The Trump administration has gutted our nation’s asylum system by executive fiat, and done so based on a lie.
Under the direction of Stephen Miller, DHS has mounted a cruel and relentless campaign to deter asylum-seekers and done so by going around rather than through Congress. The entire project is premised on the claim of
catch and release — the assertion that letting asylum-seekers into America so they can be with family, prepare their asylum applications properly, and show up at their court hearings means they don’t show up and they melt into the population.
In the name of
catch and release, this administration has separated families in what amounts to child kidnapping; expanded detention in squalid conditions and in private-for-profit jails to unprecedented levels; so mistreated children and adults in their custody that 27 people have died on their watch; pressured adjudicators to deny asylum by imposing quotas, inserting hardline supervisors, and restricting eligibility criteria; forced tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in dangerous cities in norther Mexico for months, where many are subject to rape, robbery and kidnapping; and begun sending asylum-seekers to countries such as Guatemala and Honduras that generate refugees and have no functioning asylum system.
The new TRAC data reveals that the entire effort to dismantle asylum is based on lies and deception. TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) just released a new report — based on the government’s own data — that finds 99 of asylum-seekers who were released into America to pursue their cases attended all of their immigration court hearings.
We don’t need to gut asylum, keep vulnerable people in detention, and subvert due process. We don’t need to keep people in life-threatening conditions — whether in detention centers in America, in subhuman conditions in northern Mexico, or in dangerous countries that cannot protect their own citizens.
We need to respect our law that views asylum as a legal right. We need to ensure a fair and efficient process, complete with family support, legal assistance and case management systems. We need to work with rather than bully our neighbors to devise a regional strategy for safe haven and resettlement opportunities. And we need to invest in the source countries in order to mitigate, over time, the violence and societal breakdown that spurs out-migration.
For many, asylum is a matter of life and death. Long-established as a principle in U.S. and international law, requesting asylum and having it fairly adjudicated is a legal right. Under international norms that America fought for, under the principle of non-refoulement (no return), those fleeing danger should never be sent back to conditions that risk their lives.
As a nation, we used to point to the Statue of Liberty as a proud symbol of our tradition of welcome. Now we must confront the fact that, under this administration, we are a nation that shuts out refugees and turns back asylum-seekers with a cruelty that is unprecedented. The Mother of exiles weeps.