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May 30, 2019

Administration Plans Latest Draconian Change to Asylum

New York City—In response to reports that the Trump Administration is seeking to bar refugees from asylum if they pass through any third country, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer issued the following statement:

Asylum saves lives. And though this administration has spent the past two years trying to systematically gut U.S. asylum law, this latest proposal is an attempt to put the nail in the coffin of refugee protection at our southern border. Should this go into effect, the men, women, and children fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries would be sent back to death or danger. This is not who we are as a country. 

This extremist proposal confirms what we already know: that the White House’s aim is to keep Central American refugees out of the country, not to uphold U.S. law and humanitarian commitments. This is not leadership. This is just more of the politics of cruelty. 

Not only would this reported proposal be illegal, but it would endanger refugees’ lives. Often refugees face life-threatening dangers in transit countries as well as serious risks that the transit country will return them to their country of persecution. Many Central American refugees for instance have been kidnapped, killed, and attacked in Mexico.  In addition, transit countries often do not provide lasting or effective protection to refugees. The proposal will only compound the confusion and chaos that this administration is sowing at the border and in the region.    

Immigration law is clear that a refugee must have been “firmly resettled” in another country—not simply transited through another country—in order to be barred from asylum.  There is simply no way that this administration can issue a regulation that can legally turn “firmly resettled” into “transited through.”

Instead of more attempts to block and punish people seeking refuge, the United States needs real solutions that restore order and uphold America’s refugee laws and treaty commitments, including:  

  1. Tackle the root causes pushing people to flee the Northern Triangle countries through a targeted strategy that leverages both diplomacy and aid, focusing on effective programs that reduce violence, combat corruption, strengthen rule of law, protect vulnerable populations and promote sustainable economic development.
  2. Launch a major initiative to enhance the capacity of Mexico and other countries—which are already hosting growing numbers of refugees—to provide asylum, host, protect and integrate refugees, along with a robust regional resettlement initiative that provides orderly routes to the United States and other countries while safeguarding asylum.
  3. Immediately end the dysfunction at the border, and instead launch a public-private humanitarian initiative and a long overdue case management system to actually manage asylum cases. 
  4. Fix the asylum and immigration court adjudication systems to provide fair, non-politicized and timely decisions.  

For more information see Human Rights First’s blueprint: The Real Solution: Regional Response Rather than Border Closures, Mass Incarceration, and Refugee Returns. To speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.