Statement from Refugees Northwest Director Beth Farmer on the Latest Asylum Ruling

Every day there seems to be another effort to erode the human rights of those forced to flee their home because of persecution.

The latest is yesterday’s decision to deny bail to individuals who have passed a Credible Fear interview and are seeking asylum. The decision may force some asylum seekers to remain in detention indefinitely.

This is cruel and unnecessary. Last summer, the wait for an asylum hearing was already more than 1,000 days — and that was before the government shut down. Many of our clients who have been waiting years are now receiving notices that their hearing have been pushed out two even three more years.

Asylum seekers have no choice but to flee. They flee because to stay would mean torture, imprisonment, or even death. To get to a bond hearing, asylum seekers must pass a Credible Fear interview where they present evidence of their persecution to an immigration official. The immigration official decides whether they meet the standard of Credible Fear. If they do, according to US domestic law, they may pursue an asylum case in the United States.

Despite the fact that they have committed no crime, asylum seekers will be often be remanded to an immigration detention facility – many of which are owned by private, for-profit corporations. Prolonged detention is extremely damaging to asylum seekers. Numerous studies show that the prevalence of torture in asylum seekers is over 30%. Asylum seekers have ten times the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than the general population. Detention itself can mimic past, forced imprisonment. Detention also severely limits an asylum seekers ability to access an attorney or to gather evidence to prove their claim.

Posting bond is one alternative to detention, and while it is expensive and not available to everyone, it allows some seekers to pursue their case while in the care of their community or family. Denying this alternative and forcing seekers to remain imprisoned for years at a time is unwarranted and unnecessarily harsh. The assumption that this will prevent people from fleeing is erroneous. You cannot lock people in a burning house and expect them to remain. People will still flee, but instead of a humane process, people will be warehoused for long periods of time putting pressure on an already stressed system.

The American Civil Liberties Union has already vowed to sue the Administration over this decision.

Refugees Northwest also remains concerned that the people fleeing for their lives are being forced back across the southern border instead of being allowed to pursue their asylum case in the United States as required by law.  Even though the “Remain in Mexico” has been found to be illegal, the judge delayed implementing his ruling to give the Administration time to appeal. As of two weeks ago, over 60 asylum seekers EACH DAY who passed their credible fear interview were being forced back across the border to Mexico. Homeland Security had hoped to deport close to 300 people a day.  

The “Remain in Mexico” plan violates the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) process for asylum. The effort also violates US obligations under international law, specifically violating Article 33 of the Refugee Convention that prohibits states from returning refugees to places where they face persecution, and/or a threat to their life or freedom. In addition, Mexico is historically an unsafe place for asylum seekers. Many of the same drug cartels that operate in Central America have tentacles in Mexico, and it is common for there to be corruption and collusion with Police and other local authorities.  

The plan also undermines the ability of asylum seekers to seek legal counsel. While there is no right to legal counsel in asylum – even for children – if an asylum seekers I able to retain a lawyer they are FIVE TIMES more likely to be granted asylum.

Refugees Northwest is troubled by these heartless attempts to undermine our nation’s commitment to human rights. History would tell us that when we look back on these times, we do some with great regret and shame.