In just three years, the Trump administration has effectively ended asylum in the U.S. as we know it.
People with legitimate fears of violence and persecution are being returned to danger. We are failing to protect children from being trafficked, mistreated, or separated from their families. As the Arizona Republic has reported, the U.S. will begin charging a fee just to apply for asylum. Just last month, the administration published yet another set of proposed restrictions that would establish a 15-day filing deadline for asylum cases and prevent asylum seekers from providing certain forms of evidence to support their own claims, all but eliminating asylum seekers’ ability to access timely legal representation or make an informed case before a judge.
The relentless attacks on our asylum system undermine more than America’s core values. They also undercut our national interest.
In trying to restrict asylum even further, two recent proposals would label people who seek protection as “national security threats.” Not only is that the wrong label for people fleeing violence and persecution, but robust asylum protection policies are actually in line with U.S. strategic interests.
At its best, the U.S. asylum system strengthens national security and maintains geopolitical stability. It allows us to lead by example, championing democracy and human rights and signaling to oppressive regimes that we will not tolerate their actions.
Don’t get me wrong: The dynamics of American immigration policies on the southern border are complicated — especially during an unprecedented pandemic that has restricted international movement like never before. But while we should expect rigorous debate about how to create an immigration process that works for all Americans, our security and our values should not be up for debate.
Condemning people to return to places where they fear violence and persecution makes us complicit in the lawlessness and instability that results. No matter what political party is in power, we have a fundamental responsibility to encourage stability instead.
Administrations of both parties have worked for decades to fulfill this responsibility. It has made us a beacon of hope for those fleeing oppressive regimes in every corner of the world, a leader in the world.
The new restrictions have been so frequent and sweeping that it has been difficult for policy experts to keep up, let alone most Americans. But make no mistake: Their impact is nothing short of seismic.
Under Trump, asylum seekers are forced back to Mexico to wait for months, if not years, while their claims are processed — leading to over 1,100 reported deaths, rapes, assaults and kidnappings of those kept in Mexico under the policy. For those who do make it to the U.S. to apply for protection, the administration is stripping due process, limiting access to legal counsel, and fast-tracking deportations.
We are rapidly expelling people back into regions they just fled, and the U.S. is pressuring weaker governments, with fewer protections and resources, to accept them. In an unprecedented agreement to send Honduran and El Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala, just 20 of 939 expelled asylum seekers have been able to apply for protection, and zero of the 939 have received protective status a year into their asylum program.
Now, after years of these and other restrictions, the COVID-19 pandemic has offered the Trump administration its final pretext to shut the asylum system down altogether. Since March, our border has been completely shut to all asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children. Refugees are being sent back to danger under the rule — even after they have tested negative for COVID-19.
All the while, a disturbing disregard for the lives of children has been the salt on the wound. The Trump administration continues holding record numbers of children in federal custody, some for months beyond the legally designated 20 days. They have reportedly lost count of the number of children separated from their parents, and are hiding the whereabouts of migrant children from legal representatives and family members.
Where we once listened to people who feared violence and welcomed those whose claims had merit, we are about to join Iran among the few countries in the world to put a price on even seeking humanitarian protection. That is truly a grim reality.
We should demand that our government stop ducking global compacts on migration and instead reinforce our security and leadership. One step is to restore humanity to our own borders.
The collective and intentional effort to shut our doors to the world does not make us the nation of both laws and grace to which we should aspire. It doesn’t even make us safer.