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RESTORING ACCESS TO ASYLUM AT THE MEXICO/U.S. BORDER
Seeking asylum is a human right. But in recent years, people in search of safety at the Mexico/U.S. border, including families and children, have been punished for seeking protection. These include people fleeing levels of violence comparable to war zones in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and widespread political repression in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba – as well as a growing number of people forcibly displaced from extra-continental countries due to persecution and conflict.
Instead of offering refuge to people who need it, the United States has devised a series of policies to offshore them, criminalize them, and deny them protection. It has done this claiming it doesn’t have adequate resources to respond, all while spending billions of dollars on border militarization.
Since March 2020, asylum access at the Mexico/U.S. border has been virtually suspended. Using the pandemic as pretext, the United States has unlawfully expelled tens of thousands of people, including families and unaccompanied children, under an order nominally issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which empowers border agents to summarily push back to Mexico or rapidly return them to their countries of origin. The UN Refugee Agency has made clear that blanket measures restricting access to asylum cannot be justified – yet this order is exactly that; furthermore, the order does nothing to further the public health justifications on which it is purportedly based. The administration has also introduced a dizzying, unfounded series of new anti-asylum eligibility rules, including a ban on asylum for people who transit through any third country on their way to the United States; a new, wide-ranging rule that radically redefines every element of the refugee definition; and a blanket eligibility bar based on public health, which is rooted in xenophobia and discrimination rather than science.
Before it suspended asylum altogether, the United States has forced tens of thousands of people seeking safety at our border to wait in dangerous, precarious conditions in Mexico. Under “Remain in Mexico,” the United States has forcibly returned close to 60,000 people to Mexico while they undergo U.S. asylum proceedings, where they are left to the mercy of cartels and criminal elements, which regularly extort, kidnap, and assault them. In 2019, the United States strong-armed the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras into signing a series of unsafe third country agreements, which offload U.S. obligations to process asylum claims to third countries whose conditions are anything but safe for asylum-seekers.
In 2018, thousands of parents seeking asylum were criminally charged under a “zero tolerance” policy that led to the forcible separation and irreversible traumatization of families. Thousands more families were separated by US authorities both before and after that policy. Even humanitarian aid workers and lawyers working with asylum-seekers have been criminalized, targeted, surveilled, and harassed for their lifesaving work.
- Rescind disastrous and unlawful policies restricting access to asylum at the border, including the CDC order authorizing mass expulsions, the Remain in Mexico policy, unsafe third country agreements, and bans on asylum based on manner of entry or previous transit through other countries.
- Restore a fair, just, and welcoming asylum process at the border, including by ensuring that people seeking safety are not detained as default, deploying medical and child welfare experts, and ensuring that immigrants and asylum-seekers in proceedings are guaranteed access to counsel.
- Ensure redress for people who have faced harm or been denied asylum as a result of unlawful Trump-era asylum policies, including (1) an opportunity for asylum-seekers to testify to the harms they suffered as a result of policies like Remain in Mexico and various asylum bans and (2) the establishment of mechanisms to ensure they can have their claims fairly reheard.
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Advocacy Director, Americas