William C. Banks Speaks to TIME About the Southern Border Crisis

The Migrants Who Were on TIME’s Cover Will Attend the State of the Union

(TIME | Feb. 5, 2019) Lawmakers have long used their plus-one invitations to the annual State of the Union address to send political messages to the President, and this year is no different. Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren invited federal workers who saw their paychecks delayed as a result of the longest shutdown in government history. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asked a Navy Lieutenant Commander impacted by President Donald Trump’s transgender troop ban. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar will bring a mother whose son died as a result of not being able to afford insulin critical for treatment of his Type 1 diabetes, a tragedy the Minnesotan lawmaker blames on insurance regulations and skyrocketing prescription costs.

“The heads of our intelligence agencies released their Worldwide Threat Assessment last week and reviewed a significant set of risks and challenges confronting the national security. The southern border and migration were not on the list.”

But no issue is closer to Trump’s political persona — or his future political prospects — than security at the southern border and Sen. Jeff Merkley’s choice of guests, Albertina and Yaquelin Contreras, a mother and daughter who were separated for nearly six weeks by U.S. authorities in 2018, is a full-throated indictment of the President’s tactics on that front.

“I’m bringing Albertina and [Yaquelin] as my guests to the State of the Union because we need to bear witness to the suffering that this cruel policy inflicted, and resolve to make sure that nothing like this ever happens in the United States of America again,” the Oregon Democrat said in a press release that was sharply critical of the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy. Formally announced last April, the policy has resulted in thousands of migrant children, including toddlers, being forcibly separated, sometimes indefinitely, from their parents at the southern border …

… But government records indicate that those actually arriving at border posts and presenting themselves to Border Patrol agents overwhelmingly look like Albertina and Yaquelin. According to the U.S. government, a significant proportion of the migrants who have attempted to enter along the southern border in recent months are children and families fleeing violence, rape, and hunger in Central America. In Fiscal Year 2018, 159,590 migrants filed for asylum — a 274% increase over 2008’s figure. Meanwhile, however, officials at the border made nearly 70% fewer total border apprehensions in 2018 than they did in 2000.

“Most experts agree that there is no crisis at the southern border,” William Banks, an international security expert and law professor at Syracuse University, recently told me in an interview. “Indeed, the heads of our intelligence agencies released their Worldwide Threat Assessment [last] week and reviewed a significant set of risks and challenges confronting the national security. The southern border and migration were not on the list” …

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