Immigrant Detention Demographics are Changing

October 21, 2020 | Texas

By Sara Albanna and Cheasty Anderson

In recent decades, immigrants from the ‘Northern Triangle’ countries (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) have constituted an outsized proportion of those seeking asylum at our southern border – so much so that other racial and ethnic groups who also sought asylum were overshadowed. But constant attacks by the Trump Administration on the immigration system, including policies that have all but stopped the flow of asylum seekers, especially from Mexico and the Northern Triangle, have made space for other voices to rise to the foreground. This shift is worth noting, as the new relationships being developed will strengthen the fight to end immigrant detention. 

The change happened quickly, and is a direct result of two policies in particular: the Migration Protection Protocol (MPP) and Title 42. MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” forces asylum seekers to wait indefinitely in border camps in Mexico during their asylum application processing. The conditions in these camps are dangerous and deplorable. Meanwhile, Title 42 is a public health order issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March 2020 that allows US Customs and Border Protections (CBP) agents to expel asylum seekers who are from or have been in a country with quarantinable diseases such as COVID-19. This policy was put in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, although CDC doctors have found that this policy has “no basis in public health.” These two policies, among many others, have greatly reduced the number of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle and essentially halted the asylum process at the US-Mexico border since March. As a result, immigrant advocacy organizations are seeing detention centers populated by an increasing number of asylum seekers from other countries including Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon.

This shift has made space for organizations who are involved in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to more fully address immigration justice issues. Because millions of people have joined BLM in demonstrations and protests across the US and the world, gaining their support is adding strength to the immigrants rights movement. Now, organizations, such as the Haitian Bridge Alliance and Cameroon American Council, are standing out in conversations and coalitions that aim to protect immigrants and reform the immigration system. 

This is a welcome development. Both asylum seekers and Black Americans are targeted by policing officials and exploited in for-profit prisons  through systems that are deeply rooted in racism. These shared experiences have pulled advocates together and created bridges among many types of organizations. The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, for example, has compiled many resources and conducted research on this growing trend. Their report, Crossing Boundaries, Connecting Communities: Alliance Building for Immigrants Rights and Racial Justice, outlines viewpoints about cross-racial/cross-ethnic alliances from employees in sixteen varied organizations across the US. The report summarizes, “the immigrants rights movement is part of a larger racial and economic justice movement.” We must fight this fight together.