Tens of thousands of asylum seekers wait on the southern border, with more coming every day. Many come from Central America, but more and more are coming from Mexico. Some come from Cuba, Cameroon, China, and other countries around the world. They seek safety and a chance to build a new life in the United States. The Trump administration says no:
- No—a “metering” policy will not even allow these asylum seekers to approach the border and ask for asylum.
- No—those who wait for months for their number to be called under the metering system get a brief hearing and then are returned to Mexico to wait months to tell their stories to a judge.
- No—anyone who has passed through another country on their way from their home to the United States is refused asylum in the United States.
- No—to any asylum seekers inside the United States, who are denied bond and kept in immigration prisons for years while waiting for their cases to make their way through the crowded system.
To understand the impact of these negative policies, it’s important to first understand what U.S. law says about asylum. Under U.S. law, both refugees and asylum seekers have to show the same thing: “A well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin.
The person’s physical location determines whether they seek refugee or asylum status. Refugees apply from outside the United States, most often from a refugee camp. Asylum seekers apply at the U.S border, or from inside the United States. U.S. law states that even if someone enters the United States without permission, they can apply for asylum.
About 13,000 people were granted asylum in the United States in 2018. Asylum seekers come from all over the world. During the past year, the largest number have come from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The Texas Tribune tells one woman’s story:
“Six years after gangsters arrived at her house and took her brother away and killed him, Elizabeth, who as a young girl was teased for liking other girls, was running for her life from the same Honduran gang in April.
“We heard their footsteps and saw that they were armed, and they said, ‘This time we get the lesbian,’ she told an asylum officer, according to a transcript of her credible fear interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. (Elizabeth is being used as a pseudonym for the woman to protect her safety.)
“Elizabeth’s journey from her native Honduras led her and her mother through Guatemala and Mexico on their way to the U.S. In Mexico, they were confronted by members of a cartel, who Elizabeth said kidnapped and sexually assaulted her for days because she and her mother didn’t have any money or any relatives in the United States who could send them cash. After five days, she said, they were abandoned near a U.S. port of entry.
“Elizabeth is now detained in the U.S., but her previous journey through Mexico could spell more trouble for her because of the latest Trump administration policy targeting asylum protections for migrants who didn’t seek asylum in another country before arriving in the U.S.”
Official U.S. policy now says asylum seekers must first seek asylum in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Mexico. None of these countries has the capacity to process many asylum claims or safety for asylum seekers. In Mexico, where tens of thousands of asylum seekers are waiting, violence against immigrants remains high:
“…there have been more than 340 public media reports of rape, kidnapping torture and other violent attacks on asylum seekers in the Remain in Mexico program, according to the Human Rights First report.“
In recent weeks, more and more Mexicans have come to the border seeking asylum, fleeing violence and corruption in Mexico:
“Many of the migrant Mexican families say they are escaping corruption and flaring drug violence, which is intensifying by the day. In the state of Sinaloa, waves of cartel gunmen with automatic weapons attacked security forces and torched vehicles Thursday after the arrest of one of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s sons, sending panicked residents fleeing as the capital city of Culiacan descended into chaos. In a humiliating blow to the Mexican government, authorities were forced to release the drug lord’s son to stop the onslaught.”
No one is asking the United States to accept all of the millions of refugees and asylum seekers in the world. Most refugees remain in camps near their home countries. Neighboring countries, most of them poor, bear the burden of those refugee camps.
The United States, however, is the closest safe haven for people from Central America and Mexico.