Limiting the Right to Asylum

Peace Advocate January 2023

By Sunny Robinson

A note: by necessity, this article focuses on policy issues because humanizing policy is what is required of us in the US for  solidarity and justice. As you read, try to imagine what it is like to be a migrant, all your worldly belongings in a small satchel over your shoulder, children likely in tow; fleeing violence, hunger, poverty, and climate change, desperate for a new start.

The latest so-called immigration reforms from the Biden administration are woefully inadequate as well as very likely serious violations of U.S. and International Asylum Laws….a fact that even mainstream media is currently forced to acknowledge. The number of people, largely from Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, that are seeking refuge in the US is staggering with more than 2.7 million border crossings in 2022 alone.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is a signatory and thus bound to adhere to its declarations, says in Article 3, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,”  and more pointedly in Article 14, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Within the exercise of these rights Article 25 declares, “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.” Finally the Declaration informs us in Article 30 that “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”(Emphasis added.)

Additionally, the UN 1951 Convention & 1967 Protocol define a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country, and cannot obtain protection in that country due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.’’ The U.S. Congress incorporated this into the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. As a signatory, the U.S. has the legal obligation to provide protection to those who qualify.

These are among the human rights that are at stake in the most recent Biden policies that limit the number of asylum applicants, for example, from Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and Nicaragua to 30,000 per month – the countries from which the greatest number of asylum seekers are currently coming. One might be tempted to say, well 30,000 per month is not totally unreasonable, until you look at the additional criteria – apply in your home country, or at least in a third country before arriving in the US, have a designated US sponsor who will support you, valid passport or other governmental ID, and be able to pay the fees.  As perhaps the clearest example, ask yourself how many people urgently fleeing the very dangerous situation in Haiti could possibly meet those criteria! Add El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru; how many people could possibly meet these criteria? Even for those who can, where is the sufficient trained immigration staff, and especially judicial staff, available to conduct all the credible fear interviews, much less the full cases, in a timely manner? Such policies raise the specter of not only a continuation of racist immigration denials but also deeply elitist denials. And they are clearly a violation of UN Articles 14 and 30 as cited above!

Another new policy claims the administration has the ability to turn back to Mexico, that is deny entry, or the ability to remain in the US, 30,000 migrants a month who enter illegally. 

The assumed counter balance to these draconian proposals is a third new policy announced on Jan. 18th called The Welcome Corps which would allow up to 10,000 people or approved organizations to sponsor up to 5,000 refugees. This would allow individuals as well as organizations such as faith based groups, colleges, or veterans groups to sponsor refugees, not just designated refugee assistance agencies. While allowing those who want to support asylum seekers to do so, 5,000 is woefully inadequate in the face of 2.7 million arrivants last year. 

What do we do to counter such inhuman, as well as illegal, policies? Genuine immigration reform, even securing permanent status for DACA recipients (Deferred Actions on Childhood Arrivals recipients known as “dreamers”) is extremely unlikely to be approved by the current Congress. Even the outgoing Congress failed to pass the Afghan Assistance Act which would have created a path to at least permanent residence for US Afghan Allies and their families, many of whom, now here under humanitarian parole, only have until August of 2024 to secure their status before they face deportation. Thus, we are forced to put as much positive pressure on President Biden and his administration as we can, as well as rely on the courts – itself a risky proposition. To those ends the National Immigration Justice Center encourages the administration to:

  1. “develop and support robust communication and planning between federal, state and local governments, and civil society, so that those arriving migrants in need of additional support can be matched with a destination with capacity to provide services
  2. fund and support civil society, including social and legal service providers;
  3. create non-custodial, humanitarian reception centers at the border, instead of jailing migrants and asylum seekers
  4. overhaul the federal immigration budget by moving funds away from detention and enforcement and toward asylum processing and humanitarian needs; and 
  5. abide by its obligation to ensure asylum access to those arriving at the United States’ borders and ports (as cited in  “Solutions for a Humane Border Policy” – with emphasis added here.

Locally, we should all:

  1. Contact President Biden at expressing dismay at the limitations to the right to seek asylum, insisting instead that the above 5 points be addressed;
  2. Contact our Congressional Representatives, especially Senators Markey and Warren, urging them to do the same;
  3. Seek ways to be more involved in Massachusetts immigration advocacy via organizations such as MIRA – 

Mass. Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Center

  1. If you are a member of a faith community learn more about the Welcome Corp and seek to sponsor a refugee. (See above)
  2. Support human rights organizations on the border directly, such as Annunciation House in El Paso, which already provide extensive humane and dignified assistance to refugees, especially assisting them to travel to other locales in the US where they have family and friends able to help them or supporting them as they go through the asylum application process.

Even should such positive steps take place, as a peace and justice community we must confront additional challenges. First, asylum approval is essentially a decision based on individual situations – i.e. a person fleeing provable violence or persecution. It is not a designation provided to all migrants from an entire  country due to a political or environmental catastrophe. Even then, temporary protected status (TPS) is only temporary. Consider the current situation in Haiti. For Haitians TPS is only applicable if the persons were in the US by a certain date. 

Second, neither economic need nor generalized climate change catastrophes are considered permissible reasons for asylum, though they should be. The UN has begun to recognize this, at least for climate related environmental failures. Thirdly, the largest numbers of persons seeking entry to the U.S. are doing so from countries which at differing levels have been devastated by the impact of US wars, militarization, supplies of weapons, and economic and political policies, as well as impact of climate change for which the US has huge unaddressed complicity, if not outright responsibility. We must broaden the scope of who is eligible to seek asylum.

If we in the US want to address the root causes of so much immigration we have to assure the US carries out just and humane economic, political, and environmental policies as well as ending unreasonable sanctions, the flow of arms and outright war and coups against other countries. The US does not have the right to control all of the Western Hemisphere, the Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding, which in 1823, tried to claim that any intervention into Latin America by the United States to “protect” it from any extra-hemispheric power, was justified. 

It is way past time to end the Monroe Doctrine. Join us in doing so. The Latin America and Caribbean Working Group (LA/CWG) of MAPA meets the third Wednesday of every month by zoom. Contact current chairperson Derek Sexton at <> to join!

Sunny Robinson is an active member of the MAPA Latin America and Caribbean Working Group, who has been involved with human rights and justice efforts for decades, much of which focused on Central America and especially Guatemala.