By Devon Senges, Immigration Attorney at Dummit Fradin
I spent a week volunteering at the Mexican-U.S. border, working alongside other attorneys who came from all over the country to help people asking for protection in the United States. U.S. Federal law provides several forms of protection for people who are fleeing persecution and torture in their home countries. The most famous of these is called “asylum.” This law has been in effect since 1951 when multiple countries made an agreement to try and prevent the horrors of World War II from ever happening again. Offering protection under asylum is how the United States shows its commitment to human rights, but that commitment is under attack by President Trump.
On July 15, 2019, President Trump signed an order declaring that anyone who had passed through a third country on their way to the United States would be ineligible for asylum. They would have to seek protection first in those other countries.
This latest order by President Trump directly contradicts asylum law, which says that “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States, whether or not at a designated port of arrival. . . and irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.” Congress was very clear in how it wrote this law. It recognized that many asylum seekers would have to travel through another country before reaching the United States. Except for Mexicans arriving at the southern border and Canadians arriving at the northern border, almost all asylum seekers must travel through at least one other country before reaching the U.S. The law guarantees that traveling through another country to reach the United States cannot be a barrier to asylum.
What Trump’s new rule means is that now tens of thousands of refugees are stuck in Mexico. I saw this mass of people with my own eyes, and truly, they are from all over the world. They are not just refugees from Central America, but also from Venezuela, Cuba, China, Russia, the Middle East, and Africa. Many have no family in Mexico, no legal status there, they can’t enroll their children in school, and they can’t receive healthcare or other social services. The shelters are overflowing, and people are sleeping on the floors of churches and synagogues and even in the streets. They are targets for the cartels and other criminals looking to make money off their misfortune.
But there is hope. In addition to the many volunteers helping at the border, there ar