Guest commentary: Time to see the human side of asylum-seekers |

Guest commentary: Time to see the human side of asylum-seekers

Morgan Smith
Guest commentary
Two sisters from Oaxaca with their children as they await their initial asylum hearing in LaCasa del Migrante in Juarez, Mexico.
Morgan Smith / Courtesy photo

I’ve now had five opportunities to visit La Casa del Migrante in Juárez, Mexico. Originally founded by the Misioneros de San Carlos, known as Scalabrini priests named after their founder in Italy many years ago, it has always been a shelter for migrants and, since 2011, has been managed by the charismatic Padre Javier Calvillo.

In an emergency, I’m told that it could provide space for 1,000 migrants. That seems like a huge stretch. During my visits, there are usually between 400 and 500 migrants staying there and it is very crowded.

When migrants reach Juárez, they are exhausted, broke, lost and subject to being victimized by local criminals. Juárez is, after all, still considered to be one of the four most dangerous cities in the world.

They are steered to La Casa where there is food, safety, shelter and medical care. Then they are given a number that denotes their place in line for an initial asylum hearing with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). The fact that the CBP only holds about 20 interviews a day seems like a deliberate slow down. Many of these migrants have been lured to the U.S. by smugglers or “coyotes” who charge them thousands of dollars and promise that they will quickly find goods jobs and a better life in the U.S. That just doesn’t meet the strict definition of asylum so they could be screened out in minutes.

Historically, those who pass that first interview have been allowed to remain in the U.S. with relatives or sponsors, pending their final judicial hearing. Now, President Donald Trump is threatening to force them back to Mexico to wait for that hearing. This is a disastrous and inhumane idea that would immediately overwhelm places like La Casa and cause a humanitarian crisis beyond anything we have seen to date.

During my visits, I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of migrants. Whether they qualify for asylum here, they have all made lengthy and dangerous journeys from countries that are in chaos; the per capita murder rate in Honduras is 15 times higher than ours in the U.S. So, I admire and respect them and would hope that our government begins to treat them with human decency.

Immigration has been treated as a political issue for too long. It’s now time to look at the human side.

Former Aspenite Morgan Smith has been traveling to the border at least monthly for the last eight years in order to document conditions there and assist humanitarian organizations. He can be reached at