WASHINGTON, August 8, 2018—Upon return from a field mission to the border between the United States and Mexico, Refugees International (RI) President Eric Schwartz decried human rights abuses against highly vulnerable asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle of Central America.
Schwartz, a former White House official and former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, said:
“The Trump administration is waging war on vulnerable women, men, and children seeking asylum in the United States. The Refugees International mission to the border confirmed that current policies are choking off access to refuge in violation of long-held U.S. commitments to protection of those fleeing their home countries in fear for their lives. And though the grotesque practice of family separation has been suspended, the trauma resulting from this foreseeable human rights abuse is ongoing for many hundreds of families, including many families who remain separated.
Ideally, and as an act of basic decency to families so brutally torn apart, the President should direct that family members victimized by the separation policy may remain in the United States – or re-enter the United States and remain if they have already departed – and Congress should provide a permanent legislative remedy for this population. Whether or not such reasonable action is forthcoming, all individuals victimized by this policy must have a fair chance to make asylum and other claims within the United States and be accorded full due process rights.”
Refugees International visited several border communities between July 24 and August 2, 2018, including:
- Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico
- San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico
- McAllen and Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico
Refugees International is deeply concerned that the President’s rhetoric and demonization of asylum seekers has grossly mischaracterized the asylum seeker population, and that the administration’s policies have created enormous and needless suffering.
Asylum seekers have suffered widespread trauma and violations of human rights: Refugees International interviewed asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Most had fled their homes in the Northern Triangle region after experiencing or being threatened with horrific violence at the hands of gangs and other criminal elements. Mothers and girls alike have escaped to avoid being subjected to sexual abuse and violence at the hands of gang members. Other individuals with whom RI met also reported having been shot, as evidenced by visible wounds they bore. Some of these individuals were in states of understandable despair and even panic at the prospect of being returned to their home countries where they faced a very real risk of death.
Blocking access to asylum at U.S. ports of entry: In previous reporting, RI has expressed concerns that U.S. officials at the border have on many occasions told asylum seekers they cannot apply for asylum. In addition, RI is alarmed that asylum seekers at a number of ports of entry are now being turned away and being told they must return at other times – presumably when there is additional processing capacity. RI witnessed this restriction of access to asylum during its visit to border; this has created additional risks to families who have been forced to wait and remain vulnerable to extreme heat and acts of criminality and violence. The Trump administration’s policy is in conflict with U.S. legal obligations and appears motivated by the desire to deter asylum seekers. RI strongly urges the Trump administration to immediately end this policy of restricting access to ports of entry.
Forcing vulnerable asylum seekers to pursue more treacherous border crossings: RI fears that the Trump administration’s policy to deter asylum requests at ports of entry is driving asylum seekers to seek asylum through unauthorized border crossing, imposing grave risks – including at the hands of criminal elements involved in alien smuggling. This is both tragic and ironic given the administration’s stated commitment to combat such smuggling.
Criminal prosecution of asylum seekers and detention of credible claimants: RI is deeply concerned by the administration’s determination to impose criminal penalties on asylum seekers who enter the country without authorization, as this conflicts with a U.S. commitment (under the Refugee Convention and Protocol) not to impose penalties on refugees provided they present themselves to authorities and show good cause for such entry. RI is also troubled by the detention of credible asylum claimants in conflict with an ICE policy directive on this issue. The Trump administration should immediately end criminal prosecutions of asylum seekers and restore policy relating to parole for credible claimants.
Risks to asylum seekers in Mexico: During its mission, RI received numerous credible testimonies of the serious risks faced by Central Americans transiting through Mexico, including abuse by criminal elements and deportation by Mexican authorities. Under those circumstances, and because Mexico is already dealing with a very large asylum seeker population, RI strongly opposes U.S. efforts to reach agreement with Mexico on the deportation of Central American asylum seekers to Mexico.
Severe harm caused by the absence of planning: The Trump administration’s implementation of the family separation policy represents a clear example of severe and unnecessary harm exacerbated by the absence of planning. The failure to establish even the most basic family tracking mechanism inflicted additional suffering, which is why RI is calling for measures to provide relief to families who have been torn apart. But whether it is implementation of new policy guidance on considering persecution based on claims related to domestic abuse or gang violence, eliminating immigration enforcement priorities, establishing new systems for the processing of asylum claims, development of designs for the planned southwest border wall, or any number of new policies and procedures impacting protection issues, the Trump administration’s chaotic process of implementation has had serious and unnecessary negative consequences on asylum applicants.
For this reason, RI urges that Members of Congress direct the General Accounting Office to review Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security implementation of policy guidance during the first part of the Trump administration, with a view toward identifying ways to end needless suffering of asylum seekers. RI also believes that the Inspector General of DHS and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice should each independently conduct similar reviews.
A full report on RI’s findings is forthcoming. www.refugeesinternational.org