House Legislation Would Harm Asylum Seekers Entering the United States
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemned the passage of legislation that would subject asylum seekers to criminal prosecutions, a violation of the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, of which the Untied States is a signatory. Bill H.R. 3004, known as “Kate’s Law,” broadens the definition of “illegal reentry,” which means that an individual might be prosecuted for arriving at an official U.S. port of entry to seek asylum, even if they had been wrongfully deported from the Untied States in the past.
“Seeking asylum is not illegal,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “Under both U.S. and international law, individuals with a fear of return to their home countries do not need advance immigration authorization to seek asylum. Yet, the United States is further traumatizing vulnerable asylum seekers by subjecting them to criminal prosecutions—often even in cases where they have done everything correctly under the law. To criminally prosecute these individuals is to turn our back on this country’s legacy of protecting the persecuted.”
Kate’s law would expand the scope of immigrants who may be prosecuted for unlawful reentry and expands penalties for those who are convicted. Human Rights First notes that many asylum seekers are forced to “reenter” the United States because they were wrongfully deported in the first place through the expedited removal system. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), as well as Human Rights First and other groups, has long-documented deficiencies and flaws in the implementation of the expedited removal process, which gives immigration officers the authority to order non-citizens deported without a hearing. In its 2005 report on expedited removal, USCIRF found that in a significant number of cases, border agents failed to follow U.S. law and refer asylum seekers to the “credible fear” process, even when USCIRF researchers were present during the secondary inspection process.
Even when border agents make the proper referral for a credible fear screening, asylum seekers are often traumatized and exhausted by their experiences in their home countries, their flight to the United States, and their arrest by U.S. authorities. Some asylum seekers may incorrectly be found to not have a credible fear, and may be deported as a result. These asylum seekers must then “reenter” the United States after facing continuing persecution in their home countries to seek protection yet again.
Last month Human Rights First released a major report documenting dozens of instances in which U.S. border agents illegally turned away asylum seekers from the U.S. southern border. The report, “Crossing the Line,” was based on 125 cases of asylum seekers turned away at ports of entry by CBP agents in violation of U.S. law and treaty obligations. CBP spokespersons’ statements following the report’s release further confirmed CBP’s responsibility to uphold U.S. legal obligations to receive and process asylum seekers.
In the wake the Trump Administration’s original travel ban, some CBP officers illegally turned away asylum seekers at ports of entry across the U.S.-Mexico border. Shortly following the orders, attorneys in Texas reported CBP agents at the Hidalgo port of entry told asylum seekers, “Trump says we don’t have to let you in.” In February 2017 CBP agents at the Ped-West entry point told an asylum seeker that “the United States is not giving asylum anymore.” Another CBP officer told one asylum seeker, “they are killing people who are Christians. Those are the people we are giving asylum to, not people like you. You don’t qualify.” Some media reports also indicated CBP agents turned away asylum seekers at major U.S. airports, including a Syrian woman who sought asylum after her visa was unexpectedly revoked.
“We urge the Senate to reject this legislation,” added Byrne.