Opponents of the Trump administration have filed suit to block the president’s Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) program – known colloquially as the “stay in Mexico program.” That’s not surprising. Neither is the fact that the suit is being pursued in the notoriously activist Ninth Judicial Circuit.
What is surprising, however, is that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers have jumped on the anti-Trump bandwagon. The American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, the union representing asylum officers, filed a friend of the court brief claiming that, “[The MPP] violates our Nation’s longstanding tradition and international treaty and domestic obligation not to return those fleeing persecution to a territory where they will be persecuted.”
Aside from the questionable ethics demonstrated by federal employees who insert themselves into a lawsuit between the government and foreign nationals pressing bogus claims for refuge in the U.S., there are also a number of egregious legal flaws in that assertion:
International law doesn’t obligate the U.S. to accept all migrants who allege that they are fleeing persecution. Nations who are parties to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees must refrain from returning people to a territory where they will face threats to their life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. This is referred to as the duty of non-refoulement.
However, the duty of non-refoulement pertains only to genuine refugees. It does not apply to individuals who are emigrating to escape “generalized conditions of civil strife” (i.e., the general breakdown of order, that frequently accompanies things like crop failures, droughts, civil wars and contested regime changes).
And domestic law doesn’t require the U.S. to let in everyone who arrives at the border requesting asylum either. Asylum is a discretionary form of relief. That means that the United States is not required to grant it to anybody, even individuals who establish that they are eligible. Discretion in approving asylum applications allows asylum officers and immigration judges to take into account the legal, public safety and national security interests of the United States while allocating a limited number of asylum slots.
Most of the people currently streaming north from Central America aren’t fleeing anything, they’re emigrating in search of better economic opportunities – and the U.S. would be well within its rights to turn away economic migrants. But the fact is, that the U.S. isn’t turning anyone away, it is simply asking them to wait their turn in Mexico.
While Mexico may have its own problems, claims that asylum seekers aren’t any safer in Mexico because they face persecution there are utterly baseless. Both the Mexican government and Mexican civil society have been furnishing food, shelter and other assistance to migrants waiting to be interviewed by U.S. immigration officials.
It’s profoundly disturbing when officials hired by the federal government to conduct full and fair reviews of asylum applications stop seeing themselves as guardians of the American people and start acting as advocates for foreign nationals who are trying to find a way around our immigration laws.