By: Sabrineth Ardalan
Two days after yet another mass shooting, President Donald Trump on Friday issued a proclamation addressing mass migration. “The continuing and threatening mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border,” he wrote, “has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders. I therefore must take immediate action to protect the national interest.”
The mass shooting, like most mass shootings, was committed by an American citizen, a white male. There’s not much detailed information about who is part of the so-called caravan on the way to the southern border. But it seems the migrants hail mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where femicide rates are the highest in the world and government protection is nonexistent. Chances are, they resemble my clients at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. People like Maria, who was kidnapped by her abuser, an auxiliary for the Honduran authorities, at a young age and subjected to years of rape. And like Jennifer, who was forced to flee El Salvador after gang members threatened to kill her and her family because they had encouraged youths to join the Evangelical Church instead of the gangs. (I’ve used pseudonyms to protect my clients’ anonymity.)
Our clients sit in our office for hours at a time and share horrific stories of the violence they suffered in their home countries, and of the children, parents, and siblings they were forced to leave behind. Despite everything they have lived through, they bring tremendous warmth and generosity. They also bring their tremendous faith in America, a country that they believe can and should offer them protection.
Trump’s proclamation and new interim regulations fly in the face of that belief. The administration plans to restrict asylum only to those who present themselves at ports of entry; people entering the country via the southern border in any other way would be limited to much more circumscribed forms of relief that would not include reuniting with their family members, obtaining a green card, or a path to citizenship. The administration also plans to enter into an agreement with Mexico to force asylum seekers traveling through that country to claim protection there instead of in the United States.
At first blush, these rules may not seem extreme. But the “ports of entry” restriction ignores the fact that Customs and Border Protection routinely turns away people even after they have asked to apply for asylum. As one woman told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “I told [the CBP official] that I wasn’t from here, that I was from Honduras, and that I wanted asylum. He told me that there was no longer asylum for Hondurans … I started to explain why I couldn’t return and what I was fleeing from, but he interrupted me and said that everyone comes with the same story, that he couldn’t help me.”