For decades, single young men, mainly from Mexico and later Central America, did their best to sneak past U.S. border agents to reach Los Angeles, Atlanta and other places hungry for their labor. Today, people from around the globe are streaming across the southern border, most of them just as eager to work. Rather than trying to elude U.S. authorities, the overwhelming majority of migrants seek out border agents, sometimes waiting hours or days in makeshift encampments, to surrender. Being hustled into a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle and taken to a processing facility is hardly a setback. In fact, it is a crucial step toward being able to apply for asylum — now the surest way for migrants to stay in the U.S., even if few will ultimately win their cases, reports the New York Times. We are living in an era of mass migration — fueled by conflict, climate change, poverty and political repression and encouraged by the proliferation of TikTok and YouTube videos chronicling migrants’ journeys to the U.S. Some six million Venezuelans have fled their troubled country, the largest population displacement in Latin America’s modern history. Migrants from Africa, Asia and South America are mortgaging their family land, selling their cars or borrowing money from loan sharks to embark on long, often treacherous journeys to reach the U.S.
In December alone, more than 300,000 people crossed the southern border, a record number. It is not just because they believe they will be able to make it across the 2,000 mile southern frontier. They are also certain that once they make it to the U.S., they will be able to stay. The U.S. is trying to run an immigration system with a small fraction of the judges, asylum officers, interpreters and other personnel that it needs to handle the hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the border and flocking to cities around the country each year. That dysfunction has made it impossible for the nation to decide expeditiously who can remain in the country and who should be sent back to their homeland. “I don’t know anyone who has been deported,” Carolina Ortiz, a migrant from Colombia, said at an encampment outside Jacumba Hot Springs, about 60 miles southeast of San Diego and a stone’s throw from the hulking rust-colored barrier that separates the U.S. from Mexico. For most migrants, the U.S. represents the land of opportunity. Many come seeking work, and they are going to do whatever it takes to work, even if that means filing a weak asylum claim, lawyers say. To qualify for asylum, applicants must convince a judge that returning to their home country would result in harm or death on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.