The Asylum Ban: Continuing to Put Children and Families in Harm’s Way

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the administration to enforce a ban on nearly all asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. southern border. The order granted an emergency appeal from the administration, setting aside decisions from judges in California who had issued injunctions blocking the new rule from taking effect. The Court’s order allows the administration to generally bar asylum applications from migrants who have traveled through another country on their way to the United States without being denied asylum in that country. It will mean that most migrants fleeing persecution from countries including Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala will not be able to seek refuge here in the U.S.

While the ruling is provisional, allowing the asylum ban to remain in effect while the case is working its way through the courts, it may be many months before it returns to the Supreme Court for a final decision. Children and families will be irreparably harmed in the interim as the asylum ban is a direct, intentional, and willful attack that places the most vulnerable at even greater risk.

This ruling is a drastic change to longstanding asylum practices, effectively closing our doors which have long been open to refugees. Since 1980, migrants fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries have had a right to apply for asylum here in the U.S., regardless of how they made their way to the border. This ruling effectively upends U.S. asylum law and endangers migrants, including families and children who are fleeing violence or persecution. It critically undermines our values and our obligations to respect the human rights and dignity of all. As a country, we have long stood with the rest of the world and held a commitment to ensuring that people who are applying for asylum will get a fair hearing and an opportunity to state their claim.

The asylum ban is not an isolated policy—it is just the latest attack by an administration that has devoted much of its time in power to dismantling our current limited immigration system, punishing asylum seekers, separating families, attempting to deter entry into the country, and penalizing immigrant families who attempt to access safety-net supports. It is part of a broader plan to base our immigration system on White supremacy — one that explicitly favors White, wealthy and non-disabled immigrant applicants.

The ban carries forward this administration’s brazen hostility toward migrant children and families of color. It follows a number of other recent immigration policies that have endangered migrants including the “Remain in Mexico” or Migrant Protection Protocols which allows for the forcible return of Central American asylum seekers and others to Mexico for the duration of their claim proceedings. Like the asylum ban, the “Remain in Mexico” policy places asylum applicants in danger. Reports have documented the many threats to the health and well-being of migrants awaiting their claim proceedings in Mexico, including, restricted access to legal assistance, inadequate drinking water and poor health services, unsanitary housing, lack of schooling or work opportunities, gang violence and kidnappings. Some are living in improvised tents in the streets with constant disruptions and uncertainty about the future.

This ruling immediately endangers the lives of countless migrant children and families by turning them away. Today, the majority of people arriving at the border are children and families from Central America seeking asylum, fleeing violence and endemic crime. Many share a common experience of trauma due to exposure to violence or separation from loved ones. These families have uprooted their lives, crossing dangerous terrain, walking for days, and risking their lives to land at our borders in the hopes of a future for their children. Many will be forced to return to their home countries, back to the dangers they fled. Others may seek asylum in Mexico or another country, and wait months or years for an answer, all the while living in unstable and potentially unsafe conditions. Few will likely reattempt to seek asylum here if their asylum claims are denied in another country. Their children will face an uncertain future.

Rather than denying people access to asylum, we need to recognize that it is our responsibility and our law to allow those seeking refuge here to apply and be assured due process for their asylum claims. We have to prioritize the needs of children and families placed at needless risk over deeply discriminatory and unnecessarily punitive immigration deterrence policies. We do not have to choose between meaningful immigration policies and child and family well-being.