Here’s WOLA’s statement about the migration negotiations happening right now in Congress. People accessing asylum are not the problem: the problem is our outdated, underfunded asylum system grappling with years-long backlogs. Appropriations should focus on that instead—and do no harm.
The White House is signaling support for life-threatening restrictions on asylum access, including raising the standard that asylum seekers must meet while being screened in U.S. custody. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) calls on Congress not to use the lives of tens of thousands of families and individuals as bargaining chips in exchange for assistance to Ukraine and Israel.
Rather than putting people’s lives at risk, it is time to be realistic about the push and pull factors driving migration, guarantee due process to people who need protection, provide additional legal pathways to migration, and work with countries throughout the hemisphere that are also receiving record numbers of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Blocking asylum, a core human rights value adopted after World War II, has not and will not stop people from fleeing their homes and will worsen the humanitarian crisis.
The reasons forcing asylum seekers from Venezuela, Haiti, Ukraine, Cuba, and many other nations to flee their homes will remain, regardless of changes in U.S. immigration policies. Right now, thousands of families are waiting for days in the most secluded border regions, in harsh conditions, and without supplies, to be picked up by Border Patrol in hopes of seeking protection in the country.
The harsh measures that Texas’s state government is imposing aren’t deterring anyone: desperate people are crawling through razor wire with their children in El Paso, while over 3,000 per day are arriving in Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, the very heart of Gov. Abbott’s crackdown. People are coming even though a growing number do not survive the journey: the migrant death toll at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the region is the highest it has ever been. Further tightening access to asylum, which is a cornerstone of our legal system and an important reform of the post-World War II era, will only contribute to dysfunction at the border and the loss of lives.
Raising credible fear interview standards, capping numbers of asylum seekers, expanding expedited removal proceedings, and restricting humanitarian parole will place thousands of people in life-threatening situations.
These policies would increase the probability of U.S. authorities committing refoulement (returning people to their place of persecution), a serious violation of human rights and of international and U.S. law. It is bad enough that U.S. immigration law makes journeying to U.S. soil and asking for asylum the only viable pathway for most to achieve protection in the United States, and that U.S. policy restricts asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry.
After a harrowing journey, while still in CBP’s jail-like facilities without access to counsel, many people with urgent protection needs will not be able to effectively defend their cases over the phone with distant asylum officers—especially if the administration and Congress raise the standard of “fear” to something close to what they would eventually have to prove in an immigration court. This policy change will return thousands back to likely death, torture, or imprisonment. The expedited removal process already fast tracks asylum proceedings at the border. Expanding it into the U.S. interior, impeding their ability to get lawyers and effectively make their cases, would subject migrants and asylum seekers throughout the country to speedy deportations without due process.
Beyond a possible agreement on raising fear standards, Republicans are pushing for limits on the presidential authority, dating back to the 1950s, to offer migrants temporary humanitarian parole. A partial offer of parole to citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela increased order at the border by sharply reducing arrivals of most of those countries’ citizens. Restricting this program would overwhelm resources at the border.
These proposed policy changes directly contradict the United States’ commitments to racial equity, disproportionately impacting Black, Brown, and Indigenous migrants. The potential harm to these communities cannot be overlooked.
The standard for people to access asylum is not the problem; the problem is our outdated, underfunded asylum system grappling with years-long backlogs. Appropriations should focus on that, instead.
We urge Congress to not make permanent, harmful policy changes in exchange for a one-time funding package. The need for enduring, thoughtful solutions has never been more pressing.