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  • Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals

At the Border Part 1: Migrants and Legalities


I’m on the second leg of my journey west—a five-hour flight from Charlotte, NC to San Diego. I’m not one that is able to sleep well on plane flights, and so since I’ve got nowhere else to go at the moment, I thought I would jot down some initial thoughts.

My official training is not until Friday, but in my time sitting around airports today I looked at some of the online training materials. One piece of information in particular caught my attention in one of the training videos.

“What does a person HAVE to do in order to claim asylum,” asked the trainer at the front of a classroom. “What is the one thing they absolutely must do before they can make their claim?”

A voice from the back of the room called out, “cross the border.”

“And what happens when they cross the border as a part of this legal process?”

Another voice says, “they are arrested and detained.”

In this moment the absurdity and the inhumanity of the system is fully revealed. According to both international and domestic law, before a person can make any claim to asylum, they must first cross the border into the country in which they wish to make their claim. It is completely legal, and completely necessary, for a migrant to cross the US border before they can claim asylum. There is NOTHING illegal about that action. And yet, the moment they do this, they are treated as criminals. They are put in handcuffs. They are often put in iceboxes or cages while waiting for a spot in a detention facility. They are referred to as illegal immigrants, but they are not. They are migrants doing everything in accordance with the law. The system is revealed to be cruel and unjust. The rhetoric of illegal people is revealed to be a lie.

So let’s just focus on that lie for a moment. It is not possible for a human being to be illegal. A person can commit an action that is illegal, but even then, it’s the action that’s illegal, not the person themselves. There is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. There are only immigrants who have done illegal things. And let’s be 100% clear—crossing the border at a legal port of entry in order to claim asylum is not an illegal thing. These are migrants, they are humans, and they are perfectly legal. Migration, by the way, is a human right. Where would any of us be if our ancestors had not migrated at one time or another to seek security, opportunity, and a better life? Back then, there wasn’t the beaurocratic maze around immigration that there is today. People got on a boat, recorded their names at Ellis Island, and that was it. Then they were immigrants. 100% legal. But then laws changed. It became harder to migrate freely. It became criminalized to seek a better, safer life. What if it had been our ancestors that were turned away at the border? We might not be alive today to tell the tale.

Which brings me to the so-called national security crisis at the border—the migrant caravan. A crisis that supposedly provides a compelling case for why we need a border wall. I will be very direct and clear here. This national security crisis is a complete and utter fantasy, and here’s why. The migrant caravan waiting at the border are waiting at legal ports of entryso they can claim asylum. They are not trying to cross illegally. They are not trying to sneak across in the dark of night. They are not being smuggled across by the cartel. They are being given numbers and they are waiting patiently for their turn. And by the way, in these places where migrants are waiting to cross, there are already border walls or fences in place. The only reason why there are so many migrants living in shelters and camping out on masse is because Customs and Border Patrol are only allowing a certain number of people to cross each day. This is not normal. This is unprecedented. If there is a crisis at our border, it is that thousands of migrants are living in squalor, in conditions not appropriate for human habitation, all because the current administration does not want to open our country to these fellow human beings.

The crisis could be solved in five minutes. Go back to processing asylum claims as we have done in the past. Give people their court dates, and assign more judges and social workers to expedite the claims. The backlog at the border would quickly diminish. The caravan would slowly but surely dissipate. And it would all be done 100% legally and with compassion and respect for the dignity of our friends at the border. This is all totally possible. It just takes one man in a position of power to make the call. Make the call, Mr. President. Make the call. Make my trip to the border completely moot. Please, for everyone’s sake, make the call.


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