On Jan. 25, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to build a Mexico-U.S. border wall, but UT immigration experts said the difficulty of going through customs and border control causes immigrants to cross unlawfully despite any physical barrier.
Denise Gilman is the director of the UT Immigration Clinic, which provides legal assistance to low-income immigrant families. Gilman said the tedious legal process causes families to opt for other ways to get through.
“You can’t come on any permanent basis, and so it’s difficult to cross through official customs and border control,” Gilman said. “Not because there’s a line at the border or because customs and border control is stopping people, but because the way our law is set up, there’s no legal way for many, many intending immigrants to come into the United States.”
Gilman said immigrants are accepted by customs and border control mainly if they have family in the U.S., are asked by an employer to work in the states or are seeking asylum.
“It’s not so much about the physical border as it is about what the laws are that don’t acknowledge the many categories of people who would like to come and contribute to the United States,” Gilman said. “Immigrants who need to get to the United States will do so over, under (or) around any border wall.”
Anthropology senior Juan Belman is an undocumented student whose family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. Belman said his father had previously lived in the states, so his family joined him. Belman, who grew up in Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas in central Mexico, said his family did not go through the legal process others do.
“People cross this border for a better opportunity, and many times, people don’t make it,” Belman said. “The people who are coming over are people who are trying to get a better life for themselves or their family.”
Elissa Steglich, an
Immigration Clinic faculty member who represents Central American refugees, said three North Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have refugees reaching the border which a wall would block out.
“The circumstances of violence that is largely gang-motivated but also domestic violence … is acute in those countries,” Steglich said.
According to the American Immigration Council, Honduras’ murder rate peaked in 2013 with 91.6 murders per 100,000 people, although it decreased to 66 murders in 2014, according to the Council’s website.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2009 there were 12.2 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the U.S., while in 2014 it decreased to 5.8 million. Since 2009, unauthorized immigrants from Central America and elsewhere living in the U.S. increased by 325,000.
“I know a lot of people from Central America at the clinics, mostly who are running away from violence,” Belman said. “We haven’t seen any terrorists cross
According to The Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security reported 137,616 families and children fleeing from the three North Triangle countries were apprehended at the border in the past year.
“We have forgotten that the folks crossing the border now are refugees, are people who have undergone extensive trauma (and) violence themselves and should be welcomed … rather than detention and pledged to swift deportation,” Steglich said.