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Biden Tells Central American Asylum Seekers to Stay Home

When Lives Are Threatened, Waiting for Protection May Not Be an Option

President Joe Biden speaks at a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH on July 21, 2021. © 2021 Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Refugees are defined under international law as people outside their country who fear being persecuted upon return. United States President Joe Biden seeks to turn that definition on its head.

During a Town Hall on Wednesday, he told Central Americans not to seek asylum at the US border but instead to wait in their country and be processed for asylum from there.

“They should not come,” Biden said. “If you seek asylum in the United States, you can seek it from the country, from your – in place. You can seek it from an American embassy.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says otherwise; that everyone has the “right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

When a government persecutes its own citizens or fails to protect them from abuse, many will be compelled to flee for their very lives. But Biden is telling these people to stay.

Imagine if other refugees in history had, at the urging of a far-away president, stayed home and waited their turn to be interviewed and processed.  

History is one thing, but consider also what it would be like to be a Salvadoran whose life is being threatened by a gang today. If you were that Salvadoran, how long would you be willing to wait to be interviewed by the US Embassy in San Salvador, as promised by President Biden, and how many more months of waiting inside your country while your asylum claim was being processed? Waiting is a luxury a person facing violence cannot afford.

It is well and good for the US and other countries to establish orderly immigration procedures, including resettlement for refugees who have fled to third countries, but the right to seek asylum in other countries needs to be respected, even though it can be messy.

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