Letter Urges U.S. Vice President Pence and Mexican President-Elect López Obrador to Protect Asylum Seekers

In a letter, 19 former senior U.S. officials involved in national security, refugees and asylum, and Western hemispheric affairs urged the governments of Mexico and the United States to emphasize that the issue of migration from Central America is primarily a humanitarian issue. The letter, addressed to Mexican President-Elect López Obrador and U.S. Vice President Pence, comes a day before the two leaders are set to meet on migration issues on the sidelines of Obrador’s presidential inauguration on December 1.

Dear President-Elect López Obrador and Vice President Pence:

First, allow us to offer to incoming President López Obrador warm congratulations on the inauguration that will take place on December 1. 

We understand that you will meet together on that date to discuss migration concerns. As former U.S. officials who have been involved in issues relating to national security, refugees and asylum, and Western Hemispheric affairs, we welcome such discussions. We believe that cooperation between the United States and Mexico on these matters is critically important to advancing solutions that meet humanitarian and refugee protection imperatives while also responsibly addressing border management concerns.

We hope that during your discussions, you jointly commit to several key principles, and publicly articulate those commitments.

First, we urge that you emphasize that the issue of migration from Central America is primarily a humanitarian challenge.

The countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America have among the highest homicide rates in the world, and all evidence indicates that migration from the region is fueled largely by well-founded fears of persecution, human rights abuses, and criminal violence. Rhetoric that has vilified the asylum-seeker population risks leading to policy measures that will be misdirected, will fail to address this humanitarian challenge, and will have devastating impacts on the lives of vulnerable women, men, and children.

Second, we urge that you jointly reaffirm the right of individuals to seek asylum in both the United States and in Mexico, and that you rule out any agreement that would endorse U.S. measures to restrict access to asylum in the United States and would make the government of Mexico complicit in abuses of human rights.

We are deeply troubled by the U.S. administration’s measures to restrict access to asylum for those seeking to enter the United States, whether between or at U.S. ports of entry. In addition to conflicting with U.S. obligations under the Refugee Convention and Protocol, U.S. actions have unreasonably compounded the challenges for the government of Mexico, which is already hosting thousands of Central Americans seeking refuge.

We are also very alarmed by reports that the United States will press Mexico to accept an arrangement that would force those seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico pending determination of their claims. This measure, which we believe conflicts with U.S. law on asylum, would impose additional and unreasonable burdens and risks to both asylum seekers and to the government of Mexico.

Third, we strongly support efforts of both the government of the United States and the government of Mexico to develop additional capacity to manage migration challenges both humanely and effectively.

Immigration enforcement and border security are essential policy objectives. But they should not—and they cannot—be achieved without additional measures to build capacity to responsibly and humanely consider claims of those who are fleeing persecution and violence in Central America.

We strongly support efforts by the government of Mexico, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the United States to provide additional protection and asylum related resources within Mexico, including to the Mexican Commission for Assistance to Refugees (COMAR) and to Mexican non-governmental organizations providing assistance to Central Americans seeking temporary protection or asylum in Mexico.

We also support measures by the United States to responsibly manage asylum processing challenges, including by strengthening Customs and Border Protection processing capacity at ports of entry, increasing the number of immigration judges who can hear cases, implementing alternatives to detention that have been proven to be effective, and moving forward on a range of measures to reduce the backlog of asylum cases, including by permitting asylum officers (instead of immigration judges) to initially consider credible asylum claims that have a high likelihood of being approved. These and other measures, which could be implemented at relatively modest costs, would have substantial and positive impacts.

In conclusion, we believe these migration policy challenges are most amenable to solutions that achieve migration management objectives while also vindicating critical principles of humanitarianism and refugee protection.

We hope your meeting will promote those outcomes.

Sincerely,

J. Brian Atwood
Former Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

Robert Mason Beecroft
Former Head, OSCE Peacekeeping Mission, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Rand Beers
Former Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security

Antony Blinken
Former Deputy Secretary of State

William J. Burns
Former Deputy Secretary of State

Bo Cooper
Former General Counsel, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Ambassador and Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs, U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Arthur “Gene” Dewey
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Harold Hongju Koh
Former Legal Adviser, Department of State
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Jeremy Konyndyk
Former Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), U.S. Agency for International Development 

David Kramer
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Mark P. Lagon
Former Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons

Frank Loy
Former Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs

Phyllis Oakley
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research

Thomas R. Pickering
Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Former Ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, the United Nations, India and Russia

Anne C. Richard
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

David M. Robinson
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stability Operations

Myrta (Chris) Sale
Former Acting Commissioner, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) Former Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)

Eric Schwartz
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Former National Security Council Senior Director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs

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