July 17, 2019 – The United States has ramped up attacks on the right to seek asylum. On Monday, July 15, the Trump administration announced a new rule to almost completely eliminate the possibility of applying for asylum at the southern border.
This new rule, which goes into effect today, would deny asylum to those who have traveled to the United States through another country without having applied for protection in the transit country. It deals a lethal blow to a person’s right to seek asylum in a place where they feel safe – a human right outlined in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and international treaties.
In essence, this new rule has the same effects as “Safe Third Country”, without requiring formal agreements with Mexico and Guatemala – two countries Trump has been negotiating with for weeks according to reports.
Meanwhile, last week the Mexican government reiterated that it plans to comply with a migration agreement with the United States to curb the influx of foreigners heading to the northern border, thereby avoiding the threat of tariffs from the Trump administration. Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who has been tapped by the Lopez Obrador administration to manage the country’s immigration policies, gave assurances that Mexico’s actions were endorsed by the G-20.
The government of El Salvador has pitched a proposal to the United States for temporary work visas, using the argument that this will slow migration flows. On July 15, the government announced that it has asked the United States to create a program allowing Salvadorans to obtain permits to work for 4-5 months in the US. Following this period, workers would return to their country and “wait for a new opportunity,” according to the proposal. This proposal reflects a global trend, and the preferences of the Trump Administration for migration agreements hat extract economic benefits from migrant labor without allowing those individuals to obtain permanent lawful residency status. By reducing the supposed drivers of migration to one factor–lack of employment– the proposal also falls far short of a public policy framework that address the many issues that cause people to leave their countries in search of dignity and security. The exodus will not subside with temporary employment in the United States when the root causes of inequality and violence remain in place.
The Constitutional Court of Guatemala, the highest court of civil law in the country, granted an injunction that prevents the Morales administration from signing a “Safe Third Country” agreement with the United States. The Court responded to an appeal presented by former Ministers of International Affairs and the Human Rights Attorney against President Morales and two of his officials ahead of a visit to the US to sign the agreement. The Court determined that the agreement would threaten the fundamental rights of foreigners applying for asylum; because the State would be required to attend to the needs of asylees without a budget in place to do so, the Court determined such an agreement would be a violation of the Constitution. The Court also pointed out that the agreement is not tied to any other international treaties, and would, therefore, require additional approval by the Legislative Body before being adopted.
This ruling from the Constitutional Court establishes important limits to presidential power relating to asylum and refugee policy, reinforcing the fact that this type of agreement is not part of the Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Meanwhile, increasingly militarized and punitive efforts to limit migration are forcing people to turn to traffic networks, putting them in and even more vulnerable condition. On July 9, around 230 people originating from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were found crowded together in a truck in Chiapas in southern Mexico. The illicit trafficking of migrants has been one of the main justifications given by the Mexican government for its plan to contain migration. The Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs declared that there would be zero tolerance for migrant traffickers. Under this argument, Mexico has implemented a series of actions against the “coyotes”.
Those who are mostly absent from political discourse and decision-making are migrants and asylum-seekers who are being doubly victimized. They are suffering greater physical and financial costs at the hands of traffickers, while also being cast aside by the Mexican government, which has reduced humanitarian support and increased forced deportations to countries of origin. The Mexican government must recognize how each action to restrict migration forces more and more migrants into the hands of traffickers.