Killing Asylum

Peace Advocate January 2024

Image: © Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons

by Sunny Robinson

As we cross into 2024, hundreds, if not thousands of migrants daily attempt to cross the Southern border of the United States. Similarly, hundreds if not thousands, attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. The welcoming rhetoric of the Biden-Harris Administration is one of the “pull” factors drawing people to the U.S., just as the fear of another Trump administration serves as a “pull” factor, encouraging attempts now, while people assume they can successfully enter the U.S.

There are also “push” factors driving people out of their home countries; continued violence and instability in Haiti; massive arrests of especially youth in El Salvador; deep economic exploitation in Honduras; serious limits in the economic situations of Venezuela and Cuba;  intensifying war in Ukraine; dire humanitarian situations in Sudan, Somalia, and the Congo – events that barely make it into U.S. awareness, where the majority of  news focuses on Trump’s legal problems and shenanigans; the newest tragedy of the horrifying war in Palestine: and occasionally the war in Ukraine. For the first time in years attempted migration to the U.S. rather than to Europe, has also greatly increased from the African countries of Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal, and Angola, and seemingly because of economic situations. Even migration from Mexico, which had slowed considerably, has recently increased. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans, Venezuelans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, for example, not to mention for Afghans, also approaches those expiration dates with no advancement to permanent residence status. 

And what of Palestinians? Will the U.S. create a welcoming immigration status for Palestinians as U.S. armaments continue to sustain the Israeli genocide and utter destruction of Palestine’s infrastructure? What other U.S. economic, political, and military actions, continuing over decades, are contributing to the forces driving people out of their home countries? 

There also are the driving forces of violence – drug related violence, political violence, personal violence as well as severe drought and other aspects of climate change. Claiming persecution and fear remain allowable claims for asylum. But they are increasingly complex to demonstrate and to have the necessary papers with you to prove your claim, especially if a person or family has to flee with short notice. Poverty and issues stemming from climate change are not recognized reasons, under current law, for seeking asylum or immigration. The economic situation in the U.S. has recovered, to an extent, from the pandemic; similar improvements have not occurred in much of Latin America. Dangerous as people know the border crossing attempts are, they are seen as less risky than the continued slow deterioration in many Latin countries. Similarly, there is little awareness in the U.S. of the deepening drought across what is called the “dry corridor” of Central America, which encompasses central Guatemala, much of El Salvador, and parts of Honduras. In an area of Guatemala where I have regular contact, the rains did not come. The cardamom crop failed; thus a major source of cash income failed. More people, especially youth, are now attempting to cross into the U.S.

The policy of the Biden-Blinken administration requiring application for asylum via an internet app is working for many people. If you are extremely poor, you do not have a smartphone. People who have applied, as required, before arriving at designated ports of entry, have received appointments and thus been allowed to enter. But then what? There is grossly insufficient shelter, food and employment at the border. Funds have already been expended, especially for paying coyotes who helped them get to the border, or fending off  threats as they crossed Mexico. For many, little to no money is left to secure transportation to another area of the country where they might have family. Or, as happened to migrants from Venezuela who ended up unexpectedly on Martha’s Vineyard, they are falsely promised shelter and jobs if they accept Governor Abbott or DeSantis’ schemes and are spirited out of the state into which they arrived. 

Even those who have entered completely legally and have a court date some time later, often find themselves in a location very far from their ultimate court hearing, without legal help to prepare, and denied the right to work. The current situation is indeed layer after layer of a broken, unresponsive immigration policy. It is indeed a dire situation for the individuals and families arriving, as well as for the states that are receiving them, even for those states like Massachusetts that are attempting to be responsive. 

Governor Healy, for example, is correctly calling for work permits to be issued immediately on arrival. Immigrants want to work. We have hundreds of unfilled jobs, even in Massachusetts, and especially in the service industries. These two situations could be resolved by allowing newly arrived persons to go to work.  It is true many of these jobs are only entry level jobs. But they are that – entry, a starting point! – exactly what most migrants are seeking.

Only the federal government can make and enforce immigration policy. Only Congress can make permanent policies. Currently we have a Congress uninterested in creating policy that meets the needs of immigrants or the needs of many states, but rather acts as if it prefers to continue the crisis for political gain. This is surely true of the Republicans. And increasingly, one wonders if this isn’t also true for some Democrats. 

What can we do? What must we do? 

In the short run we must urge President Biden to facilitate the entry of migrants… even if they fail to arrive at legal ports of entry; arrest, detention, and deportation are very costly. LAWG documents at least 6 weekly flights from Mexico to Guatemala, Honduras, and Guatemala. The U.S. would be better off using those resources to facilitate relocation of migrants to areas where they have family or friends; creating training and language programs to facilitate peoples’ entry to the workforce; and training and securing enough immigration judges to hear cases in an expedited fashion. 

We must also urge the president to extend TPS so that persons already here can safely remain here while situations in their home countries remain so tenuous. Congress needs to make legal and permanent the DACA program (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) so that these thousands of youth who have known only life in the U.S. can remain here and advance to not only permanent residence but full citizenship. 

None of these elements of a just immigrant policy are new. But they are all seriously, unjustly, and inhumanely blocked by the Republicans and not currently being addressed by Democrats. The somewhat improved policies of the Biden administration are insufficient.

U.S. law and international law make clear that a person fleeing violence has the legal right to seek asylum in another country. To deny people access to asylum is not only to violate their human rights but to violate international law. People are not illegal. They are indeed exercising their legal right to come. Article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. is a formal signatory, states:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself/herself and family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his/her control.” 

This declaration of rights makes clear the world has the responsibility to respond to migrants fleeing such circumstances as poverty- and climate change-induced loss of livelihood. 

The UN, the U.S. and the world need to address the mechanisms to facilitate immigration and integration into our country. Yes, we currently have a crisis and one that is grossly inhumane and intolerable. How many people died in the Arizona desert last year? Or drowned in the Mediterranean? The U.S. is so busy supplying arms to Ukraine and Israel that the U.S. is not addressing the grave humanitarian needs of migrants, Palestinians, Sudanese, Congolese, Yemenis, drought stricken Ethiopia – now on the brink of a famine as potentially massive as that of 1985. 

It remains well past time for the U.S. to get our priorities straight. Democrats, perhaps no more than the Republicans, fail to address these problems as they fear they will jeopardize their chances of re-election. Those of us committed to advancing peace and justice must advocate with our elected officials at every possible opportunity for just immigration policies.

In Massachusetts we must vigorously support Governor Healy as she works on two major fronts; her efforts to secure the needed monies to safely house arriving individuals and families; and her efforts to secure work permits for arriving immigrants immediately. People can then help themselves – which is their central goal in coming! Another action will be the support of the Safe Communities Act, when/if it is finally scheduled for hearing. 

Join us in our work in the Latin America Caribbean Working Committee of MAPA as we track and respond to the pressing issues of immigration; and as we join the developing campaign to end the use of the Monroe Doctrine, which for 200 years has allowed the U.S. to claim the sole right of any intervention into the Western Hemisphere. Contribute as you are able to the local groups like MIRA (Mass Immigration and Refugee Assistance) which assist immigrants in a wide variety of ways.

Sunny Robinson is a valued and active member of the MAPA Latin America Caribbean Working Group