HRI Op-ed: Re-making the land of the free

By J. Ashley Gagné

The Trump Administration’s policy of family separation has drawn intense and widespread criticism. Unconscionably, it represents just one strand of a broader agenda to systemically undermine protections for asylum seekers. This effort violates both national and international human-rights law, which prevent immigrants from being returned to countries where they risk being tortured, raped, or killed.

Lawyers at the border report that 85% to 90% of arriving migrants seek asylum, many on grounds of gang and domestic violence which are especially rampant in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Outside war zones, these countries are widely considered the most dangerous on earth.

Despite this reality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has distorted protections for people fleeing danger as fraudulent loopholes, thereby justifying his unilateral efforts to re-write asylum law. Exercising powerful authority over immigration courts, he recently overturned protections for survivors of domestic and gang violence. This measure significantly challenges one’s ability to qualify for asylum. Victims must now prove that their government is not only unwilling or unable to help them, but also condoned the crimes committed against them. This measure alone could curtail up to 70% of asylum jurisdiction, jeopardizing thousands of lives, especially women.

The Justice Department is also weighing measures to bar immigrants coming from non-designated entry points from claiming asylum. This would disregard the International Refugee Convention and the Immigration and Nationality Act which permit people to apply for asylum, wherever they cross national borders.

Further, in an effort to “streamline” dockets, Sessions is imposing quotas on immigration judges and eliminating their means to manage already staggering case back-logs. Such a measure would threaten due process rights and increase deportation orders.

The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy which criminalizes asylum has fostered a rise in prosecutions of those exercising their right to seek safety. STAT?This administration has increased the detention of asylum seekers. Typicazlly the detension takes place in  in remote areas without access to legal services, which greatly reduces their chances of gaining asylum. Detention costs are also significantly higher than more humane programs which the government has dissolved, as most detention facilities are operated by for profit private prison contractors.

This strategically created crisis has triggered the need for more detention centers. Subsequently, children and families are being detained on military bases for prolonged periods. Undocumented relatives who offer to care for minors then face possible detention and deportation. At the same time, the administration is attempting to end a judicial consent decree that necessitates humane care of unaccompanied migrant children. Regulations that prioritize the Department of Homeland Security’s operational needs are instead being developed.

The Human Rights Initiative of Northern Texas (HRI) denounces the Trump administration’s violation of migrants’ and refugees’ rights. HRI urges the Department of Justice to preserve the rule of law by upholding its obligations to national and international human rights treaties. Taking hostile anti-immigrant measures only destabilizes already traumatized victims and fractured societies.

HRI calls on the administration to focus its resources on border management that respects human rights and addresses the root of causes of forced migration. The government should stop prosecuting irregular immigrants (not just families with children) and devise humane, culturally sensitive alternatives to detainment. Further, legal migration processes should be simplified and made more accessible so as to curb smuggling and trafficking practices.

As a nation founded by and for immigrants fleeing persecution and seeking better lives, the U.S. should welcome refugees and asylees. Moreover, it should collaborate with less powerful nations to sustainably redress the conditions that drive mass migration – conditions of violence and socio-economic inequality that the U.S. has historically nurtured throughout Latin America and the global south.

To be the land of the free, America’s government, institutions, and people must strive to enact its constitutional ideals of justice and liberty for all.

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