The mainstream media, and academia, love to portray the U.S. as an unrepentant violator of international law. For example, Nathan J. Robinson the editor of Current Affairs recently accused the U.S. of, “treat[ing]international law as a meaningless set of guidelines that can be violated at will.” Strangely, however, Robinson and similarly-minded colleagues never seem to hold other nations – especially those in the developing world – to the same standards.
Take, for example, the latest migrant caravan currently making its way to the United States. Just like the group that trekked to the U.S. border earlier this year, this one also consists mainly of Hondurans. Members of the caravan say they plan to request political asylum. But the majority of the caravan members overtly admit they are fleeing corruption, crime, and poor economic conditions, rather than persecution by the Honduran government.
As a matter both U.S. and international law, asylum is only available to those fleeing persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Lousy economic and social conditions in Honduras don’t obligate the U.S. to consider Honduran nationals for any special protections.
As international legal scholar Roman Boed has stated, “… those not legitimately needing protection from persecution should be, in the discretion of the [receiving]state, either directed to the proper channels for immigration or repatriated.” That means the arguments from the open-borders lobby that any migrants claiming any kind of dissatisfaction with their own countries have an affirmative right to asylum protections are flawed.
As such, the Trump administration’s current attempts to put an end to mass migration by caravan (e.g. by sending a clear message that ineligible caravan members will be denied asylum and by refusing to provide promised foreign aid to Honduras and Guatemala) have been correct under international law, as well as under domestic law.
In addition, Guatemala and Mexico are, like the U.S., parties to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the accompanying 1967 updates. While this treaty does not require signatories to grant asylum to anyone, it does obligate them to engage in their best endeavors to determine whether anyone who enters their territory allegedly fleeing persecution actually qualify for protection. But Guatemala and Mexico have been waving their Honduran neighbors on through, no questions asked, and pointing them toward the United States. (Under pressure from the Trump administration, Mexico and some Central American states appear to be taking initial steps to prevent migrant caravans from reaching the United States, but it is still too early to determine their effectiveness.)
The refugee convention was implemented to keep throngs of displaced persons from roaming country-to-country in search of safety – a problem experienced throughout Europe in the wake of World War II. Alleged refugees don’t get to pass through multiple safe countries searching for the best deal. And states like Guatemala and Mexico passing the buck to the United States doesn’t constitute a “best endeavor” to determine who is a genuine refugee.
Therefore, Guatemala and Mexico would appear to have been failing to meet their international legal obligations. How come no one is criticizing them for failing to comply with international law? Because the radical open borders lobby can’t admit that the United States, like every other country, is entitled to preserve its sovereignty and control its borders. The minute it concedes that point all of its wobbly arguments come crashing down.
So, for the time being, international law will continue to be used as a blunt instrument to trash the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, even though the U.S. is more than meeting its international legal obligations.