WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

12 Oct 2017 | Press Release

Majority of Asylum Seekers have Legitimate Claims: Response to Sessions Statement

Washington, DC—Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that migrants are taking advantage of asylum laws and misusing them to enter the United States, an argument that negates the reality that a large majority of applicants have legitimate asylum claims, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization with decades of experience documenting conditions on the ground in Central America and elsewhere in the hemisphere.

Overall apprehensions at the border are down by 38 percent for the first seven months of 2017 as compared to the same time frame in 2016. Yet nearly 30,000 individuals from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have requested asylum in the United States within the first seven months of 2017, an increase of 53 percent from the same period in 2016. These individuals are requesting asylum because endemic levels of crime and violence are forcing many individuals, including children and families, to flee their homes. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) analysis of the screenings conducted by U.S. asylum officers, over 80 percent of women from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico who were screened on arrival at the U.S. border “were found to have a significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum or protection under the Convention against Torture.”

“Gang members are threatening children and young adults to join them, and pressuring young women into relationships. Going to the police doesn’t solve the problem; in fact it sometimes makes it worse. That’s why they flee,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA Director of Programs. “Being denied asylum or being deported can be a death sentence.”

Session’s statement comes days after the White House sent Congress a list of hardline immigration policies that President Trump has demanded in exchange of protection for the “Dreamers.”

“It seems that the White House is proposing protecting either the Dreamers or asylum seekers, which is simply cruel,” said Thale. “Asylum seekers are not exploiting loopholes; they’re looking for shelter. Vulnerable populations, particularly children, should have the right to seek protection and tell their story before a judge. The U.S. government ought to treat their asylum claims seriously,” he said.