Under cover of the Covid-19 public health emergency, the Trump administration got to work doing something the president has repeatedly threatened: a near-total shutdown of the United States-Mexico border. On March 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new regulation to suspend entry into the US of people from certain foreign countries for reasons of public health. The CDC’s first order issued under this rule targets irregular border crossers for immediate expulsion without any consideration of their eligibility for protection.
US Customs and Border Protection agents are now turning away unaccompanied children and other asylum seekers without any protections normally afforded to them.
This practice is unlawful under both US and international law.
Both the CDC rule and subsequent order ignored that even in times of emergency, the United States remains obligated under treaties it has ratified to protect refugees from return to a threat of persecution, exposure to torture or inhuman and degrading conditions, or threats to life and physical security.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented border protection agents performing illegal “turnbacks” of migrants, including unaccompanied children, exercising their internationally protected right to seek asylum. We also found agents have failed to meet requirements to refer for interviews with asylum officers people who have expressed fear of returning to their country of origin, and instead deported them to potential danger. These “expeditious” expulsions can have serious consequences. For instance, Human Rights Watch reported on some 200 cases since 2013 of Salvadorans who were killed, raped, or otherwise abused after the United States returned them to El Salvador.
But there is still time to speak out. Before midnight eastern time on April 23, submit your comments opposing the new CDC rule here. Let the Trump administration know you oppose its using a public health crisis as a pretext to suspend the basic right to seek asylum.
We’ve provided a template but to make your comment really count, be sure to add your personal perspective on why the United States needs to respect asylum rights.