Hundreds of thousands of migrants are seeking refuge and asylum in the United States. Many factors contribute to migration and cause people to knock on our country’s door. Political corruption, climate change, gang violence, poverty, and criminal activity are just a few of the reasons pushing migrants to our border. There are other factors pulling them here as well: economic stability, reunification with family, and better living standards. These push-and-pull factors contribute to the root causes of migration for both asylum seekers and refugees.
While both initiatives protect people facing persecution, asylum seekers apply once they have arrived at the border and refugees apply for protection from another country. In times of global need, the admissions ceiling to accept refugees into our country has reached as high as 142,000 (e.g., 1993, in response to the Balkan wars). During the previous administration the cap was set at 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 110,000 in 2017 due to a worsening humanitarian crisis.1 On average between 2007 and 2016, asylum grants were 23,669.2 As the Statue of Liberty reminds us, historically, we are a nation of immigrants that welcomes asylum seekers and refugees: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
All of this is changing. The current administration wants to block asylum seekers at our southern border if they fail to apply for asylum in the countries they pass through on their way to the United States. Only if they apply and are denied will they be eligible to apply here. The countries being established as “Safe Third Countries,” like Guatemala, are not able to offer safety to their own citizens, let alone asylum seekers, nor do they have the resources to offer a fair and comprehensive process. This new interim rule is already being challenged in court, but if it is allowed to stand, it will greatly reduce asylum claims.
Along with the unlawful restrictions on asylum seekers, the refugee resettlement program is now being threatened with an almost complete shutdown. At a meeting in early July with security officials, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service representatives suggested setting the refugee cap to 0 for 2020. Homeland Security officials discussed setting the cap between 3,000 and 10,000. To stress the drastic changes of this refugee cap, in 2017 the cap was 45,000, which was reduced to 30,000 the following year. These represent the lowest numbers since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980.
Instead of refusing refugees and blocking asylum seekers, we should work with the Northern Triangle countries–El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where the majority of migrants come from–to figure out the root causes of their migration. This will alleviate the pressure of asylum seekers at the border and allow more people to approach the U.S. as refugees. Perhaps, with improved conditions in their home countries, people will not be forced to flee at all.
As people of faith who are told to “welcome the stranger” (Leviticus 19:34), we must do our part and act on these impending threats to this country’s asylum and refugee programs.
Ways to Act:
- Call your Senators and Representatives today and urge them to do everything in their power to protect the asylum system and refugee resettlement program. Click here to find your Senators and Representatives.
- Call now and ask your elected officials to support H.R. 2615- United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, a bill that seeks to address the root causes of migration from the three Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.