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The Trump Administration Tries (Again) to Ban Asylum

The administration’s new rule is its most extreme and unlawful attempt yet to cancel the human right to seek refuge from persecution.

By Josh Leach on July 17, 2019

On Monday, July 15, the Trump administration unveiled a new rule designed to ban the vast majority of asylum seekers from accessing their rights under U.S. and international law. Dubbed a “Third-Country Asylum Rule,” the regulation would make a person categorically ineligible for asylum if they 1) enter the U.S. by crossing the southern border; 2) passed through any country on their way to the United States that has signed international refugee agreements; and 3) did not “apply for protection” along the way.

These exclusions would effectively end the U.S. asylum system, putting many thousands of lives at grave risk. The United States is a participating nation in longstanding international agreements upholding the human right to seek asylum, which also prohibit deporting people to places where they will face persecution. 

Trump’s new regulation abandons these agreements and leaves no protections for people traveling to this country through the most commonly used migration corridors. In a particularly cynical move, it would force migrants to apply for asylum in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, or Mexico. All four countries are particularly dangerous for migrants, and the first three are themselves the primary source of the migrant crisis, due to chronic violence, state repression, and the long-term impact of U.S. policies in the region. 

International law does not obligate asylum seekers to apply for protection at the first opportunity—and it would be patently absurd to do so in the very countries they are fleeing. UUSC’s Director of Activism and Justice Education, Rev. Kathleen McTigue, recently returned from a week with Annunciation House in El Paso, TX, working with exhausted and frightened refugees. Rev. McTigue noted that 75% of the migrants she met were from Guatemala, underlining the fact that far from being a “safe third country” for migrants, it is not safe even for its own citizens. “The cruelty and cynicism of claiming that people are ‘safe’ if deported to these countries is beyond the pale. It’s like saying people would be safe in a torture chamber,” she declared.

The Trump administration’s latest attempt to ban asylum is very similar to its earlier ban in December 2018, which was also issued in the form of an interim final rule, and which likewise attempted to exclude vast categories of people from asylum. Federal courts quickly struck down the earlier ban on these grounds, and they should do so with the new regulation as well. The “Third Country Asylum Rule” is immoral and dangerous, and it is inconsistent with both U.S. law and global commitments. 

UUSC took action against Trump’s earlier asylum ban and is committed to fighting the current one as well. We will continue to work with our partners throughout the region for the rights of Central Americans to safety at home; to be safe in transit if they are forced to migrate; and to seek permanent protections when needed in the United States. 

Photo Credit: iStock – Motortion

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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