Sen. Bernie Sanders, the son of a Polish immigrant, went on CNN’s New Day today to discuss a variety of issues, including climate change and the border. He was asked a dumb question about asylum seekers, and disappointingly, took the bait.
“As we look at what’s happening over the border in Tijuana,” host John Berman asked, “with five to nine thousand migrants there waiting and seeking asylum—do you think they all have a credible claim for asylum?”
Sanders’ response (emphasis mine):
No, I don’t. I think you have to look at it case by case.
But I think what is most important is this country finally is going to have to deal with comprehensive immigration reform. You’ve got close to 2 million young people in this country who were raised in this country who know America as their only home, who were in the DACA program, are scared to death of being deported. Nobody thinks that makes sense.
So the time is long overdue, and I hope that with Democrats now in control over the House, we’re going to be moving forward to serious comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship. What we do not want to do is demonize desperate men, women and children while leaving the horror of Central America who are looking for asylum.
At first glance, what Sanders is saying might seem reasonably cautious. And to his credit, he characteristically pivoted away from this question immediately after and toward the more outrage-inducing problem of Trump ending the DACA program, which has resulted in thousands of young people who never knew any home but the United States having their protections from deportations potentially revoked.
But asylum seekers are human beings too, and someone has to stand up for them. And the problem, contrary to Berman’s question, is not that a bunch of people are making false claims for asylum, but rather that the Trump administration has unilaterally and systemically restricted the asylum process so that fleeing gang and domestic violence don’t count as reasons to qualify, and so that the ways in which people can request asylum are narrow to the point of absurdity. This, to be clear, is all illegal as shit.
More broadly, Trump has continued to lower the refugee cap to less than a third of what it was when he took office. But it doesn’t really matter anyway, because the government is on track to admit thousands fewer than even that this year. Sensing a theme here?
And even if you, an asylum seeker, do everything exactly right and scratch every bureaucratic itch there is to be scratched, you’re usually fucked either way. As one migrant who sought asylum at a port of entry told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last month (through a written declaration):
“I told [the CBP official] that I wasn’t from here, that I was from Honduras, and that I wanted asylum. He told me that there was no longer asylum for Hondurans. . . . I pled with him for help and told him that I couldn’t return to Honduras. I started to explain why I couldn’t return and what I was fleeing from but he interrupted me and said that everyone comes with the same story, that he couldn’t help me . . .”
Is Bernie Sanders the cause of these problems? Of course not. But Sanders—who has never been as sharp on immigration as he has been on, say, healthcare or inequality—wants to be the standard bearer of the left in American politics. And right now, there are few crises more immediate than the absolute hell the Trump administration is putting these people through at the border. The very least Sanders could do is to clearly reject the premise that there might be a valid reason for that.