WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Trump administration announced plans to implement a new policy that would block asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico. Under the new policy, the U.S. would seek to immediately return to Mexico anyone encountered by U.S. Border Patrol Agents between ports of entry “without any detainment or…due process,” according to The New York Times.
“This rule would unquestionably violate both domestic and international law and is an abdication of our moral responsibility to protect vulnerable people,” said Michelle Brané, senior director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Seeking asylum is a legal right. Seeking safety is a human right. Those rights continue to exist in times of crisis, such as a pandemic.
“The proposed action by the administration is nothing new; President Trump has been falsely scapegoating immigrant communities in the name of public safety since he came into office. The result is a campaign of xenophobia and cruelty against both immigrants in our communities and those seeking safety at our borders,” she said.
The administration’s plan comes at the same time as immigration officials continue to jail thousands of asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) has cited (2017, 2019) as failing to provide proper medical screenings and care to individuals in custody. Medical experts with experience in corrections have recommended that the administration release as many individuals from custody as quickly and safely as possible in order to reduce the severe risks of COVID-19 infection for both detention staff and detained individuals.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently issued guidance stating that while public health measures “may include a health screening or testing of persons seeking international protection upon entry and/or putting them in quarantine, such measures may not result in denying them an effective opportunity to seek asylum or result in refoulement.” The guidance further notes that “…health concerns do not justify the systematic use of immigration detention against individuals or groups of asylum-seekers or refugees.”
Brané continued, “The novel coronavirus has affected people all over the world. The U.S. response must protect the most vulnerable among us and uphold our obligations to those seeking protection at our borders. The government’s actions must also be grounded in scientific and public health principles and best practices established by domestic and international public health experts that protect everyone in our communities. Blocking asylum seekers at the southern border, keeping populations needlessly jailed in punitive and inappropriate conditions, and scapegoating immigrants is not justifiable and will not prevent the spread of the virus in the U.S.”