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Women’s Refugee Commission and Al Otro Lado Counter DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s Stance on Asylum Seekers in Advance of Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Hearing

Washington, D.C. – For the second week in a row, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will take to the Hill today to defend the Trump administration’s proposed budget request when she testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs (HSGAC). Last week, she testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security where she faced questions regarding the administration’s new ‘zero tolerance’ policy at the border that will result in family separation and DHS’s treatment of asylum-seeking pregnant women, among other concerning issues. 

Secretary Nielsen indicated in her testimony that asylum seekers arriving at our southern border should go to ports of entry – established locations along our land border with Mexico where individuals seeking entry into the U.S. may present themselves – to be processed.

Yet Al Otro Lado – a bi-national, direct legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees – discovered that there are currently hundreds of asylum seekers who are waiting in Tijuana, Mexico to be processed at the San Ysidro Port of Entry (just south of San Diego, California).

In July of 2017, Al Otro Lado and the American Immigration Council filed litigation claiming that the United States was denying entry to migrants seeking asylum at ports of entry. And in February of this year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. L who was separated from her 7 year-old daughter when she presented herself at a port of entry.

In response to the Trump administration’s ongoing attack against migrant and asylum-seeking families, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) and Al Otro Lado released the following statements:

“Just like she did last week, we fully expect Secretary Nielsen today to continue perpetuating the myth that if you just present yourself at a port of entry and request asylum, you will be processed. In 2017, we saw families who presented themselves at the port of entry to be processed, in accordance with federal law and then separated by DHS.

The truth is that this current administration is tearing families apart. Currently, U.S. border practices fly in the face of the meaningful due process and impede access to protection for women, children, and families seeking safety at U.S. borders,” said Nicole Ramos, refugee program director with Al Otro Lado.

“It is appalling that the Secretary would suggest that Mexico is a safe third country or that asylum seekers should continue staying there. Violence in Mexico increased in March, making it the most deadly quarter of a year on record. WRC has made several trips to the border and to Mexican northern border towns in the past year and has heard from migrants and asylum seekers themselves about the very real dangers faced by cartels and corrupt Mexican law enforcement and immigration officials.

“By detaining pregnant women at the border – including those who arrive at our ports of entry, separating families, prosecuting asylum seekers, and purporting an inability to process asylum claims, immigration officials under DHS have yet again waged a full-scale assault on the rights and protections for families fleeing violence from Central America and around the world. The fact is that turning asylum seekers away for any reason is illegal and violating the human rights of pregnant women seeking asylum is deplorable,” said Leah Chavla, policy advisor with the Women’s Refugee Commission.