Last week during a CNN town hall, the president advised that asylum seekers, specifically from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (collectively known as the Northern Triangle) should “not come” to the United States to seek asylum. He told these individuals to instead seek asylum from their country of persecution.
This is an unconscionable statement that has been repeated by several members of the current administration and it must never be said again.
First and foremost, the U.S. should welcome those who are seeking safety at our borders. More importantly, seeking protection while remaining in their country of persecution is not safe for many people seeking asylum, especially for those fleeing gender-based violence.
Asylum is a legal pathway to immigration status for people in the U.S. or at its borders who fear persecution in their country of citizenship.
The international community created asylum for those experiencing violence due to a central part of their identity. To be eligible for asylum, one must fear persecution on account of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group. Additionally, asylum seekers must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of citizenship and that their own governments are either persecuting them or cannot or will not protect them from the persecution they are experiencing.
Individuals fleeing their country of persecution cannot turn to their countries for protection.
Asylum is often a last resort for survivors, and individuals experiencing gender-based violence are particularly at risk in their home countries. Societies they flee often accept violence against women and gender-nonconforming individuals as normal. If survivors are harmed by non-government agents, like family members, and the police refuse to help them, they need international protection in the form of asylum.
The “do not come” message from the administration is harmful to asylum seekers around the world and undermines the human right to seek asylum. The administration is turning its back on refugees and survivors of violence, all while breaking the promises made to protect them.
There is no public health rationale for blocking people from seeking asylum and the administration must not use it as a pretext to refuse asylum to those who need it and potentially expose survivors to more danger, violence, and trauma.
Tahirih is deeply concerned at recent efforts to use deterrence as a strategy to reduce the number of asylum seekers at the border. It is time for the president remove these barriers to protection, restore asylum, and treat survivors with humanity and dignity.