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Given all the rapid changes within immigration policy, much attention is rightly focused on how the U.S. treats asylum seekers and others arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Of particular concern is a newly minted policy that forcibly separates immigrant children from their parents.

Equally significant are foreign policy moves happening south of the border that will deeply impact people fleeing their homes to seek safety and asylum elsewhere.

Officials from the U.S. and Mexico recently met to discuss a potential “safe third country” agreement, similar to one that already exists between the U.S. and Canada. The agreement would require Central American asylum seekers to apply in the first “safe” country they arrive in, i.e. Mexico, and allow the U.S. government to ignore their appeals at the U.S. border.

Mexico’s asylum system is overloaded and unable to adequately process applications. Last year, the number of people petitioning for asylum in Mexico increased 66 percent compared to 2016 and an astonishing 326 percent when compared to 2015 applications.

Mexico also has an aggressive migration enforcement strategy at its southern border, spurred on by U.S. financial support. Crossing this vast country has become increasingly dangerous for migrants, as public security forces intensify their detention of migrants and organized criminal networks take advantage of people, both Mexican and foreigner, at every turn.

Outsourcing asylum processes to Mexico is ultimately a decision of political expediency and ignores our legal obligations to offer due process to asylum seekers in the U.S. Policies like these treat the symptoms rather than the causes of why people are fleeing their homes.

Some of those causes are well understood. Gangs fuel insecurity as they extort small business owners and even police to maintain control of their territory. Poverty results from a confluence of factors, but often unmentioned are unequal trade agreements with the U.S. that favor farmers and corporations based in the United States. Unpredictable weather patterns exacerbated by climate change make agriculture an unsustainable livelihood in large swaths of Central America.

Other reasons are rarely discussed by policymakers or mainstream news: in Guatemala, a successful anti-corruption body is being undermined by a sitting U.S. Senator; in Honduras, peaceful protesters of illegitimate elections are violently repressed by public forces; across the region, widespread impunity in criminal justice systems allows organized crime and drug cartels to persist.

People are leaving because of credible fear and credible threats to their lives. Instead of addressing the underlying causes of danger and violence or our government’s role in these causes, the U.S. government is willfully ignoring systems of injustice and brutality that drive people to leave home.

As peacemakers dedicated to seeking justice, we should welcome people who are looking for refuge and safety. The prophet Jeremiah says: “if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow…then I will dwell with you in this place…” (Jeremiah 7:5-7). There are opportunities to seek the common good for all in our communities, in the face of discrimination for any “outsider” status one may hold.

Beyond our local context, we can also influence the policies that impact immigrants and asylum seekers nation-wide. You can support the campaign to keep families together, urge elected officials to reduce militarization, and ask your representatives how they are promoting poverty assistance that does not create further displacement or inequality. Through these actions, we can demonstrate concern for asylum seekers and make a genuine effort to address the injustices that force them to flee.


Charissa Zehr is legislative associate for international affairs for the MCC Washington Office. Story originally published on May 30, 2018. Reprinted with permission from Peace Signs