After Biden’s Central America Trip, He Should Support Asylum Seekers’ Rights at Home

Last week Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Central America to meet with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and the president of the Inter-American Development Bank. The meetings focused on funding for economic development and security initiatives aimed at stemming the flow of migration to the United States.

Addressing the push factors like gang violence and police corruption, which lead many people to seek refuge in the United States, is an important goal. But there is a lot the Obama administration should do at home to protect the rights of asylum seekers.

To live up to human rights commitments in the United States, the Obama Administration should:

1. Stop using detention as a deterrent to other asylum seekersA federal court recently ordered the government to stop this practice. Detaining refugees purely as a deterrent violates international human rights law. The administration should not pursue this flawed argument in federal courts. It should make detention and bond decisions based on individual circumstances—not on whether it will “send a message” to other Central American migrants.

2. Stop detaining mothers with children. Detention can be especially traumatizing to children, and detaining families results in rights violations and impedes due process. The administration should end family detention. Where additional supervision is needed, it should support alternatives to detention like community monitoring, which are more affordable and humane.

3. Revise and improve training on credible fear screenings. In early 2014 USCIS instructed border agents to ratchet up the screening process that assesses whether asylum seekers have a credible fear of facing persecution if returned to their home countries. This has sent many asylum seekers who would be eligible for protection back into danger. The administration should revise the credible fear screening guidance and conduct additional trainings to ensure that those who may qualify for asylum have a chance to make their case.

People will continue to look to the United States as a beacon of hope when they experience human rights violations. While tackling the sources of violence and human rights abuses in Central America merits U.S. support, the U.S. government also needs to protect the rights of the asylum seekers already here, as well as those who will inevitably follow. This is not only an obligation under human rights law and international treaties, but also consistent with American ideals.

Perhaps Biden’s next trip should be to a family detention center in the United States.

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Published on March 9, 2015

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