(Asylum seekers at the U.S. Border)
Written by: Hninn Thanlwin Thit
You’ve probably heard of the word ‘refugee’. Simply put, a refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. But have you heard of an ‘asylum seeker’? A refugee and an asylum seeker is not much different; both are seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, except that an asylum-seeker hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim.
Seeking asylum is well understood as a human right even during a pandemic as the Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Individuals arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border have the correct to ask refuge without being criminalized, turned back to peril or isolated from their families. And that is precisely what thousands of individuals from Central America and beyond hope for to succeed as they undertake a risky journey to the United States southern border to ask for asylum.
The lion’s share of asylum-seekers come from Mexico and the northern Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, although some are also fleeing abuse and persecution in nations such as Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti. Various types of people are leaving including women escaping gender-based violence, LGBTQ people fleeing viciousness, and families and children seeking protection from gang violence. The Central America region, having endured from extreme poverty for so long, has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic as an approximated 45.4 million people were forced into poverty in 2020 alone. The communities there have faced a double blow in November when hurricanes Eta and Iota struck within three weeks of one another, leaving 3.4 million people in need of critical help.
Like other asylum seekers, unaccompanied children are crossing the border to escape violence and persecution. It’s easier said than done though. Asylum seekers take the risk of going on a journey full with peril, including human trafficking. It’s not just the fear of extradition that migrants encounter while crossing the Mexican border to the US as well; it’s the possibility of a slow, excruciating death while crossing a blazing desert. With 500 or more unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. every day, the current Biden Administration is battling to supply secure safe housing or to quickly discharge children to family members or other adults who can act as sponsors and take responsibility for their care.
Most recently, more than 172,000 migrants, most in nearly 2 decades, stopped at US-Mexico border in March 2021. The Biden Administration is in a tricky situation with the gigantic numbers of asylum seekers while confronting the challenge of loosening the Trump Administration’s disastrous decisions. For example, the Migrant Protection Protocols (popularly known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy) constrained asylum seekers to make their case from Mexico rather than inside the U.S and inflicted such people in harm’s way.
On President Joe Biden’s first day in office, the Department of Homeland Security suspended the Migrant Protection Protocols, and by late February asylum-seekers were being screened for COVID-19 and permitted into the United States. Many migrants and asylum seekers were met with relief stuck in the camps in northern Mexico. But the border had reopened too late for most of the 41,247 migrants whose cases were rejected while they “remained in Mexico.”
Those remaining back in their own countries face many risks. People are subjected to sexual assault, torment and kidnapping on a daily basis while waiting and might not have an aid of legal counsel to appear in their U.S. court hearings. Similarly, asylum seekers from countries such as El Salvador and Honduras may have been denied asylum because the U.S. government has been hesitant to recognize gang persecution and domestic violence as grounds for asylum. The people continue to strive to fight for their lives and their generations though. As of March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, an all-time high.
Turning asylum seekers away not only violates U.S. domestic law and international law, it sends people, including families with children, back to places where they face persecution. There’s no sign of the soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico dwindling and it reflects their struggle for their much needed safety; it is up to us to help, or at least advocate for, them to reach safe unthreatened living conditions.
- International Rescue Committee (IRC). (2021, March 24). What is happening at the U.S. southern border? https://www.rescue.org/article/what-happening-us-southern-border
- Key facts about refugees and asylum seekers’ rights. (n.d.). Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/refugees-asylum-seekers-and-migrants/
- Owen, Q. (2021, April 8). More than 172,000 migrants, most in nearly 2 decades, stopped at US-Mexico border in March. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/172000-migrants-decades-stopped-us-mexico-border-march/story?id=76932441
- Semple, K. (2021, April 9). With U.S. Asylum System Closed to Many, Some Find Sanctuary in Mexico. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/08/world/americas/mexico-asylum.html
- Yan, H. C. (2017, July 28). What are migrants fleeing from when they cross the Mexico-US border? CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/28/world/us-migrant-countries-snapshots/index.html
About the Author
Hninn Thanlwin Thit is an AS/A Level student from Yangon, Myanmar. Hninn enjoys writing articles and is particularly interested in contemporary global issues; aiming for an interdisciplinary major, Hninn aspires to spread awareness of various concerns in society today while involving in volunteering acts in the community.