Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Trump's new asylum rule (July 16, 2019)

The Trump administration's new asylum rule—which requires asylum seekers to first apply for protections in a transit country during their journey to the United States—drew widespread criticism, from Democratic presidential candidates to the UN to the Mexican government to the anonymous Department of Homeland Security official who called the rule "f*cked up" (Buzzfeed).

None of the 20,000 asylum seekers sent back to Mexico to await U.S. court dates under the "Remain in Mexico" program (which is being challenged in court) would be affected by the rule (WSJ). While the new rule would affect asylum seekers with a wide range of nationalities, it would most likely severely impact Central Americans. So far this year, Border Patrol has detained over half a million Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan family members at the U.S.-Mexico border (New York Times). Last year, the U.S. registered 162,060 asylum claims, an increase of approximately 350 percent from 2009 (AP).

The ACLU stated it would "sue swiftly" in reaction to this latest asylum rule. One likely basis for challenging the rule is the broad disregard it shows for U.S. obligations under international and domestic law concerning refugees and asylum seekers. As Human Rights Watch pointed out, the U.S. and Canada have a "safe third country" agreement—one that requires asylum seekers transiting through Canada to apply for protections there rather than the United States—that's based on "both countries having comparable asylum standards and procedures."  Under the Trump administration's new rule, asylum seekers would be forced to claim asylum in countries where they have little guarantee of a fair process. 

It's unclear whether U.S. immigration agencies received advanced warning of the rule. Buzzfeed reports that asylum officer authorities at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were caught off guard

Previous attempts by the Trump administration to severely limit asylum stalled in the courts—lest we forget, in 2018 the administration tried to ban anyone who crossed into the U.S. between ports of entry from seeking asylum; the Supreme Court upheld a federal judge's order blocking the executive order. Last year also saw another federal judge block Attorney General Jeff Session's constraints on asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence or gangs.   


  • Pro Publica's reporting on Border Patrol misconduct has led to investigations opening into 62 current and 8 former employees (Pro Publica). However, as noted in a Politico analysis, the problems underlying Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection scandals run deep, and it's unclear whether the current CBP acting head is up for the task. NPR has another recent story about Border Patrol abuse, concerning agents who asked a three-year-old Honduran girl, Sofi, to choose between staying with her mother or father. 
  • The Trump administration announced the new asylum rule shortly after talks broke down with Guatemala over a "safe third country" agreement (see yesterday's brief). The deal fell apart after U.S. government officials "didn’t want to expose Trump to the fiasco of signing something that the Constitutional Court in Guatemala could have disallowed," reports the New Yorker
  • "Mike Pence’s border visit wasn’t sanitized, because the Trump administration wants its base to see brown people in cages." (The Nation)


  • Nomada report from the southern Mexico border tracks the stories of several Central American migrants, increasingly fearful of the 6,000 National Guard troops deployed to the area. 
  • Former Sinaloa Cartel leader "El Chapo" Guzman is expected to be sentenced to life in prison Wednesday. (AFP
  • "Mexican President López Obrador portrays himself as a defender of human rights, but he is militarizing the country’s borders north and south—and the Mexican people are behind him" (The Daily Beast).

Central America

  • At least 20 members of the LGBT community have been killed so far this year in Honduras, including the murder of three trans women in less than a week. (UN)
  • President Jimmy Morales is making "the wrong bet," says a Nomada op-ed. "He thinks he can negotiate with Trump on favorable terms that benefit [Morales] and are unfavorable to [Guatemala]; but the only thing that matters to the U.S. president are the 2020 elections."


  • Afro-Colombian leaders in the southwestern state of Cauca—long one of the most conflict-ridden areas of the country—are reporting receiving mounting threats from armed groups. (El Espectador
  • Who would benefit from the Centro Democratico's proposal—the party of ex-president and senator Alvaro Uribe—for a constitutional amendment that would make it easier for former government officials to appeal criminal convictions? (See yesterday's brief). According to La Silla Vacia's count, there's be around 200 beneficiaries, including multiple ex-ministers and Members of Congress convicted in the "parapolitica" scandal

  • Venezuelan NGO the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy has registered over 250 cases of torture involving political prisoners. The defense attorney for  Venezuelan navy captain Rafael Acosta, believed to have recently died under torture while in state custody, told EFE that these cases have been "documented and denounced" before Venezuelan courts. 

  • Protestors are blocking highways to demand the cancellation of a billion-dollar copper mining project in the southern department of Arequipa (AP). 

  • Rio de Janeiro police are increasingly using helicopters in operations, with a 200 percent increase over 2017 (Extra via InSight Crime). 
  • Brazil will allow Huawei to expand ultrafast, 5G wireless networks across the country, in defiance of the U.S. government's blacklisting of the Chinese telecom company (Al Jazeera). 
  • Mining company Vale will pay $107 million to compensate the families of an estimated 247 people who died during last year's massive dam collapse (Reuters).


  • Cuban entrepreneurs "are facing a two-front attack from a U.S. executive branch resistant to commercial and travel ties to the island, and from Cuban officials" (Foreign Policy). 
  • Sweeping reforms to Cuba's fishing regulations—the first changes in 20 years—should help curtail illegal overfishing of certain fish populations (Miami Herald).  

— Elyssa Pachico

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