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What Hungary’s “Cautionary Tale” Can Offer the United States

A new report from UUSC examines how the United States is quickly following Hungary down the path to dismantle asylum.

By on July 17, 2018

The Hungarian government has responded to the Syrian refugee crisis by severely restricting access to immigration. In 2015, Hungary began to institute a series of changes to its asylum law and practices, justifying them as a response to a “crisis due to mass immigration.” According to our partner, the Helsinki Hungarian Committee (HHC), a human rights organization supporting refugees in Budapest, these changes have included an increase in military personnel and police at the border, expedited removal procedures, limits on judicial review of asylum decisions, and the criminalization of migrants and the groups that seek to offer them assistance.

Three years later, the country continues to severely limit access to its border and to asylum-seekers. Currently, only two asylum-seekers per working day are permitted into Hungary—approximately 10 people per week. These policies have been brutally effective in limiting migration and leaving thousands vulnerable. Hungary is not alone, however, in pursuing such anti-immigrant measures.

A Cautionary Tale: The United States Follows Hungary’s Dangerous Path to Dismantling Asylum, a new report from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), examines how the United States is quickly following Hungary down this path.

Beginning under President Obama, and continuing rapidly apace under the Trump administration, the United States has implemented anti-immigrant policies and practices which mirror, or even surpass, the four steps Hungary took to dismantle its refugee and asylum protections. Below are a few recent examples outlined in the report:

  • Denial of access. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have recently been accused of turning asylum-seekers away at points of entry.
  • Hostile conditions. Freedom for Immigrants reports that the United States currently has the largest immigration detention regime in the world, holding approximately 40,000 people in private and public facilities. Detained immigrants face widespread and systemic abuse, including sexual assault and medical neglect. Earlier this summer, the Trump administration began prosecuting all migrants who crossed the border outside ports of entry with “illegal entry,” and separating parents and children, even if they were seeking asylum. More than 2,600 children were separated from their parents, including 102 children under the age of five. As of July 15, and in spite of a June 20 executive order claiming to halt the separation and multiple lawsuits, thousands of families remain separated with little adequate remedy in sight.
  • Removal of legal safeguards. In June, Attorney General Sessions issued a decision in Matter of A-B-overturning precedent recognizing domestic violence as a legitimate basis for an asylum claim. Guidance issued under this ruling just last week instructs officers to turn away asylum-seekers citing gang or domestic violence as basis for their asylum claim, drastically limiting avenues available for people who have fled their homes in the face of non-state violence
  • Obstructing refugees. The Trump administration has instituted a range of policies meant to deny access and services to refugees. Infamous among these is the “Muslim Ban,” an executive order which denies access to the United States for any travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban last month. Additionally, the administration has drastically limited refugee admissions, admitting only 13,501 refugees to the United States during the first seven and a half months of FY2018. In contrast, the Obama administration admitted some 84,000 refugees in FY2016. In December 2017, the Trump administration also announced cuts to refugee resettlement programs and staffing expenditures.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. As existing crises continue, and new situations unfold in places like Yemen and Burma, these numbers are likely to grow.

People fleeing violence and instability require compassionate, humanitarian policies that aim to offer safety and security. The United States must take the experience of migrants in Hungary as a cautionary tale and work to counteract anti-immigrant and nationalist impulses.

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