Who’s gone to the DMV only to have to wait for your number to be called? It’s frustrating, having to sit there for hours on end just to turn in a form or get a new picture taken. It’s even more frustrating when you have an appointment and still have to wait for hours. But what would you think if this wait lasted for weeks, perhaps months, without access to food, water or facilities, and you couldn’t leave because you’d lose your spot if you aren’t there when your number is called? You’d probably be infuriated, perhaps even call it cruel and merciless.
It just so happens that is exactly what’s happening right now to refugees seeking asylum at ports of entry on our southern border.
Asylum is protection granted to individuals who are unable or unwilling to return to their country out of fear of being persecuted on the basis of race, sex, religion, nationality or political opinion.
In accordance with the 1951 Refugee Treaty (which was incorporated into the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980) and the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the U.S. has a legal obligation to provide protection to any individual who reaches our border and claims — and qualifies for — asylum. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are supposed to expedite these claims for anyone safely reaching a port of entry.
Yet in recent years, several policies have violated these obligations. One policy in particular, the “turnback” policy, was originally started to reduce abuse of the system (only 20% of claims processed in 2017 were viable) and keep the influx of immigrants at a minimum, but has recently become the new normal, even though it violates both international law (as stated above) and possibly two domestic laws: Title 8 of the U.S. Code, which states non-citizens who arrive in the U.S. by any means have a right to apply for asylum, regardless of citizenship status; and statute 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3), which states that a non-citizen may not be deported to a country where their lives and freedoms may be threatened.
As part of this policy, the U.S coordinates with Mexican officials to set up camps and implement a metering, or waitlist, system. In Arizona, volunteers have set up camps in which individuals and families are given numbers to wait for an interview with a CBP official. It’s even worse in Texas, as CBP officials are blocking people from even stepping foot on U.S. soil to keep them from being able to claim asylum and telling them to return at a later time.
Through President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy (which has recently been terminated), refugees were asked to claim asylum the “right way” through legal ports of entry. But how does this help when they are then turned away, or left to wait in unsafe shelters with very little food and water? Cruel and merciless? We’ll let you decide.