WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
9 Nov 2018 | News

Trump Administration Illegally Moves to Block Families’ Right to Asylum

New Asylum Rules Circumvent the Law; Will Create Disorder At U.S.-Mexico Border and Ports of Entry

Washington, DC—A new unilateral executive action announced yesterday by the Trump administration will deny the right to apply for asylum to anyone who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border anywhere except through official ports of entry. According to research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America, this overreach of executive power will have dangerous consequences—undermining legal, orderly processing at ports of entry and on the Mexican side of the border, where migrants are highly vulnerable to being preyed upon by violent criminal groups.

The new executive order will also illegally deny those fleeing violence their longstanding right, enshrined in U.S. and international law, to apply for asylum. As WOLA documented in a report released earlier this year, there is already evidence that border officials at ports of entry are deliberately slowing down the asylum process and turning families away as they attempt to exercise their legal right to apply for protection.

“The Trump administration wants people fleeing violence to apply for asylum at our severely understaffed ports of entry, where border officials are more likely than not to tell families to come back some other time,” said WOLA Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson. “This is a deliberate attempt to throttle families’ right to asylum and will overwhelm our ports of entry,” said Isacson.

The U.S. government’s own border data shows the clear need to build up the capacity of ports of entry, Isacson explains in a new analysis published today. While overall migration at the U.S.-Mexico border remains at record lows (with Border Patrol agents apprehending on average one adult, non-family migrant every 26 days in 2018), families and children continue to flee violence, poverty, and corrupt governmental institutions in Central America. This is a humanitarian crisis, not a security crisis. It points to the urgent need for more personnel to process asylum claims and strengthen  capacity at ports of entry, which have a 4,000-person (15 percent) staffing shortage—not overwhelm them further.

The new asylum regulations will also create a backlog of people waiting in Mexican border towns, as the country continues to register record levels of violence.

“Unless the U.S. dramatically increases its resources and manpower, forcing asylum seekers to request asylum at the U.S. ports of entry will overwhelm Mexican border towns and expose these families to unnecessary dangers,” said WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights Maureen Meyer. “Currently asylum seekers wait days or weeks to be admitted at U.S. ports of entry, forcing many to sleep on the streets or in impromptu shelters where they can be abused and extorted. In some Mexican border towns, migrants turned back by U.S. agents have been robbed, some even kidnapped. Rather than ensuring a prompt and orderly process, the message we are giving to women and children fleeing violence and persecution in their home country is ‘come back later,’” said Meyer.

See WOLA’s resources on asylum and the U.S.-Mexico border:

  • Report: The Trump administration appears to be unable or unwilling to process families applying for asylum at ports of entry, which is creating a critical backlog of people in Mexico.
  • Analysis: the U.S. government’s 2018 border data clearly shows why the Trump administration is on the wrong track.