Interfaith Letter Opposing DHS' Harmful "Remain in Mexico" Policy

IFCLA is honored to be a signer organization of this letter in opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s Harmful “Remain in Mexico” Policy. Thank you to our national partners at CLINIC, Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and Church World Service for organizing this opportunity.

Background

The administration continues its attacks on vulnerable asylum seekers arriving at our southern border. It's latest plan, the Remain in Mexico Policy, requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases are pending in the U.S. immigration courts. This policy exposes asylum seekers to great risk of harm, curtails their access to counsel, and does not present a solution to the root causes of Central American migration flows.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Remain in Mexico policy places children, families, and others seeking protection in great danger. Today, we must send the message loud and clear that DHS must stop this policy. The interfaith letter below opposes the harmful Remain in Mexico policy and calls on the Secretary of Homeland Security to prioritize human lives above its baseless and immoral policy.

Letter

February 20, 2019

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20016

RE: INTERFAITH LETTER REQUESTING TERMINATION OF REMAIN IN MEXICO POLICY

Secretary Nielsen:

We, the XX undersigned leaders of diverse faith communities and XX faith-based organizations, write to condemn the baseless and immoral Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the Remain in Mexico Policy. We request the immediate termination of this egregious policy which returns vulnerable asylum seekers to Mexico and puts them at risk of further harm while they wait for their case to be processed in the United States.

Our faith traditions compel us to welcome one another with love and compassion, regardless of place of birth, religion, or ethnicity. Our diverse moral teachings find consistency in the absolute value of the human person and our obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. We call on you to uphold our country’s asylum law and respect asylum seekers and others seeking protection as the human beings they are and to work to address the root causes that drive people from their homes in search of safety.

The Remain in Mexico policy must be terminated immediately for the following reasons:

I. The policy puts people fleeing danger back in harm’s way

Our country’s asylum laws are based upon the international principle of non-refouelment – a promise that we as the United States will not send people back to countries where their lives or freedom will be at risk. These laws were designed by Congress to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from persecution. They codify our longstanding policy to be a beacon of hope to those seeking safety and security, the same values that make up the building blocks of America’s faith traditions.

Asylum seekers arriving at our southern border have been driven from their homes by unspeakable and unrelenting violence. Countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have some of the highest homicide rates in the world for countries that are not classified as being at war.

Requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed puts them at risk of the very harm they are fleeing as well as new dangers. Since July 2017, the dangers facing refugees and migrants in Mexico have escalated. Asylum seekers forced to return to Mexico face risk of homelessness, malnourishment, disease, assault, kidnapping and death . Recent reports confirm that Mexican authorities continue to improperly return asylum seekers to their countries of persecution and that the deficiencies in the Mexican asylum system have grown . Reports show exceedingly high impunity rates for crimes against migrants and asylum seekers and that crimes against asylum seekers and migrants—including assault, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder—largely go uninvestigated and unpunished. Additionally, the policy has serious implications for children asylum seekers – leaving them without access to education and other factors that will permanently affect their development, health, and well-being.

DHS’ Remain in Mexico policy will require certain asylum seekers arriving at the southern border to remain in Mexico as they wait for their cases to proceed in the United States. Current backlogs in U.S. immigration courts indicate that these wait times could be months or even years. Instead of meaningful work to address the root causes that cause people to flee, this policy will re-traumatize and hurt people fleeing for their lives, running counter to Congressional intent, pragmatism, and deeply held American and faith values.

II. The policy jeopardizes access to counsel, due process, and overall ability for a person to find safety in the United States

A just and moral immigration system requires the highest standard of justice and mercy. Asylum seekers’ due process right to access legal counsel while waiting in Mexico is seriously compromised by the policy. Navigating our complex asylum system while unrepresented is incredibly difficult when a person is inside the U.S., let alone waiting in dangerous conditions in Mexico. Legal representation is key in helping a person put forward their best case. It is crucial to assist people with language barriers and help explain the reasons they fled, the violence and trauma experienced and the fears of returning home.

Regarding the availability of counsel at ports of entry, the policy states that the U.S. “is currently unable to provide access to counsel during the assessment given the limited capacity and resources at ports-of-entry and Border Patrol stations as well as the need for the orderly and efficient processing of individuals.” While awaiting a court date in Mexico, the ability to obtain a U.S. legal representative will be nearly insurmountable. In the slim chance a person is able to retain legal representation, the logistics of speaking to and providing them with the necessary documentation to support their asylum claim would be costly, confusing, and negatively impact a person’s case. Given these unnecessary barriers, the policy will prevent asylum seekers from having a fair and equitable opportunity to seek protection and find refuge.

Across faith traditions, we are taught to meet asylum seekers with open arms, to welcome them, and offer them safety and protection. Together, as faith leaders and faith-based organizations, we call on you to rescind the Remain in Mexico policy and reaffirm our moral and legal obligations to welcome and process all asylum seekers and others seeking protection. We urge you to uphold the rights and dignity of all people.

If you have any questions or require any additional information, please contact Jill Marie Bussey, Advocacy Director at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) at jbussey@cliniclegal.org.