On July 16, the Trump administration released a new regulation requiring asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border to have requested asylum, and been denied, in at least one country they traveled through before asking for asylum in the U.S. (The rule does not apply to Mexican asylum seekers who do not need to travel through a third country to get to the U.S.)
The new rule was immediately challenged in federal court and temporarily halted. However, on September 11, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the regulation to go into effect while lawsuits in lower courts continue.
Lee Gelernt, one of the attorneys arguing against the ban, noted that, “Allowing the ban to go into effect would not only upend four decades of unbroken practice, it would place countless people, including families and unaccompanied children, at grave risk.” According to Michael Knowles, speaking for a union that represents asylum officers, the ban is “clearly incompatible with the law that says asylum seekers must have their cases heard, irrespective of their method or route of transit.”
U.S. immigration law does allow asylum seekers to be returned to a “safe third country” but specifies that there must be an agreement with that country and that the asylum seeker’s life should not be put at risk.
The new policy is the most recent in a series of efforts by the administration to restrict asylum which include the “Remain in Mexico” program by which migrants are sent to Mexico to await their asylum hearings and attempts to deny asylum to victims of domestic violence and gang violence.
In the Bible, numerous stories detail people leaving home to seek safety or sustenance in a foreign land. Abram and Jacob fled their homes due to famine (Genesis 12:10, Genesis 46:1-7). What if they had been unable to make a new home somewhere else? Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with Jesus when his life was threatened by Herod (Matthew 2:13-15). What if there was a border wall around Egypt and authorities there turned them away? Many of our ancestors similarly fled persecution or violence to find safety in a new country. What if they had been turned away?
While lawsuits continue, those seeking asylum at our borders today will face terrible choices. Some will risk returning home to face violence and possible death. Others will undoubtedly try to sneak into the U.S., risking injury and death in the desert, at the hands of smugglers or crossing an increasingly militarized border.
Rather than closing the door to asylum seekers, urge your members of Congress to welcome those seeking asylum in the U.S. and to focus any federal spending related to asylum seekers on meeting humanitarian needs and addressing the root causes of migration rather than on detention, family separation or border walls.
Tammy Alexander is the Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on September 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.