The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project wholeheartedly rejects the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border” Act, a Senate Bill introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While the Florence Project urges the government to reopen as quickly as possible, this bill is a Trojan horse containing numerous extreme immigration proposals that will cause untold harm through massive expansion of immigration detention, severe restriction on protections for Central American minors, and worsening of the status quo for individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The end of the government shutdown cannot come at the expense of immigrants and asylum seekers who look to the United States as a beacon of hope for a better life.
The legislation introduced by Leader McConnell is abhorrent and will put the lives of countless migrants, including children, in danger. Provisions claiming to protect children would in fact force children to remain in the country where their lives and well-being are endangered and strip judicial review from the adjudication process.
Take for example the story of our client, Carlos, who as an elementary school child in Honduras regularly was beaten by his step-father when he tried to protect his mother from his step-father’s abuse. By age 13, Carlos had fled his home, but his step-father continued to pursue him, threatening to kill him, and once cutting him so deeply that Carlos almost bled to death. Running for his life, Carlos came to the U.S. seeking safety. Children like Carlos should receive special consideration and protection, not be forced to wait in danger while their claims are decided.
Additionally, the proposed legislation requires that minors have a U.S. parent or guardian in order to qualify for status. This is an anathema to the basic concept of asylum, which is fundamentally rooted in humanitarian need. A person facing severe persecution and harm in their country should never be denied protection and safety simply because they lack pre-existing family ties within the U.S. The reality is that most of the children we serve, like Carlos, are coming to the United States as unaccompanied minors and do not have a parent or guardian here. This law subverts existing federal law that offers protections specifically to unaccompanied children and would bar many of our clients from receiving status.
Further, the proposed cap on asylum applicants and the number of applications that can be granted is in violation of long-standing treaties and agreements, as well as our national values.
Forcing children to remain in a country where they are physically and sexually abused, beaten, threatened, and extorted is inhumane and would subject them to years of future mistreatment at the hands of their abusers. Carlos, for example, would not have survived his stepfather’s abuse much longer had he not been able to flee north to a country that offers protection to children and others who suffer persecution. It is not an exaggeration to say that for some, like Carlos, an asylum cap would be a death sentence.
Asylum seekers and recipients already go through extensive background checks throughout the process to ensure that they pose no danger to the United States. Adding the possibility of revoking asylum status based on vague terms of “national interest” undermines the process and prevents asylum recipients from building stable lives here in the United States. In addition to humanitarian factors, there are powerful economic reasons to welcome those who seek safety on our shores with open arms: Carlos is now an electrician living in Texas who has built his own business. He is a permanent resident who proudly helped rebuild Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
And what of the provisions that the bill’s proponents put forth as the supposed “compromise”? This bill does little to actually support immigrant youth with DACA or people who hold temporary protected status. In fact, the proposal would extend fewer protections to these individuals than are currently available by court order, while tacking on numerous significant restrictions that did not previously exist for either DACA or TPS. Ultimately, fewer people will qualify for these protections and that means more of our family members, neighbors, and community leaders will continue to face uncertainty and deportation.