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Booker Blasts Admin’s Metering Policy Amid Increasing Number of Fatal Tragedies at U.S.-Mexico Border

Letter to DHS follows Booker’s questioning of Acting Secretary about metering earlier this year

June 28, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today blasted the Trump Administration’s immigration policy that limits the number of people allowed to apply for asylum, known as metering, in light of recent fatalities near the Southern Border. 

 

“This administration has used its power to create a humanitarian crisis while stripping migrants of their basic dignity,” Booker wrote, in a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan. “Seeking asylum in this country is a legal right, not a tool to be weaponized to advance a racist immigration agenda. These egregious and inhumane policies have eroded America’s moral leadership and endangered asylum seekers who are in desperate need of refuge.”

 

The metering policy has forced migrants seeking asylum at legal ports of entry to make more dangerous border crossings elsewhere, similar to the attempt that resulted in the tragic death of Óscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie.

 

The policy has also increased wait times for asylum seekers, forcing them to wait weeks or months in dangerous areas, where their lives and safety are at risk.

 

Today’s letter follows concerns Booker raised about the perilous consequences of the metering policy with Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March.

 

Booker visited the Southern Border and saw firsthand how the Trump Administration’s immigration policies have impacted asylum seekers and exacerbated the crisis at the border.

 

The full letter is available here and below:

 

 

June 28, 2019

 

 

The Honorable Kevin K. McAleenan

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:

 

I write today concerning the tragic and preventable deaths of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and the illogical and cruel Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies that have led to them.  This administration has used its power to create a humanitarian crisis while stripping migrants of their basic dignity. Seeking asylum in this country is a legal right, not a tool to be weaponized to advance a racist immigration agenda. These egregious and inhumane policies have eroded America’s moral leadership and endangered asylum seekers who are in desperate need of refuge.

 

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 6, 2019, we spoke about unnecessarily longer wait times at legal ports of entry caused by the Trump Administration’s reckless and misguided metering policy, which encourage migrants to cross the border illegally.  When I visited the border I heard firsthand accounts from individuals who were forced to remain in Mexico—in areas I was told were too dangerous for me—and decide if they should wait potentially months in that precarious area, or cross the border in remote areas and face an uncertain outcome. A journey that you agreed was dangerous.

 

Any person that arrives to the United States has the legal right to claim asylum protection in our country. As we have seen many of those trying to flee violence and poverty have made their way to the Southern border and have attempted to enter through legal ports of entry. In order to enter a legal port of entry, migrants, majority of whom are family units, are made to wait weeks, sometimes months in Mexico. A report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) saw evidence that the metering policy led to migrants “who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.” 

 

During the hearing, you stated that increasing legal access for migrants is a priority for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Yet when nearly 2,000 migrants arrived on the other side of the border of Eagle Pass, Texas and after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) increased personnel capacity, only 20 migrants per day were processed.  CBP agents, along with U.S. military personnel and Texas State Troopers secured the port of entry which lead families trying to apply for asylum in the United States to attempt to cross the Rio Grande. In May, a raft carrying nine migrants overturned in this area—four people drowned as a result, including one ten-month old child. 

 

On June 23, 2019, Óscar Alberto Martínez, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, and their 23-month-old child, Angie Valeria Martínez, after having spent two months awaiting an appointment to discuss their asylum claim and trying to enter through a legal port of entry, attempted to cross the border and claim asylum.  Tragically, both Óscar and his daughter Valeria died while crossing the Rio Grande.  That same day, two babies, a child, and a twenty-year-old woman were found dead in the Rio Grande Valley from heat exhaustion.  Earlier this month a six-year-old was found dead in Arizona.  These deaths will continue and will only be exacerbated by this administration’s ill-conceived policy decisions, which drive individuals to choose to cross the border illegally instead of at a legal port of entry. 

 

According to the CBP, at least 283 migrants died on the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018.  On a 209-mile stretch of the Rio Grande, Border Patrol agents rescued 315 migrants since October 2018—an increase from 12 rescues the year before.  The evidence supports that the increase in illegal border crossings is connected to metering and the lack of resources provided to process migrants presenting at legal ports of entry. CBP should use their resources to increase their processing capacity, instead of continuing to subject migrants seeking a legal designation of asylum to a policy that is cruel and inefficient. Alternatives to detention, such as community supervision, which has been shown to be cost-efficient and effective should also be considered. 

 

The growing wait times for people who have reached the border, asylum seekers in particular, are well documented. Therefore, I ask that you provide my office with answers to the following questions:

 

  1. DHS has been aware of this issue for over two years, yet has failed to put forth a solution to address wait times, processing capacity, and the inhumane treatment of those apprehended by CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What specific steps will DHS take to address these issues?
  2. What is the processing capacity at legal ports of entry? Have the number of processing agents been increased? Please provide the number of agents assigned to processing asylum claims at each port of entry.
  3. Does DHS agree with the OIG finding that migrants who are forced to wait in Mexico due to the metering policy may be more likely to cross the border illegally? 

 

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. I look forward to your response.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

                                                                                Cory A. Booker

                                                                                United States Senator

 

 

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