Asylum is a right - but not a guarantee
Following the arrival of thousands of immigrants at the border between Mexico and the United States, the Trump administration has done everything possible to prevent them from accessing the asylum application. The debate about this right is more important than ever.
Let's make something clear: under international law, established after World War II, states within the global community have an obligation to help people fleeing persecution by not sending them back to their countries.
The devastation of one of the bloodiest episodes in human history made clear the need for "a system of agreements" that would ensure international collaboration in protecting human lives and their dignity, as Amnesty International explains.
It is true that there are regimes and policies around the world that challenge these agreement, whether it is refugees stuck in boats trying to reach Europe, or hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. Amid this context, the situation in Central America is becoming increasingly intense.
The mediatization of the "caravan" of migrants in Central America by the Trump administration has demonstrated the deep humanitarian crisis that currently much of the continent experiences, and which has forced thousands of people to pick up their belongings to undertake a weeks-long trip to the U.S. border.
Disproportionate violence, corruption and even climatic instability in the region are some of the factors that force these people to look for an opportunity in other countries.
Many of them have chosen to stay on the road, primarily in Mexico, but many others are determined to seek asylum in the U.S., something that President Trump has decided to prevent through strategies that circumvent the legislative process in Congress.
Over the weekend, the tension between Border Patrol agents and the migrants reached a boiling point, and the government resorted to spraying tear gas to control the situation, echoing warnings from the Department of Homeland Security, which has warned: “You won’t get in our country illegally."
The reality is that most of these immigrants don’t intend to enter illegally. In fact, many of them are ready and willing to apply for asylum, exercising their legal rights in doing so.
According to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees of the United Nations, immigrants have the right to request the protection of a country based on five categories: race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership to a particular social group.
That is why measures such as that of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to remove domestic abuse and gang violence as qualifying reasons for asylum in the U.S. could proceed.
Once in U.S. territory, the procedure is not simple.
According to Abigail Stepnitz, a researcher at the University of California, when a person seeks asylum they "have to prove that they cannot live safely in their country of origin."
Stepnitz said that the application's success depends on the "ability to demonstrate credibility. In other words, they have to share their experiences in such a way that their claim is believed to be true, and that their fear of persecution is found to be genuine."
However, when facing a government like Donald Trump's, credibility is the first thing that collapses.
Since the beginning of 2018, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has restricted the residency application procedures, through the exacerbated evaluation of each of the cases, arguing the use of "false identities," the abuse of the judicial system, or any other type of fraud.
In addition, the agency has changed its policy regarding asylum interviews, prioritizing the most recent cases under suspicion of false statements.
However, the thousands of people who try to enter the country (not only through the border but on commercial flights or other routes) seek the opportunity to present their case, even without the assistance of legal representatives.
But a right is not a guarantee.
In 2017, "almost 90 percent of claims from Mexicans were denied," compared to only 20 percent of Chinese cases, Stepnitz continued.
"All three Northern Triangle countries - El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala - are in the top five most frequently denied, with more than 75 percent of claims being refused," she added. "Similarly, a case is more likely to be granted in New York or San Francisco than in those courts closer to the border in Texas or Arizona."
Even when asylum is a right concerning the safety of thousands of human beings, each country's border politics are precisely that: politics.