On International Migrants Day, a defense of migrant rights

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Oxfam Mexico's Jorge Romero and Oxfam America President Abby Maxman speak with a Honduran migrant at the US-Mexico border while in Tijuana earlier this year. Alyssa Eisenstein/Oxfam

On International Migrants Day, we're putting the spotlight on Trump administration efforts to seemingly take every imaginable action to keep migrants out – irrespective of whether it is legal, humane, effective, or consistent with American values.

Today is International Migrants Day, a day marked by the United Nations to recognize the efforts, contributions, and rights of migrants worldwide. But here in the US, we mark this by putting the spotlight on Trump administration efforts to seemingly take every imaginable action to keep migrants out – irrespective of whether it is legal, humane, effective, or consistent with American values.

To counter this hateful and dehumanizing agenda, we’ve spoken out, protested, and brought our concerns to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Now, we’re also pursuing a legal strategy. Together with other organizations, we are supporting legal challenges to the policies that undermine migrants’ fundamental human dignity and violate international human rights and refugee law here in the US, in Mexico, and in Central America.

Migrant rights in the US

Here in the US, we are working to legally support the rights of people living with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a status designated for people from certain countries when their countries of origin prevent them from returning safely. These conditions include ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster or epidemic, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

There are approximately 437,000 people in the US with TPS, most who have lived in the US for many years and are employed. But TPS holders live in constant uncertainty and in a precarious legal limbo, awaiting news on whether or not they will be able to continue their lives in the US.

Under President Trump’s direction, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has declined to renew TPS for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan, imperiling the lives of hundreds of thousands of productive members of US society by potentially forcing them return to some of the world’s most dangerous countries without any guarantees of physical safety.

Working with allied organizations like Centro Presente, the ACLU of Northern California, and the National Immigration Project, Oxfam is challenging the Trump administration’s TPS decisions in multiple cases across federal courts in New York, California, and Massachusetts by submitting amicus briefs that outline how ending TPS would force TPS holders to move back to extremely unsafe contexts.

Migrant rights in Mexico

In Mexico, we are legally challenging the Mexican government’s newly passed regulations that force people to apply for asylum within 30 days of entering the country or risk expulsion back to the country they were fleeing.

This rule is basically removes asylum as a viable option for the majority of migrants entering Mexico, as most don’t know of its requirement. The 30 day limit violates due process, international human rights and refugee law, and is out of line with general international standards. Mexican immigration offices are severely understaffed and already are failing to properly screen migrants for asylum in due time.

People in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras face some of the worst violence and inequality in the world. This rule would mean that thousands of asylum-seekers will potentially be forcibly returned to the dangerous countries where they were fleeing persecution.

Oxfam Mexico and Oxfam America are partnering with the Refugee Rights Clinic at Mexico’s Ibero University to challenge this rule and arguing that imposing such a restrictive deadline effectively strips asylum-seekers of their internationally protected right to asylum, violates the Mexican constitution, and breaks precedent from previous rulings by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Migrant rights in Central America

This summer, the Trump administration passed a DHS rule that would prohibit any person from claiming asylum in the US if they crossed our southern border and had not previously sought asylum in the first country they traveled through that is not their own. Of course, the very definition of asylum is based on presence in the US to request it, so this rule basically ends asylum as we know it. It practically means asylum-seekers of any nationality except Mexicans who arrive at the US-Mexico border are no longer eligible to apply for asylum in the US.

To make things worse, the Trump administration has also signed agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, designating them as “safe third countries” for asylum-seekers – a complete abdication of the US’ legal and moral responsibilities and a dangerous offshoring of immigration enforcement. These countries cannot be considered safe when their own citizens are fleeing. These rules lay the groundwork for DHS to deport asylum-seekers back to dangerous situations that would imperil their lives.

In partnership with law firm White & Case, Oxfam is submitting critical comments of these rules to DHS and the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review illustrating how the country conditions in the Northern Triangle countries make it ludicrous to assign them a “safe third country” designation. We also point out how these rules violate international human rights and refugee law, in particular the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits forcibly returning refugees or asylum-seekers to a country in which they would be in danger. DHS and the Department of Justice are required to consider our comments before issuing a final public rule.

On the streets, on Capitol Hill, in the papers, and in the courts, we will continue to defend the rights of migrants on this International Migrant Day, and every day. Will you join us?

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