17 | AGO | 2019
The elimination of the U.S. asylum system will not stop the immigrant wave
An immigrant walks along a railroad - Photo: Daniel Becerril/REUTERS

The elimination of the U.S. asylum system will not stop the immigrant wave

19/07/2019
18:13
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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The virtual elimination of the United States asylum system will not stop the current immigrant wave from Central America; on the contrary, it will exacerbate the problems that the U.S. and Mexico are facing

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The virtual elimination of the United States asylum system announced this week by the Trump administration will not stop the current immigrant wave from Central America and other countries; on the contrary, it will exacerbate the problems that the U.S. and Mexico are facing in its common border in the long-term.

As we have noted throughout the immigration crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump decisions based on electoral gains and the mobilization of his die-hard supporters are leading to the emergence of new dangers and the polarization of societies along the Rio Grande or regarding the relationship between government branches in Washington.

In the case of the asylum system, the restrictions in force since its publication in the Federal Register by the Justice and Homeland Security departments on Tuesday would block hundreds of thousands of people from seeking protection in the United States.

The restrictions would ban asylum claims from anyone who has passed through another country en route to the U.S., which essentially would cover anyone other than Mexican residents, who make up a small fraction of asylum applicants.

Only in rare cases, such as when a migrant applies for asylum elsewhere and is denied, a person would be eligible to apply for protection in the United States.

Until this week, the asylum law established a legal right to claim protection for anyone who arrived at the U.S. border and could make a case that they faced torture or persecution at home. The law applied regardless of how a migrant reached the border.

The law provided a major exception in cases in which the U.S. has negotiated a “safe third country” agreement with another government. Under those agreements, such as the one the U.S. has with Canada, migrants must apply in the first safe country they reach.

However, the new rules eliminated that possibility, effectively requiring migrants to apply in any country they land in, whether the U.S. considers that country safe or not.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and several U.S. organizations, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—that sued the Trump administration in order to block the new rules,—stressed the direct impact of the restrictions on Central American families and unaccompanied minors who account for most migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border.

Nevertheless, it applies to any nationality, including the large numbers of Haitians, Cubans, and Africans who transit South and Central America and Mexico seeking to claim asylum at the border.

The new policy includes some exceptions: If a migrant has been trafficked, has applied for protection in a prior country and was denied or has passed through a country that is not a signatory to the international treaties governing refugees. However, Mexico and all its neighbors of Central America have signed those treaties.
 

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Families at risk

UNHCR head Filippo Grandi expressed his deep concern about the changes, remarking that “it will put vulnerable families at risk [and] it will undermine efforts by countries across the region to devise the coherent collective responses that are needed.”

Grandi added that the new policy “jeopardizes the right to protection from refoulement, significantly raises the burden of proof on asylum seekers beyond the international standard, sharply curtails basic rights and freedoms of those who manage to meet it, and it is not in line with international obligations.”

The consequences for Mexico are obvious and it will not be long to show up, in particular across its northern border that is already overwhelmed by the floating population of migrants and asylum seekers.

Mexico has taken unprecedented steps to curb the flow of desperate people heading to the United States, deploying 25,000 troops from its National Guard in the southern border with Guatemala and other key transit points.

The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accepted to serve as a filter against immigrants after Trump threatened on May 31 to impose escalating tariffs on all Mexican exports to the U.S.
 

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Both countries negotiated on 7 June a 45-day period to reduce the number of U.S.-bound migrants. López Obrador also agreed to support the expansion of the scheme that returns asylum seekers already in the U.S. to Mexico to wait out the processing of their claims.

According to critics this measure, along with the restrictions announced on Monday by Washington, indicates that Mexico has effectively been turned into asafe third country," yet Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard ruled out any policy change that would require prior approval from Congress.

Ebrard said Mexico disagrees with the U.S. rules and plans to maintain its asylum and refugee policies established in its Constitution and historical tradition. The asylum seekers rejected by the U.S., he affirmed, should have to go back to their home countries, not Mexico.
 

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The new developments will be addressed on Sunday by Ebrard and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Mexico City. The talks, including trade and a development plan for Central America, are scheduled a day before the end of the 45-day period mentioned above to avert the imposition of crippling tariffs on Mexican exports.
 

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While public opinion in Mexico has supported the collaboration offered to the White House by López Obrador, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, leader of the House of Deputies, has emerged as the lone dissenting voice within the federal government dominated by the Morena party.

The former ambassador to the UN and the European Union, who also served in the conservative administration of President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), when Mexico and Washington tried to negotiate a comprehensive immigration deal aborted by the Republicans and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., has opposed the militarization of the National Immigration Institute and the violation of human rights due to White House pressure.

“They say that we don’t accept the idea of a ‘third safe country’, not in legal terms, yet we are doing so in practice, and consists in that anyone arriving in one country cannot travel to another country. They [the migrants] come here and they cannot go to the U.S., so we are implementing the idea without telling it,” Muñoz Ledo said.

Whatever the results of the meeting between Ebrard and Pompeo, it is evident that the long-term solution for the migratory phenomenon must include the political will in Washington to promote real development and democracy in Central America, the Caribbean, and other nations.

It cannot be ignored that the insistence on supporting private and corporate interests in the name of “U.S. national security”—exemplified by the coups against reformist Presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti in 2004 and Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009—has laid the ground for the climate of extreme economic deprivation, persecution, and horrific violence by brutal gangs, in the words of Grandi, which is displacing millions of people from their homes.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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