Under President Donald Trump the US has imposed harsher immigration restrictions.
As United States President Donald Trump’s administration escalates its crackdown on immigration, humanitarian activists are taking increased risks to help the migrants and refugees that cross the country’s southern border.
Since coming to office in January 2017, after centering his presidential campaign on promises to crack down on immigration, Trump has introduced a slew of policies targeting immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, the US president has moved forward with plans to build and expand a wall on the US-Mexico border.
In early September, the Pentagon tapped $3.6 billion in funding previously delegated to military construction projects to instead use toward erecting the border wall, a move condemned by Trump’s critics, including Democrats and immigrant rights advocates.
Shura Wallin, a 78-year-old Arizona-based humanitarian activist, says the Trump administration’s ongoing escalation of anti-immigrant policies have pushed more people to join humanitarian aid groups providing help to immigrants and refugees making the dangerous journey.
Each month, the Green Valley – Sahuarita Samaritans, the humanitarian aid group she cofounded in 2005, takes on new volunteers and fields more phone calls from people interested in volunteering, Wallin told TRT World.
Wallin, who has volunteered as a humanitarian for two decades, travels to Nogales, Mexico, several times a week to volunteer in a shelter for people hoping to cross the border or recently deported from the US back to Mexico.
“What is happening is so incredibly unfair,” she said, explaining that she regularly offers people espousing anti-immigrant views to come see the humanitarian crisis on the border for themselves.
“I can’t see stepping on the brakes with this. It’s a horrendous tragedy.”
Immigration reforms blocked
Even as Trump ratchets up his rhetoric against immigration ahead of the 2020 presidential vote, his administration has suffered a spate of setbacks in recent weeks.
Last week, a district court judge blocked the government from allowing immigration officers to deport individuals without affording them the chance to appear before judges, the Los Angeles Time reported.
That move came shortly after a federal judge prevented Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from utilising reportedly flawed databases to target individuals believed to be in the country without legal permission, and another federal judge’s decision to prevent plans to slash protections for young immigrants and indefinite detention for families.
“Once again, a single district judge has suspended application of Federal law nationwide — removing whole classes of illegal aliens from legal accountability,” the White House said in a statement responding to the developments.
“For two and a half years, the Trump Administration has been trying to restore enforcement of the immigration laws passed by Congress. And for two and a half years, misguided lower court decisions have been preventing those laws from ever being enforced – at immense cost to the whole country.”
In August, the number of people arrested for crossing the border irregularly dropped for a third consecutive month.
That month some 51,000 people were apprehended after crossing the border, a number that marked a “50-percent reduction” when compared to May, [Homeland%20Security%20acting%20Secretary%20Kevin%20McAleenan]according to Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
The Trump administration recently announced its intention to reduce the number of refugees permitted into the US from 30,000 to 18,000, an all-time low.
Democratic presidential hopefuls, rights groups and other Trump critics have blasted the president’s clampdown on both legal and irregular immigration.
Some Democrats, such as presidential hopeful Julian Castro, support decriminalising undocumented border crossing, while frontrunner and former vice president Joe Biden does not back a proposal to get rid of Section 1325, the part of immigration law that deals with unauthorised entry.
“Our Latino community has been on the receiving end of President Donald Trump’s vicious and racist rhetoric since day one,” Antonio Arellano, interim executive director of Jolt Action, a Texas Latino voter organisation, said in a statement provided to TRT World.
“Latinos in Texas have been sounding the alarm – he is unfit to serve, lacks the moral compass required to be president, and is intellectually incapable of overseeing our nation's foreign affairs.”
Since 2018, however, Trump’s administration has enforced a “zero tolerance” directive.
Against that backdrop, humanitarians say their work takes on an increasingly significant role, as migrants and refugees making the treacherous journey face increasingly difficult conditions.
But humanitarians are also finding themselves on the receiving end of an apparent government crackdown.
Scott Warren, a 37-year-old humanitarian with No More Deaths, a group that puts out water and food for migrants in some of the most dangerous parts of the desert, is currently on trial for charges related to the group’s aid work.
When Warren, who was arrested in January 2018, first went to court in June, it ended in a mistrial. Federal prosecutors have not relented, however, and Warren will stand retrial in November for two counts of harbouring undocumented immigrants, charges that could land him behind bars.
In a statement delivered to reporters in June, Warren said: “Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees.”
While many view the crackdown on humanitarians as an effort to create a chilling effect for those who work with undocumented immigrants, Wallin believes it has failed to deter people from joining.
“The number of phone calls I get from people around the country who want to come down here, want to learn about it, want to do some work, is really uplifting,” she said.