WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
12 Sep 2019 | WOLA Statement

Migrant Lives are at Risk After Supreme Court Decides to Temporarily Allow Trump Administration to Deny Asylum for Central American Migrants

Washington, D.C.—A Supreme Court ruling issued on September 11 will allow the Trump administration to enforce an asylum rule that will block most migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border from applying for asylum, as legal challenges against the new policy continue to play out in lower courts. The rule, initially meant to go into effect in July, will bar most asylum seekers from applying for protection at the U.S. southern border if they had already traveled through another country en route to the United States without first applying for asylum in that country.

Implementation of the rule had been put on hold after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations had challenged its legality, as Section 208(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act specifically and clearly states that asylum-seekers can only be returned to another country if there is a “bilateral or multilateral agreement” in place (currently, the only such agreement in existence is with Canada, although Trump administration bullying may result in Guatemala and Honduras signing and implementing limited “safe third country” agreements).

The hardline rule, which upends 40 years of asylum law precedent in the United States, is chiefly aimed at Central American asylum seekers who travel through Mexico as they flee ongoing violence, poverty, and corruption in their home countries, although it would also impact asylum seekers from South America and other continents. Notwithstanding serious doubts about its legality, this rule is indicative of the Trump administration’s indifference to addressing Central America’s humanitarian crisis. Instead of tackling the problems driving people to flee, the Trump administration is committed to stopping the flow of Central American migrants any way it can, regardless of how U.S. policies cause mass suffering and violate domestic and international legal obligations on asylum.

Stranding asylum seekers in crime-ridden, poor, and desperate conditions will do little to address regional migration trends. WOLA research shows that harsh, draconian policies of deterrence do little to stop migration flows: it only pushes migrants and asylum seekers to take new, more dangerous routes. An effective, long-term solution to the humanitarian crisis at the border and throughout the region requires investing in the underlying problems driving migration: that is, poor governance, lack of economic opportunities, and climate change disasters in Central American countries.

By forcing asylum seekers to apply for protections in countries unprepared to process them effectively or keep them safe, the United States is ignoring its obligations under domestic and international law regarding asylum. For all its talk of upholding “rule of law” at the border, the Trump administration is grossly violating international law by pushing asylum seekers back into harm’s way.

As legal challenges to the Trump administration asylum rule continue to move through the courts, the lives and well-being of thousands of asylum-seeking families are at significant risk. WOLA stands in support of those migrants, and backs a speedy resolution to the pending legal challenges.