A white woman on Zoom in room with ceiling fan. Onscreen text reads English border crisis 1/26/24 dot m p 4 and gives her name as Angela Kelley.

‘Migration Has Changed so Fundamentally,’ Immigration Expert Says

A white woman on Zoom in room with ceiling fan. Onscreen text reads English border crisis 1/26/24 dot m p 4 and gives her name as Angela Kelley.

Angela Kelley, who says she has worked in the immigration field for 30 years, spoke in a Jan. 26 Ethnic Media Services briefing about the many immigrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border. (Screenshot captured by Danielle Parenteau-Decker / The CC Pulse)

By Hamza Fahmy

The U.S. has seen unprecedented numbers of migrants crossing the American southern border, at times exceeding 10,000 people on a single day.

“Migration has changed so fundamentally in the 30 years I’ve been doing this work,” said Angela Kelley, chief advisor of policy and partnerships for the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council.

She spoke during a Jan. 26 Ethnic Media Services news briefing surrounding the increase in migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kelley pointed out that the number has risen significantly in just a few years. While the numbers are eye-popping, Lupita Martinez, regional policy manager for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said not to lose sight of what’s behind them.

“When we talk about immigration, we talk about numbers, but on the ground, they’re more than that,” Martinez said, referring to people. “We can’t talk about the numbers behind immigration as a policy issue without also talking about the violence and poverty behind it.”

>>>Read: After Escaping Abuse, Immigrant Victims Forced to Endure Long Waits With Little Hope

Kelley said that the rapid increase has shifted attitudes among border officials.

Earlier in “the Biden administration, if the Border Patrol on a given day had encountered 4,000 people, that would have been a five-alarm fire. That would have been, ‘Holy heck. What is going on? Those numbers are record-breaking,’ ” she said. “Today, 4,000 encounters by Border Patrol on a single day, you take the day off, and you go play golf.”

Much of this increase is because of smuggling tactics becoming more “ferocious and effective” than ever, says Kelley, as well as the increase in the amount of non-Mexican migrants at the southern border.

Kelley said that over the past several years, the number of non-Mexican migrants at the U.S. border has skyrocketed, particularly from four countries: Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

In hopes of reducing the number of immigrants, senators this month introduced a $118 billion plan for foreign aid and national security that would give the president access to a border shutdown “trigger.”

Once the average number of migrants that border officials encounter exceeds 5,000 in a week or 8,500 on a single day, the trigger would allow the president to cut off access to the border without Congress’ approval.

Despite a majority of the funds being allocated toward aid in the war in Ukraine, more than $20 billion of the $118 billion was earmarked for Border Patrol. Much of the budget would go toward hiring more border patrol staff, such as case-processing lawyers.

>>>Read: Biden’s ‘Aggressive’ Immigration Reform Reverses Many Trump Policies, But Not All

“We don’t have enough agents. We don’t have enough folks. We don’t have enough judges,” President Biden said Feb. 5, the New York Times reported. “Why won’t they give me the help?”

Lack of staff leads to many asylum cases that have been backlogged for more than seven years, making it harder to prove persecution once the opportunity arises.

Difficulty in proving persecution increases one’s risk of deportation. “Many of these people have already built a life, had a family, have done the things that all of us do,” says Kelley.

>>>Read: Barbed Wire & Glitchy Phone App Stand Between Asylum Seekers and U.S.

The legislation proposed in the Senate is just one example of what a key issue immigration is in this election year.

“Immigration is the GOP’s silver bullet,” said Vanessa Cardenas, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based immigrant rights nonprofit America’s Voice, during the briefing. “They’re not interested in solutions, but using it to anger and mobilize their base.”

Anti-immigrant politicians and candidates have called for a reduction in pathways to staying in the country legally, such as parole, a program granting migrants work authorization, as well as an end to birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents.

Legal professionals such as Kelley, on the other hand, say that measures such as parole reduce smuggling practices and illegal immigration as a whole.

The Senate legislation had support from both parties but failed in a test vote.

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