ResourcesPress Release

Drastic Proposed Changes to DHS Policy Violate U.S. Legal Obligations, Endanger Asylum-Seeking Families

NEW YORK – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is gravely concerned about the changes proposed in the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s report on CBP Families and Children Care issued this week.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes drastic changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act, Flores settlement agreement, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which are the bedrock of legal protections for asylum seekers in the United States and represent longstanding U.S. human rights commitments.

Kathryn Hampton, PHR network program officer, said, “The proposed changes represent an assault on asylum protections in the United States. DHS’ attempt to introduce these changes suddenly and unilaterally, overriding existing statutes and dispensing with the rulemaking process, will result in human rights violations, as well as serious health consequences for children and families.”

The advisory council’s recommendations propose to detain families indefinitely, refuse to allow those crossing between ports of entry to apply for asylum, and establish “rocket-docket” deportation courts, where credible fear interviews are eliminated and families have very little time to prepare their legal cases. The recommendations also propose that DHS override existing U.S. regulations and draw up new regulations, while dispensing with any option to submit public comments through the Notice and Rulemaking process.

Michael Payne, PHR advocacy officer, added, “These recommendations blatantly defy U.S. laws protecting asylum-seeking children and families, both substantively and procedurally. Physicians for Human Rights has extensively documented the severe harms that families and children are fleeing in their countries of origin. These are situations which warrant serious consideration of their asylum claims. Revoking longstanding asylum protections for children and families will endanger their lives.”

Although PHR agrees with the recommendations to increase the number of medical professionals at ports of entry and border patrol stations, and to increase training of Customs and Border Patrol personnel so they can recognize and report indicators of child sexual abuse, the proposed sweeping changes will introduce significant new health risks. Medical, mental health, and child welfare professionals must be given the opportunity to review the proposed rules in detail and to offer policy alternatives.”

Additional resources:

• Through its Asylum Network, PHR conducts forensic medical evaluations of asylum seekers that document evidence of physical and psychological trauma.

• PHR’s latest policy brief, “Zero Protection,” analyzes records of harmful practices by U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel. Turning away asylum seekers at ports of entry, dumping water left for migrants crossing the desert, and patrolling hospitals in search of undocumented individuals are some examples of how U.S. agents regularly violate migrants’ right to seek asylum and even endanger their lives.

PHR has found that the administration’s “metering” system, which has frequently allowed as few as 15-30 people to apply for asylum each day, is leaving thousands waiting in Mexico and causing a humanitarian crisis at the border.

PHR echoed the concerns raised by Homeland Security health experts about family detention (see PHR’s policy statement on the risks and harms of family detention).

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.