traced back to the region’s cold war conflicts.” Now people in these countries also being increasingly afflicted by climate change.

According to experts interviewed by Milman, Holden, and Agren, climate change “is likely to push millions more people north towards the US.” The journalists quote Robert Albro, a researcher at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, says, “‘The focus on violence is eclipsing the big picture – which is that people are saying they are moving because of some version of food insecurity,’ And Albro continues: “‘The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat. This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.’” Albro adds: “Migrants don’t often specifically mention ‘climate change’ as a motivating factor for leaving because the concept is so abstract and long-term…. But people in the region who depend on small farms are painfully aware of changes to weather patterns that can ruin crops and decimate incomes.”


Julia Conley identifies “faith groups” that want “a just and humane policy” in an article for Common Dreams on Feb 7 2024

( Here’s some of what she writes.

“As the U.S. Senate voted down a $118 billion bipartisan national security supplemental bill Wednesday, more than 800 faith groups and leaders called on lawmakers to completely reconsider legislation regarding the border and ‘pursue effective, fair, and compassionate alternatives’ to the bill ‘that respect the sacred dignity of all people."

“Led by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, 662 faith leaders and 155 faith-based organizations said the federal government must consider "just and humane solutions, like those offered by our faith communities" in the coalition's "priorities for [fiscal year 2024] funding legislation."

"While we recognize the need to improve the humanitarian protection system, we firmly reject the proposed measures," said the coalition, which includes Faith in Action, Hope Border Institute, and Jewish Women International. ‘This legislation would exacerbate the humanitarian and operational challenges at the border, place obstacles that severely restrict the right to seek protection, undermine the right to due process in immigration proceedings, and expand immigrant detention, deportations, and the militarization of the border to unprecedented levels.’

The bipartisan bill included provisions that would allow President Joe Biden to effectively shut down the border if crossings by undocumented immigrants reach a certain threshold, expand capacity to detain migrants, restrict screening standards for people claiming asylum, and expede the asylum process—making it harder for refugees to seek legal counsel.”

Interfaith Immigration Coalition Interfaith Immigration Coalition expresses its opposition. "The cruelty at the border needs to stop. The provisions outlined in the appropriations bill, purporting to automatically shut down the border and expel individuals seeking safety, are not only a failed attempt to secure the border but are also a catalyst for increased chaos on both the U.S. and Mexican sides," said Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, ahead of Wednesday's first vote. ‘Any policy that fails to acknowledge the complex realities of migration and prioritizes enforcement over compassion is fundamentally flawed. We call on policymakers to reject these harmful provisions and instead work towards comprehensive solutions that honor our nation's commitment to human dignity and justice.’

“The coalition pointed to its legislative priorities that would ensure: ‘safety and dignity for asylum-seekers’ by recognizing that refugees have a right under international and domestic law to seek safety in the U.S.; international assistance to reduce forced migration of people affected by climate catastrophe, violence, and poverty; and refugee protection.

Specific proposals from the coalition include:

  • Increasing funding and oversight of the immigration Shelter and Service Program, for which the White House requested $1.4 billion in grants for 2024;
  • Funding the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for employment authorization and other application processing, backlog reduction, and integration, for which the White House requested $755 million;
  • Sufficiently funding Customs and Border Protection to process asylum claims at ports of entry;
  • Eliminating regulatory barriers like the "180-day asylum clock" that restricts asylum-seekers from applying for work authorization;
  • Funding bilateral assistance to Latin American and Caribbean countries, the International Disaster Assistance Account, and the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Account; and
  • Funding the Office of Refugee Resettlement and its programs for unaccompanied children.

Conley quotes Susan Krehbiel, associate for migration accompaniment ministries at Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Krehbiel denounced the White House and senators for supporting a provision that would have shut down asylum services at the border once crossings by undocumented immigrants surpassed 5,000 people per day over a five-day average.

“‘When thousands of people come to you seeking protection from danger, the moral response is not to slam the door in their faces,’ said Krehbiel. ‘There are 110 million forcibly displaced people globally, but the leaders of one of the richest countries in the world believe that taking in 5,000 asylum-seekers per day is too many. The U.S. is failing to fulfill its responsibility to accept people seeking safety from violence and persecution.’

“‘Policymakers need to stop pretending that asylum-seekers will just disappear if they turn a blind eye,’ she added. ‘Policies of deterrence haven't worked in the past and won't work now. We urge Congress to invest in border policies that actually work on the ground and to receive families seeking asylum with justice and kindness.’"

Anika Forrest, legislative director for domestic policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation had this to say.

“‘Any policy that fails to safeguard respite, protection, and peace for communities fleeing violence and persecution promises tragedy and turmoil,’ said Forrest. ‘U.S. political leaders insist on chaotic and cruel policies that function as impenetrable walls and abandon asylum-seekers. Migration management as well as humane, safe, and orderly processing at the border deserve effective and modern solutions.’” Neither of these proposals were included in the Senate bill.

The elements of a comprehensive immigration policy on asylum seekers

One can imagine progressive and radical alternatives that, if implemented, would in various combinations, reduce the suffering of migrants and increase the number who are permitted to enter the US. It would adhere to international and national laws on refugees, while expanding the criteria that define a legitimate asylum claim. It would decriminalize those who are caught trying to enter illegally. It would expedite the asylum process so that migrants who satisfy the criteria can enter the country without long waits. There would not be the dreadful detention facilities that exist under Trump, rather there would adequately-resourced and humanely managed facilities for those who have crossed the border illegally or who are waiting for an asylum decision by an immigration judge. Children would not be separated from their parents and unaccompanied children, those who come without a parent or legal guardian, would be housed in appropriate facilities until homes were found for them. Those permitted to relocate in the US would be provided with transitional assistance, unless that had relatives or other sponsors who were able to assist them.

And, ideally, the conditions in their home countries that drive people to immigrate would be mitigated. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) has some suggestions, as follows (

“Mr. Biden should engage the leaders of the Western Hemisphere for a summit that identifies shared responsibilities, challenges and opportunities. Engaging Northern Triangle countries, fully restoring the Central American Minors program (which allows children to apply for refugee status in their home countries) and reinstating aid (practices curtailed by former President Donald Trump) is a good start. But a multilateral approach must include our Canadian allies and address the causes of the migration coming not just from Central America but from Mexico as well. We need a shared plan with a focus on security to combat crime and persecution that includes cracking down on gangs and other criminal organizations and creates accountability for politicians and officials who turn a blind eye to criminals.”

In the end, the issue will be addressed or not, depending on politics and elections. Democratic leaders will be challenged to devise a humane immigration policy, as the number of migrants seeking entrance to the U.S. continues to be large for years to come, stretching border resources, the tolerance of voters, limited by other crises affecting the country, and against the opposition of the Republican Party, their massive electoral base, and the right-wing media.