Policies that Attack People on the Move


Federal Level 

 Migration has been a hot topic in the media recently. As politicians debate ways to deter people from seeking asylum in the U.S., it is helpful to remember that both international and U.S. law recognize the right to flee one’s country and seek protection in a different country. This right is a component of the principle of non-refoulement, that no one should be forced to return to a country where they would be in danger.  

It is not enough to simply state the importance of the right to seek asylum or non-refoulement. Government policy must seek to preserve these rights. President Biden and many members of Congress currently support several policies that would make accessing asylum more difficult. The most notable of these was a compromise that a bipartisan group of senators tried to attach to a military aid bill in February.  Its asylum-related provisions did not pass, but members of Congress are still pursuing similar or stricter limits to asylum. 

 While proponents suggest that these policies would dissuade people from migrating, they do nothing to mitigate the situations that put people in danger in their home countries. Years of deterrence-focused immigration policy have shown that detention and other harsh anti-asylum policies do not stop people from making the dangerous journey to the United States. Instead, these policies criminalize seeking safety from persecution and force people to return to unsafe conditions.  

Particularly concerning changes that enjoy bipartisan support include: 

Closing the Border to Asylum Seekers 

Congress would grant the president the authority to close the U.S.-Mexico border to people seeking asylum if the number of people arriving reaches a set “trigger number.” Many asylum seekers would be barred from entering the U.S. solely because too many others had already arrived. They would be blocked from accessing the U.S. asylum system, regardless of the dangers they face in their home country or in Mexico. 

The impact on asylum seekers would be similar to that of earlier policies, like Title 42 and the current Circumvention of Lawful Pathways rule, that set a cap on the number of migrants who can enter the U.S. each dayThose measures have had deadly consequences for migrants who are forced to wait in Mexico for months to enter the U.S.  Interviews with migrants waiting in Northern Mexico have found that most do not feel safe due to violence, threats and kidnappings. 

Raising The Credible Fear Standard 

Another proposal would raise the legal standard that migrants must meet to stay in the United States long enough to pursue their asylum claims. Currently, migrants are often placed in expedited removal, a process that allows them to deport the migrant without a hearing before an immigration judge. The first step in the expedited removal process is an interview with an asylum officer to determine whether they have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country. 

The credible fear process already poses an unfair burden to asylum seekers. Credible fear interviews typically take place while migrants are detained, and they usually do not have access to an attorney. Because of these factors, migrants with genuine claims to asylum can often “fail” their interview and be placed in expedited removal.  There are many reasons why this can happen. Many asylum seekers do not trust U.S. government officials with their stories because they have been abused by the government in their home countries. Survivors of trauma have great difficulty remembering and talking about their experiences, especially when it is so raw.  Without access to an attorney they can trust, they fail their interview because they are afraid to tell the asylum officer about their persecution. Raising the credible fear standard will only make it harder for them to access the asylum system. 

The Church’s role  

It feels discouraging to hear loud calls for harsh immigration restrictions, particularly when so many people need safety and cannot access it. As a place where many different people come together to reflect God’s love, the church has a unique role in changing the narrative about asylum seekers. People of faith should challenge the message that there are too many migrants with stories of asylum seekers’ hope and resilience when faced with difficult circumstances. Here are some ways to share a message of welcome with your community: 

  • Honor World Refugee Day, June 20, with a worship service, Bible study or vigil. PDA will post more resources for World Refugee Day 2024 in May, but you can view resources from past years, including a Reflection and Prayer for World Refugee Day. 
  • Lift up the stories of congregations who have welcomed asylum seekers, like Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. 
  • Discern whether God is calling you to take further steps to welcome asylum seekers. The Preparing Welcome Guide is an Advent-themed Bible study that considers congregational refugee sponsorship, and PDA has compiled resources for congregations interested in ministries of welcome. 
  • Advocate about the importance of asylum with your elected officials: Call the Capitol Switch Board at (202) 224-3121 and give the operator your ZIP code to be connected with your representatives’ offices. When you are connected to your members’ offices, you can use this script to share your concerns:

“Hi, my name is (your name) from (city). I am calling to tell (Member’s name) that I support the right to seek asylum. As a person of faith, I believe that people who need safety must not be turned away. I ask (Member’s Name) to oppose efforts to shut down the border or raise the credible fear standard for asylum seekers. Thank you.”  

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