Published: Tue, July 16, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Trump administration moves to end asylum protections for Central Americans

Trump administration moves to end asylum protections for Central Americans

The rule, expected to go into effect Tuesday, also applies to children who have crossed the border alone.

Mexico has rejected the measures and the American Civil Liberties Union has mounted a legal challenge. The rule applies not only to adult asylum seekers, but unaccompanied minors as well.

FILE - Central American migrants cross into Mexico from Guatemala, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, June 4, 2019.

The rule would not apply to nationals of Mexico or Canada, countries that are contiguous to the United States. It would also apply to many other asylum seekers who attempt to enter the US from other countries. A "safe third country" agreement would mean that Salvadorans, Hondurans and people from elsewhere who cross into Guatemala would have to apply for asylum there instead of doing so at the US border. The United Nations' refugee agency defines "safe country", in part, as "being countries in which refugees can enjoy asylum without any danger".

Mr Trump has consistently taken a hard line on immigration to the United States, vowing to stem the flow of migrants with stringent asylum policies and a fortified wall along the Mexican border.

Under the rule, released online today, with limited exceptions refugees seeking asylum would have to do so in a third country through which they transited, rather than at the USA border.

In order to enter the United States, asylum-seekers would have to show that they were denied relief in a third country - not their own, and not the U.S. Failing that, they would be turned away.

Since January, more than 15,000 people - largely from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras - who sought asylum in the US were returned to Mexico under the "Migrant Protection Protocols" to await their asylum case in USA immigration court.

"This rule will be challenged because it is contrary to the asylum statute and to United States obligations to refugees under worldwide law", Keren Zwick, a litigator at the National Immigrant Justice Centre.

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The Department of Homeland Security, in a statement issued with the Department of Justice, said the rule would set a "new bar" for immigrants "by placing further restrictions or limitations on eligibility for aliens who seek asylum in the United States".

"This new rule is patently unlawful and we will sue swiftly", Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's national Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement.

The 1980 act was enacted to comply with worldwide laws governing the treatment of refugees, laws drafted in the wake of the Second World War in response to the criminal denial of asylum to Jews who were sent back to Hitler's death camps. But the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs asylum law, is vague on how a country is determined "safe"; it says "pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement".

The move also prompted Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to cancel a White House meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump Monday.

Mexico has been somewhat cooperative with USA efforts to slow Central American immigration, in part under pressure from Trump threats to impose tariffs on Mexican products.

On Sunday evening Guatemala's Constitutional Court blocked President Jimmy Morales from immediately declaring the poor Central American nation a "safe third country" for asylum-seekers, amid growing pushback to United States pressure that it absorb large numbers of migrants. It establishes through executive action a bar to asylum whereby anyone crossing the southern land border who transits through almost any third country in the world will be sent back to that country.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said additional funding given by Congress for aid at the U.S. -Mexico border isn't enough.

The treaties countries must have signed according to the new rule are the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol or the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. But, for example, while Australia, France and Brazil have signed those treaties, so have Afghanistan and Libya, places the USA does not consider safe.

Attorney General William Barr insisted that the move was legal and needed.

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