Selvin Ortiz-Gonzales came to the United States to provide for his family. The 28-year-old field worker arrived in El Paso, Texas, last week with his eight-year-old son after a five-day bus trip from his home in northwestern Guatemala. He plans to send money home to his wife and two other children once he gets to Virginia, where his brother lives. He doesn’t plan to permanently settle in the United States, but to spend a few years working, sending money home, and eventually reunite with his family back in Central America.The day after President Trump’s rally in El Paso, Ortiz-Gonzales crossed the border, along with a group of 16 other adults and children, all from Central America. They had spent the night in a safe house in Juarez, and after paying $2,000 a head they were taken to a spot on the edge of the Rio Grande and told to walk across. (In downtown El Paso, the Rio Grande isn’t much more than a stream—easy to walk across, even for children.)
All but one of the adults in the group were men, and they all had more or less the same story: they have wives and other children back in Central America, they are coming here to work and send money home, they have networks of family and friends in the United States, and they intend to return to their homes at some point after they have made enough money. All of them are claiming asylum, but none of them, based on the accounts they gave, will likely qualify for it.
If you spend enough time on the southern border, where record numbers of migrant families from Central America are turning themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol—including 1,800 on the day of Trump’s rally—you begin to see this pattern emerge. Media outlets often repeat the now-familiar line that Central American families are fleeing poverty and violence, which is true (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are among the most violent countries in the world). But according to federal law, suffering poverty and violence doesn’t make you a refugee.
Generally speaking, to be considered a refugee you must be unable to remain in your home country because of political persecution “or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”