July 16, 2019—The Administration’s interim final rule that would deny asylum seekers from anywhere in the world—including unaccompanied children—the ability to seek protection in the United States if they have traveled through another country in their journey to safety is illegal and completely disregards our country’s values as a nation that helps those fleeing persecution.
This abrupt and unilateral action decimates the U.S. international protection system that was created after World War II to ensure that we do not again turn the persecuted away from safety and return them to their deaths. This sets an incredibly dangerous global precedent that would endanger millions of lives worldwide and could block access to protection for those most in need, which would only further destabilize countries and regions of the world experiencing severe violence, corruption, and impunity.
In so doing, the rule runs counter to established international law and U.S. immigration law as well as anti-human trafficking law deliberately crafted by Congress to ensure access to protection for the most vulnerable—children traveling alone.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) specifically provides certain procedural protections to unaccompanied children in recognition of their unique vulnerability. Among these is a provision exempting unaccompanied children from the “safe third country” bar to asylum. This interim final rule, like a safe third country bar, seeks to bar eligibility for asylum by those who transit through another country in their flight to safety but considers neither the safety of the country through which the asylum seeker has traveled, the availability of fair and efficient asylum procedures, or the particular vulnerabilities of children traveling alone. In so doing, it places children at extreme risk of harm, danger, or death and runs counter to Congress’s express intent to ensure a more child-appropriate process for unaccompanied children to ensure they are not returned to harm, danger, or death.
The regulation dangerously miscasts both the intentions and realities of those seeking protection from grave threats to their life and safety and the availability of meaningful protection during their journey to safety. Many asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, are fleeing grave violence and threats by gangs and organized criminal organizations that operate with impunity and have broad reach throughout the Northern Triangle of Central America. Children in particular lack meaningful access to protection in the region, including in Mexico, where they face robbery, sexual violence, kidnapping, falling prey to human traffickers, and femicide, as well as extortion, threats, and sexual violence by corrupt Mexican immigration officials and police. Mexico’s proximity to the Northern Triangle countries from which many children have fled—and the presence of gangs and other organized criminal groups in Mexico—expose children to risk of being located and targeted by their persecutors.
Yet the interim final rule will require certain asylum seekers not only to apply for asylum in such countries but to receive a final order denying their asylum application before they can become eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S. Many asylum systems in Central America are new, under-resourced, and lacking in capacity and reach. Asylum seekers may be unable to apply for protection, and even if able, may face prolonged waits in receiving a decision in their cases. During this time, they face significant risk of further persecution or harm, given their vulnerability and lack of access to safe shelter, basic necessities, financial resources, and work, as has become evident during the Administration’s implementation of its Remain in Mexico program (Migrant Protection Protocols).
Asylum seekers in Mexico, children especially, lack full and fair access to protection
In recent field visits to southern Mexico, KIND documented numerous barriers for children seeking asylum, including extended detention in inappropriate facilities and lack of access to information about how to apply for asylum. Children also lack access to legal representation to assist in explaining the relevant laws and preparing their applications, representing them before the Mexican Refugee Agency (COMAR), and preparing appeals when claims are denied. These barriers to asylum extend to children throughout the country. In addition, Mexico has only five or six officials in the entire country who can hear children’s asylum claims.
Take action to push the U.S. government to address the root causes of why children and families are coming to the United States from Central America — the only real solution to these issues – and sign KIND’s petition to support two bills in Congress that would do just that.
For more information, please contact Megan McKenna, email@example.com