MSF: Urgent call to oppose dismantling of US asylum system

A family peeks out of their tent on a very cold day at an encampment near the international bridge connecting Matamoros, Mexico, with Brownsville, Texas.
Mexico 2019 © Melissa Pracht/MSF
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NEW YORK, July 10, 2020—A new rule proposed by the Trump administration threatens to effectively end the United States asylum system, making it nearly impossible for people fleeing violence and persecution to obtain protection in the US, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

MSF is calling for members of the public to join in submitting original comments to the administration before a July 15 deadline, expressing concerns about how the rule will affect tens of thousands of people in danger.

"This rule directly threatens the lives and health of many of our patients and thousands of people fleeing violence," said Avril Benoît, executive director of MSF in the United States. "Submitting a comment online may seem like a small thing to do, but this simple action has the potential for much greater impact to stall or even stop these cruel policies.”

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The proposed rule, "Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review," is the culmination of years of relentless attacks by the Trump administration on people forced from home—and on the asylum system designed to protect people fleeing violence and persecution. Due to various executive orders and new rules implemented by the Trump administration in the past three years, it is already extremely difficult to obtain asylum in the US, especially for people from Central America.

Asylum seekers have been left to navigate a series of new and ever-changing policies designed to block them at every step along the way. US authorities have forced people back to dangerous cities along Mexico’s northern border or to other countries in Central America to await their asylum hearings. More recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US-Mexico border has been completely closed to asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors.

MSF has formally objected to the proposed rule and demands that it be withdrawn entirely.

At the same time, through another proposed rule introduced on July 8, the Trump administration is using public health concerns as an excuse to block asylum claims. "[Migrants] whose entry would pose a risk of further spreading infectious or highly contagious illnesses or diseases … pose a significant danger to the security of the United States," the draft rule said.

MSF has repeatedly raised concerns about the US, as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating a public health crisis across Latin America and the Caribbean by continuing deportations to countries with lower rates of transmission and weaker health systems.

"What we see is an ongoing attempt to stop people from claiming asylum in the US, using every pretext available," Benoît said. "US policies are compounding the dangers for people who have suffered enough and making the public health emergency even worse."