A trans woman Lincy builds a new life in Phoenix
The Trump Administration is using the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic to intensify its years-long attack on asylum seekers.
Families requesting safe haven at the U.S. border often have no choice but to flee dangerous situations. They have the legal right to request protection in the United States, and should not be criminalized or separated from their children. Policies that turn them away expose them to dangers that have only been exacerbated by COVID-19.
Find out how the administration’s policies put asylum seekers—the majority of whom are people of color—at increased risk and threaten to destroy the asylum system as we know it. Instead of protecting the public, the new proposals appear likely to worsen our unprecedented health crisis.
Border closures worsen the pandemic
Prior to the pandemic, the administration had taken steps to turn away families seeking safety. By placing an arbitrary daily limit on the number of asylum seekers who could be processed, and forcing asylum seekers to make their case from Mexico rather than inside the U.S., tens of thousands of people were being sent into harm’s way.
Then, in late March, the administration issued an order to immediately deny entry to non-citizens arriving at the border—with no opportunity to request sanctuary. In just six weeks, the Customs and Border Patrol denied entry to some 20,000 people, including 400 unaccompanied children. CBP considered these cases for an average of just 96 minutes each before deciding to turn back asylum seekers without any ability to bolster their case or provide more information. Although local communities in northern Mexico have made valiant efforts to welcome those turned away at the border, services are overwhelmed and asylum seekers often find themselves at risk of the same type of violence they fled.
The administration can and should implement public health measures, including screenings carried out by public health officials, to mitigate risks to asylum seekers, and must increase access to health facilities at the border. But current policies merely compound the danger both at home and abroad.
“Superspreader” ICE threatens asylum seekers—and public health
The U.S. continues to hold tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants in detention centers that are notoriously overcrowded, with track records of neglect for sanitation, medical care and personal safety.
ICE is likely dramatically underreporting COVID-19 cases in these centers, by a factor of as high as fifteen. But the little data we do have suggests that over twenty percent of the asylum seekers and migrants tested while held in detention are coming back positive for the virus.
Philip*, an IRC client from Democratic Republic of Congo currently detained at a private ICE facility in Texas, recounted his experience: “ICE does not respect any COVID public health measures—they don’t pay attention to the rules. Here I am in a room with over 100 people—like being in a crowded market. We are given soap and masks, but ICE agents do not wear masks, and do not respect quarantine—which is especially bad since we share so many spaces and materials. I have never seen them measure a single person’s temperature.”
Not only has ICE refused requests to release individuals held in these dangerous conditions, the agency is further facilitating the spread of the coronavirus through deportations, sending people straight from overcrowded detention centers to countries already struggling to control the pandemic due to strained health care infrastructure. Over 450 deportation flights have taken place in 2020, with nearly a dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean confirming deportees returned with the virus.
Given the conditions in detention centers, all ICE detainees must be released and allowed to follow public health best practices. The administration also must halt all deportations while the pandemic is ongoing, as these are accelerating the spread of the virus. A bill in Congress, the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act, would end many of these harmful immigration enforcement measures that are worsening our public health crisis.
Father & son seek asylum at IRC Phoenix
A family seeks refuge after fleeing violence