The effects of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy have been immediate and tragic. Just two months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and a month after he made clear this would mean parents arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border would be prosecuted for illegal entry and their children taken away, story after story of separated families have appeared. Mr. Sessions also made clear that this zero-tolerance policy applies even to those seeking asylum.

So it’s no surprise that reports of U.S. border guards refusing to allow asylum seekers to make their claims continue to emerge.

People seeking asylum are following the law, not breaking it.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. This is the law – both under international law and federal statute. Recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and spelled out in the 1951 Refugee Convention , the United States made good on its commitment to the this principle in 1980 when the Refugee Act was signed into law.

This right ensures that people fleeing persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group have a chance to make their claim before being returned to death, torture, imprisonment, or other human rights violations.

The moral and human cost of ignoring this fundamental human right is high. Witness the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, when U.S. immigration law’s restrictive immigration quotas resulted in the return of 532 passengers to continental Europe, 254 of whom died during the Holocaust.

U.S. border officials violate the law when they turn back asylum seekers without a hearing.

In the aftermath of World War II, the world community recognized that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.[1] That principle, known to refugee policy wonks as “non-refoulement,” is now a rule of customary international law.[2]

Refusing to allow people to make their asylum claims, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly did this week in El Paso, violates U.S. law and violates U.S. treaty obligations. These complaints are not new or isolated: last summer, for example, the American Immigration Council challenged CBP’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers arriving in California. The case remains pending.

The administration’s efforts to prosecute of asylum seekers who appear at ports-of-entry and separate them from their children also violate international law. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani rebuked the U.S. in a June 5 statement:

“The current policy in the United States of separating ‘extremely young children’ from their asylum-seeker or migrant parents along the country’s southern border ‘always constitutes a child rights violation.’” [3]

A federal judge agrees that the administration’s practice may violate the U.S. Constitution. In a ruling earlier this week, the judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging the practice.

While the administration claims it wants immigrants to “follow the law,” it seems blind to the fact that people who appear at ports-of-entry and claim asylum In addition to The Refugee Convention also prohibits the U.S. from imposing penalties on asylum seekers on account of their illegal entry or presence.[4] In order to deter asylum seekers from coming to the United States.

We need zero tolerance for human rights violations, not for people seeking asylum.

We need zero tolerance for public policy based on hate, racism, and xenophobia. While the administration’s new policies are ripping families apart and denying people their fundamental right to seek asylum, the policies have not slowed the arrival of people seeking protection. More than 50,000 people were arrested crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in May, the third month in a row with more than 50,000 arrests. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice released this week found no evidence that criminal prosecutions led to a decline in apprehensions along the Southwest border.

This is hardly surprising. People fleeing for their lives don’t consult presidential Twitter feeds or check Justice Department press releases. Like good parents everywhere, they go where they hope their children will be able to grow up in safety, protected by the rule of law and the principles of human rights.

[1] 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 33(1).

[2] Customary international law is

[3] While the United States stands alone among the world’s nations as the only country not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, international law is clear that the family is entitled to respect and protection. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, article 16(3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, article 23(1), and American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, article 17(1) each state that ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’.  European Social Charter, 1961, article 16, ‘With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Contracting Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life ….’ African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981, article 18(1) ‘The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society.  It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical and moral health.’

[4] 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 31 (1).

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One thought on “People are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

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