By Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD
On November 6, in an editorial on asylum published in the Adrian Daily Telegram (see below), I stated that United States law and International law allow people to seek asylum in the United States “without regard to where they enter the country, at an airport, another official port of entry, or through the desert.” I also noted at that time that President Donald Trump had announced he was going to make it much more difficult for people to claim asylum and that he would enact a series of executive orders to ensure that this happened.
On November 9, President Trump, through the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, issued a proclamation that will deny the ability to apply for asylum to anyone who crosses the southern border of the United States at any place other than a port of entry. This change will be in effect for 90 days, with a possibility of extension after the 90 days are up.
The proclamation stipulates that only those who present themselves at ports of entry at the southern border will be eligible to apply for asylum through the “credible fear” interview process. Credible fear is the first step toward asylum and indicates a “significant possibility” that a person meets the asylum standard of proof.
According to President Trump’s recent order, those who enter the southern border anyplace other than a port of entry, they will not – no matter how credible their claim – be able to apply for asylum. Instead, they may be allowed to apply to stay in the U.S. through Withholding of Removal or the Convention Against Torture. In both of these cases, one must meet a higher “reasonable fear” standard of proof than those applying for asylum. Even if successful through either the Withholding of Removal or the Convention Against Torture, people are not granted permanent forms of protection – they are not allowed to apply for residence in the United States, not allowed to travel outside the United States, and cannot apply for family members to join them in the U.S. In contrast, if a person is granted asylum, they will later be granted legal permanent residence and eventually citizenship.
Asylum has always been a safeguard for those people whose lives are in danger and have fled their homeland, because they faced lives of persecution and torture. How far have we as a country strayed from “send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?” Where is our compassion?
Asylum is Law of the Land
Published in the November 6, 2018, issue of the Adrian Daily Telegram
By Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD
Are you as mystified as I am as to why our administration is sending 5,200 members of our military (more than double the number serving in Syria) to our southern border?
Despite public rhetoric around the migrants traveling through Mexico, there is no crisis at our southern border. Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), an organization that conducts extensive research in all areas of immigration, reports that over the years, similar groups of migrants have been organized and have been processed without the least bit of fanfare. This was demonstrated by the most recent example in April that began with 1,200 people, of which only 200 reached the U.S. border.
Many of those currently traveling through Mexico will not ever reach the border, and the majority of those who do will ask for asylum at points of entry, as prescribed by law.
The asylum system in the United States was established in 1968 when it signed the protocol to the 1951 United Nations Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, and when Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.
The law says a person may apply for asylum at a port of entry or from within the United States. In order to seek asylum at a port of entry, asylum seekers must declare that they fear being returned to their home country and are seeking asylum. According to the law, the person is to be promptly interviewed by an asylum officer, who makes an initial determination on whether the asylum-seeker’s fear is credible. If deemed credible, the case will be heard by a judge, who will make a final decision. If the claim is considered not credible, the asylum-seeker may be allowed to stay in the U.S. in order to file an appeal in Immigration Court. If it is denied, the asylum-seeker will be deported.
Military personnel are not trained as asylum officers, so what could they be doing at the border?
Asylum laws were established by Congress in accordance with our obligation as a country and under international accords we signed with our allies to protect refugees worldwide. Therefore, any of the migrants traveling through Mexico who reach our border should be processed through the asylum system, just as all migrants arriving at our borders have been for many years. Yet on November 1, President Trump indicated that he would make it much more difficult to claim asylum and would enact a series of executive orders to shut down access to asylum for people who seek safety in the United States unless they go to legal ports of entry. Let us remember that our laws explicitly allow people to seek asylum here without regard to where they enter the country, at an airport, another official port of entry, or through the desert. Asylum is the law of the land and the administration must follow it as enacted by Congress.
Many of those in the caravan now traveling to the U.S. are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – three countries known for having high murder rates, and where people’s lives are threatened by gangs, drug traffickers, and organized crime on so many levels. These people are forced to flee because their governments will not or cannot provide protection for their own citizens. They are fleeing to find a safe place to live and to raise their families.
It is good to remind ourselves that as people of faith from many traditions, we are called to protect all of God’s children, especially those who are vulnerable. We believe in human dignity and the value of all people, regardless of where they’re from or what they look like, or what language they speak or how much money they have in their pockets. In our Christian tradition we are reminded in the Gospel of Mark 12:31, “The second commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD, is an immigration lawyer and Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office. She may be reached at 517-266-3448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.