New US asylum ban forces people back into danger

MSF on the migration route to Mexico

Mexico 2019 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court authorized the Trump Administration to begin enforcing a new policy along the border with Mexico that forbids asylum applications from people who first traveled through another country on their way to the US and did not seek asylum there first. 

Avril Benoît, executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-USA) gave the following statement:

“The Supreme Court decision is devastating to tens of thousands of people seeking safety in the US. It guarantees that vulnerable people—including those who have been trapped at US ports of entry and who were attempting to follow the designated legal process—will be barred from seeking asylum in the US while this case winds through the courts.  

“This policy is massive in scope and not limited to asylum seekers from Central America. People from any country except Mexico are now ineligible to apply for asylum at the US southern border. This means that people forced to flee from Venezuela, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, or anyone who must transit through another country before reaching the US will no longer be eligible. This is effectively an asylum ban.

“As this case is challenged in court over the next several months, asylum seekers from some of the world’s most violent regions and war zones will continue to be turned away and left to wait in overcrowded shelters or on the street in unsafe cities along the US-Mexico border where they are targeted for robbery, extortion, and kidnapping. Other countries such as Mexico and Guatemala are neither safe nor viable alternatives for asylum seekers.

“MSF provides basic health care and mental health counseling to migrants and asylum seekers along Mexico’s migration routes and the US-Mexico border. Our medical teams witness how migrants and asylum seekers are currently being left to wait indefinitely or dumped in cities along the US border and throughout Mexico. Our patients are traumatized from violence back home and violence along the route. Then they are targets of crime and violence as they are forced to wait in extremely dangerous cities along the US-Mexico border. For many of our patients, asylum in the US is the only hope they have to reach safety.

“Asylum saves lives. It is not a legal loophole or a way to game the immigration system. It exists because for some people, home is a death sentence. This new policy abandons all asylum seekers and forces people back to danger, violence, and death. This is an inhumane choice that plays with people's lives and upends all existing domestic and international refugee laws around the right to seek asylum.”