Another week, another unrelenting assault on the human rights of refugees and immigrants.
Yesterday, the Trump administration alerted Congress of its latest, misguided policy pronouncement: transferring millions of dollars in FEMA disaster relief to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The move seeks to increase ICE detention beds and support implementation of a separate policy that forces asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico—a drastic measure that will perpetuate the inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum.
This development only adds to a terrible week of actions against refugees and immigrants. In just the past week, this administration has:
- Passed a rule allowing for the indefinite detention of families;
- Ended the policy of vaccinating families in detention;
- Announced plans to deny work permits to asylum seekers;
- Stated its intention to end birthright citizenship;
- Lobbied the Panamanian government to sign a “third safe country” agreement to prevent migrants from Africa and Asia from applying for asylum at the US southern border; and
- Weighed allowing states to decide whether or not they will accept the resettlement of refugees within their borders.
Chilling, cruel, and heartless—not to mention dangerous, short-sighted and contradictory. We must speak up, and we must take action.
In defense of Flores
The Trump administration’s decision to end the Flores Settlement Agreement is especially troubling. The 1997 agreement set minimal standards on the detention of minors; by ending it, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will now be able to indefinitely detain families who do not have documents.
The deplorable conditions of detention centers at the border have been well publicized, raising the stakes for this kind of decision. Immigration cases can take months or years to resolve, especially with the current backlog. Flores was passed precisely because two young women—minors—were detained indefinitely with adults and in unsanitary conditions for months in California.
Previously, DHS could only hold minors for up to 20 days before releasing them to family members in the country while the courts processed their asylum claims. Acting DHS head Kevin McAleenan claimed the move would “restore integrity” to the US immigration system. The president said it would discourage migrants from coming here.
He was thinking of the children, he said.
No vaccines, no work, no constitutional rights
By denying vaccinations to families in detention, there will be needless deaths and illnesses. Customs and Border Protection said they were too complex to provide, claiming that the people detained would not be there long. Three children have already died due to the flu, and viruses—unlike people—cannot be detained. With the ending of Flores, how does this make sense?
The administration’s plans to deny work permits to asylum seekers who cross the border illegally is another new low. Currently, any asylum seeker can receive authorization to work while their claims are processed. This allows them to eat, have a place to sleep, pay taxes and send money back to their families. If they don’t have work permits, how will they survive? Forced into the shadows to work where they have no protection, they will be vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation.
Finally, the president’s intention to eviscerate a long-held constitutional right is the icing on the top of the cake. Birthright citizenship is enshrined in the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the US.” It was passed in 1868, after the US Civil War, in order to guarantee that African-Americans had full citizenship rights and has traditionally been granted to any child born in the US regardless of his or her parents’ legal status or where they are from. By ending birthright citizenship, the US joins the ranks of countries like the Dominican Republic, which refuses to recognize the rights of children of Haitian descent.
Across this onslaught of terrible policies, the Trump administration is slamming the door shut on vulnerable people—with little concern for their safety or security. The Flores termination decision is now being challenged in court, which is a good thing. But ideas like allowing states and cities to deny entry to refugees approved for resettlement will only further erode this country’s commitment to welcome those in need.
We cannot assume that what took place last week will be the last of this administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies. We have to ask—what sort of country do we want to become? If we care about our country’s legacy as a safe harbor, if we care about equality and justice, if we care about our future, we must speak out now about these racist and discriminatory policies.