The ban effectively ends asylum relief for the vast majority of refugees seeking it at the U.S.-Mexico border. It prevents individuals from applying for asylum in the United States if they could have pursued asylum in another country first.
There are few exceptions: (1) if you lose your asylum claim in a third country, or (2) if you only passed through the few countries who are not parties to certain United Nations refugee conventions. None of these countries are located in Central America, through which the many refugees travel on their way to the U.S.
As a scholar of immigration law, I can state with authority that — unlike other policies — this particular move will likely result in the death, kidnapping and torture of individuals seeking safety from persecution and torture in their home countries.
Asylum seekers’ journeys
Asylum seekers at the southern border come from all over the world, not only Central America.
Before I became a law professor, I worked as a staff attorney at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a legal services nonprofit in Dallas. There, I represented dozens of asylum seekers in both affirmative and defensive asylum claims during the Bush and Obama administrations.
The vast majority of our clients entered through the southern border. They were fleeing violence from every corner of the world: Eritrea, Egypt, Iran, Chad, Cuba, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Nepal — and yes, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, too.
Last summer, I led an effort to provide legal information regarding credible fear interviews to over 300 asylum seekers transferred straight from the southern border to a county jail in Albany, N.Y. They came from 39 countries and spoke 19 languages.
To qualify for asylum in the United States, an individual must show that they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution in the future on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
Courts have interpreted membership in a particular social group to include claims involving persecution due to gender, sexual orientation, family affiliation and other types of persecution that the government cannot or will not prevent.
One of my former clients, a human rights worker from a country in Africa, narrowly escaped death after having been imprisoned and tortured by her own government. She swam across the Rio Grande River to seek safety in the United States after catching a flight to Central America and making her perilous journey north. She was eight months pregnant. When she arrived in our office with her husband, also a refugee and also a client, she was days away from giving birth and in crippling distress.