Amnesty International: The U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement and the Future of Asylum in the United States

September 1, 2020

In a landmark decision this summer, a Canadian Federal Court judge declared that the United States is not a safe country for people seeking asylum. In so declaring, the court determined that the “safe third country agreement” between the United States and Canada – which requires asylum-seekers to request refugee protection in the first country they arrive in, and which is premised on the notion that both countries are “safe” for asylum-seekers –  violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is inconsistent with the Refugee Convention. While the judgment will not take effect for six months, and the Canadian government recently appealed it, the decision is nevertheless a watershed moment for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States and Canada. 

While the decision focused specifically on cruel and harmful U.S. detention practices that penalize people for seeking safety, a host of recent policies have all but ended the right to seek asylum in the United States. In this virtual briefing, our panelists discussed the impact of the decision, its implications for the prolonged detention of asylum-seekers and for other attempts to externalize U.S. asylum obligations (including the “Remain in Mexico” program and the host of recent unlawful asylum agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), and addressed how the United States can restore its standing as a safe haven for asylum-seekers. The briefing also featured opening remarks from Congressman Joaquin Castro, who has championed the right to seek asylum and led multiple congressional inquiries related to asylum access and detention practices.  

Opening Remarks: 

Congressman Joaquin Castro, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations


Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada

Justin Mohammed, Amnesty International Canada

Kate Webster, Refugee Law Office 

Karen Musalo, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, U.C. Hastings Law School

Kennji Kizuka, Human Rights First

Yael Schacher, Refugees International


Charanya Krishnaswami, Amnesty International USA