Closing Off Asylum at the U.S.-Mexico Border

The Trump administration is engaged in a sustained campaign against vulnerable women, men, and children seeking asylum in the United States. It is an effort waged through policies and actions designed to deter individuals from seeking protection, and to close off avenues for asylum that are well grounded in international and domestic law and established practice. Refugees International (RI) is deeply concerned that these policies have created needless suffering and that the administration’s demonization of asylum seekers has mischaracterized and disadvantaged the asylum-seeker population. 

The recent separation of families of asylum seekers, described in the pages below, was perhaps the most publicly visible of these unfortunate policies. But other measures have also caused asylum seekers significant harm. These include the blocking of access at U.S. ports of entry, the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers for unauthorized entry without regard to the credibility of their requests for protection, an unreasonable narrowing of grounds for asylum, and pressure in detention facilities for asylum seekers to self-deport. Refugees International believes that all of these actions are in conflict with important U.S. legal and policy commitments to protection of vulnerable persons fleeing persecution and violence and must come to an end. 

U.S.-Mexico Border Report - August 2018 - cover.jpg

The report that follows is based on a recent RI mission to border communities in the United States and Mexico between July 24 and August 2, 2018. The RI team was in several locations, including:

  • Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico

  • San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico

  • McAllen and Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico

During our mission, RI met with asylum seekers who fled their homes after being shot or threatened by gangs in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). Many had been sheltering for weeks or months on the Mexican side of the border, confronting serious risks in Mexico and U.S. government restrictions on access to asylum in the United States. On both sides of the border, RI also met with attorneys, humanitarian aid providers, and others from civil society working to provide protection to these vulnerable populations.

 

Recommendations

Drawing from RI’s mission to the border and the analysis that follows in this report, RI offers the following recommendations to the Trump administration, to the Inspectors General of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, to the U.S. Congress, and to the U.S. philanthropic community.
 

The Trump administration should:

  • Put an end to public comments that vilify asylum seekers and appear to reflect ignorance of and hostility to the asylum process, and make clear that those fleeing persecution have a right to seek asylum in the United States;

  • Strengthen procedures to identify and hold accountable officials who disregard the obligation to clearly communicate to asylum seekers at the border that they have a right to request asylum;

  • End the practice of turning away asylum seekers at ports of entry and instructing them to return at other times, and commit the resources necessary to process asylum seekers in an orderly and humane manner;

  • Suspend any effort to reach an agreement with Mexico on the deportation of Central Americans to Mexico, in light of the risks faced by Central Americans in Mexico and the fact that Mexico is already hosting an increased population of asylum seekers; 

  • Devote substantially greater political will and resources to uniting families torn apart through the family separation policy, and – as an act of basic decency – direct that family members victimized by the separation policy may remain in the United States or re-enter the United States if they have already departed (pending a permanent legislative remedy for this population that provides a pathway to application for permanent residence); 

  • Reject the replacement of a family separation policy with a family detention policy that will lead to needless suffering; pursue alternatives to detention that have proven successful in the past;

  • End criminal prosecutions of asylum seekers for unauthorized entry and implement existing policy guidance that anticipates parole (release pending determination of claims) for claimants who have established a credible fear of persecution or torture;

  • Investigate conditions in immigration detention centers – and hold accountable officials responsible for abuses – in light of consistent reports of ill-treatment that has compelled asylum applicants to consider self-deportation;

  • Reverse the Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B-, which unreasonably restricts access to asylum, and thus ensure that individuals who are fleeing domestic violence, gang violence, and other forms of private harm have a reasonable opportunity to obtain asylum in the United States.
     

The Inspectors General of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice should:

  • Conduct a thorough review of migration and asylum policies, guidance, and procedures adopted or abandoned during the first part of the Trump administration, to identify measures that have caused needless suffering of asylum seekers as outlined in this report, to establish accountability, and to identify means to avoid such suffering in the future. 
     

To Members of the U.S. Congress: 

  • Direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct a thorough review of migration and asylum policies, guidance, and procedures adopted or abandoned during the first part of the Trump administration, to identify measures that have caused needless suffering of asylum seekers as outlined in this report, to establish accountability, and to identify means to avoid such suffering in the future;

  • Hold hearings in the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary, on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations, and on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and Homeland Security, with administration officials and non-governmental experts, on the concerns outlined in this report – to focus on U.S. compliance with obligations under the Refugee Convention and Protocol, as well as to identify measures that have caused needless suffering of asylum seekers as outlined in this report, to establish accountability, and to identify means to avoid such suffering in the future;

  • Generously fund the Department of Justice Legal Orientation Program, which provides critical information and advice to those fleeing persecution and violence;

  • Provide a permanent legislative remedy that provides a pathway to application for permanent residence for families torn apart by the family separation policy.
     

To the Philanthropic Community in the United States:

  • Substantially augment financial support for non-governmental organizations on both sides of the border involved in provision of services, advice, education, and legal advocacy.