WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

10 Jan 2017 | Commentary

Cross-Border Migration is a Humanitarian Crisis, Not a National Security Crisis

The number of undocumented migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border is near its lowest level since the early 1970s.

The total number of arrivals did increase in Fiscal Year 2016, a trend that continued in the first two months of Fiscal Year 2017. However, this growth is due to an increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children and families, primarily from Central America. For the most part, these kids and families are not trying to evade capture: they are seeking out U.S. border security authorities and asking for protection.

As Homeland Security Secretary-Designate John Kelly knows from his over three years as commander of U.S. Southern Command, many, if not most, child and family migrants from Central America are fleeing violence and persecution. In the world’s most violent sub-region, a collapse of weak and corrupt public security and justice institutions and an increase in gang violence have left hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable and targeted. “In many ways [Central American parents] are trying to save their children” from this violence, Gen. Kelly said in 2015.


The recent rise in migration to the United States from its decades-old low is a humanitarian crisis, not a threat to U.S. national security. We should be focusing on due process guarantees and how to process protection claims more efficiently.

Is Border Fencing the Best Use of Funds?

According to a recent Customs and Border Protection estimate, it would cost over US$11 billion to build 413 more miles of “pedestrian fencing” along the U.S.-Mexico border, although other estimates put the cost much higher. Doing so would fence off 763 of the border’s 1,970 miles. It is unclear why US$11 billion would be better spent on a wall, at a time when undocumented migration is at an over 40-year low, instead of more urgent priorities like:

  • Improving personnel and infrastructure at U.S.-Mexico border crossings, where identified needs total US$5 billion and where the majority of illegal drugs enter the country.
  • Providing more assistance to help Central America address root causes of violence and insecurity. In 2015, Congress pared back to US$750 million a proposed US$1 billion aid package for 2016.
  • Hiring dozens more judges to consider child and migrant asylum claims, in order to clear the current years-long backlog of cases.