Washington, DC—On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that President Trump is considering using emergency powers to shut down the southern border in response to a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico, blocking asylum seekers from applying for protection. The president would reportedly cite “national security” concerns as justification for closing the border, a move that would almost certainly be challenged in U.S. courts given the number of children and families in the caravan. Suspending the right to apply for asylum at the border would represent an affront to American values and would test the bounds of legality, according to research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
“These migrant families and children are not a threat to this country. They are coming to the United States in search of protection. Suspending the right to apply for asylum goes against our values as a nation, and might actually end up endangering the lives of many,”said Maureen Meyer, Director for Mexico and Migrants Rights at WOLA. “Stripping the most vulnerable of their right to request asylum because of where they come from is shameful. It’s ridiculous to argue that the babies in the caravan are a national security threat,” said Meyer.
In addition to the new executive order on the table, the administration has decided to deploy roughly 800 members of the U.S. military to the border, although it is unclear what role they would play.
“Besides the fact that migration numbers are at a historic low, there’s no reason why soldiers should be patrolling the border when they aren’t trained to deal with asylum seekers,” said Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight at WOLA. “We should put our resources into processing what will probably be a modest number of children and families who have fled one of the world’s most violent regions in search of protection,” said Isacson.
As with a previous migrant caravan in April, only a small fraction of the migrants now traveling through Mexico are expected to arrive at the U.S. border; they will likely head to ports of entry to request asylum. These ports are manned by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel, not Border Patrol agents. A larger backlog of asylum seekers at ports of entry represents a manageable humanitarian challenge for CBP, one that the U.S. government and civil society groups can prepare for without requiring assistance from the military.
“Americans must resist this move. There is no precedent in U.S. history for the use of U.S. military personnel, on U.S. soil, to stop unarmed people from asking for asylum in our country,” said Isacson.