In the latest effort to tamp down the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Donald J. Trump’s administration introduced the Interim Final Rule (IFR). This new rule, that went into effect on Tuesday, automatically denies asylum to migrants who travel through other countries by land and arrive in the U.S. without having first sought asylum in those countries.
This is not the administration’s first go at this deterrence effort. The IFR comes on the coattails of the “remain in Mexico” program, which forces certain non-Mexican asylum seekers to stay in that country as they await a case resolution. The Mexican government reports that under this framework, nearly 20,000 non-Mexican migrants have been forced to wait in Mexico since the beginning of the program in December 2018.
The IFR has important implications for the asylum-seeking population. My research with Central American and Mexican unaccompanied minor migrants and their advocates in California and Texas points to three consequences of this rule on asylum-seeking children.
Violation of Rights of Asylum-Seeking Children
While citing the Immigration and Nationality Act as its foundation, IFR violates this act’s assertion that any alien physically present or arriving in the U.S. may apply for asylum, irrespective of their status. Additionally, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children’s rights as minors under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) are also violated.
Under IFR, children are immediately ineligible for asylum, yet TVPRA was enacted to ensure additional protections to children who arrive in the U.S. as unaccompanied minors, such as providing a suitable setting to recount the traumatic details surrounding their asylum claims.
Additionally, IFR impedes children’s TVPRA-secured referral to the Office of Refugee Resettlement for appropriate custody and safety assessments before release to a designated sponsor, access to counsel and child advocates, and the opportunity to have asylum claims first considered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The violation of TVPRA is discussed elsewhere; important here is that IFR eliminates this avenue entirely.
Asylum in Mexico Offers Little Respite
Research shows that the migration journey through Mexico is rife with violence, especially against (trans)women and indigenous migrants. Children are targeted by gangs and drug traffickers, extortionists, kidnappers, and other forms of violence. Children, especially young girls, are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape. Researchers and reporters have long noted the common practice of women and girls taking birth control before migration.
Coyotes (migrant guides) are known to charge exorbitant amounts to children and adults with children because of their risk to violence. This is not to say that all of Mexico or its nationals are violent or that no formal or informal humanitarian aid exists; instead, it points to reasons why asylum seekers describe an urgency to achieve a quick transit through Mexico rather than stay there.
Additionally, the IFR ignores that migrants follow social networks. Indeed, economic instability and a hostile sociopolitical climate prompt displacement of Central American and other asylum-seeking groups, but their arrival at the U.S. southern border is determined by their connections to those already in America.
Family unit, single adults, and lone-child asylum seekers arrive with hopes of reunification with family members or compatriots that will support their resettlement. Phone numbers written on scraps of paper and sewn into the seams of pants or on shoes point to this. Denying resettlement in the U.S. denies the real social and human conditions that shape migration and as such denies humanity.
Strategies for Control and Deterrence Are Ineffective
Data-driven policy recommendations denounce the effectiveness of enforcement and deterrence strategies. Border enforcement does not bring migration down but presses migrants and asylum seekers into more dangerous circumstances, often at the expense of their lives.
The deaths of 21-year-old Oscar and his two-year-old daughter, Valeria, are examples of how the “remain in Mexico” program drives asylum seekers to take matters into their own hands.
The IFR will likely have similar effects, especially given asylum seekers’ social networks with family members and compatriots in U.S. cities. Ultimately, the IFR does not effectively address the causes of migration but only mounts another obstacle for final resettlement.
Efforts by the administration to make an example out of asylum-seeking populations dehumanizes them and the very real safety threats they face. Further, the ever-rising bar for asylum seekers to prove a fear of returning to home countries to Customs and Border Patrol officials, attorneys, judges, and others steepens the already slippery slope on which asylum seekers have been made a spectacle for sympathizers and antagonists alike.
As dangers and death counts mount, audiotapes and images are shared, the public is desensitized to the severity of the situation – ultimately robbing onlookers of their own humanity.
Where Can We Go from Here?
The IFR is the administration’s response to “being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens,” as described by Attorney General William Barr on July 15.
The Migration Policy Institute think tank has concluded that these conditions are, in part, of the administration’s own doing because of its inability – or unwillingness – to treat the issue as an “ongoing phenomenon rather than an episodic crisis.”
We must stop considering the arrival of asylum seekers at the U.S. southern border a temporal trend, and instead see it as a long-lasting condition of our global world. As such, we must continue to uphold asylum seekers’ rights afforded through the Immigration and National Act and children’s rights through the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act. Doing so recognizes that asylum seekers are arriving in the U.S. with distinct political and social motivations. It also lessens the desperation that can contribute to deaths and disease, and reserve the humanity of asylum seekers and those attuned to the events that U.S. border and beyond.
People risk their lives for a chance to live here. A country so great as the United States of America should take pride in this.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.