ResourcesPress Release

PHR to Trump: Seize Border Trip Opportunity

U.S. President Donald Trump will visit the southern border with Mexico today on the heels of a nationally televised speech in which he called for tougher border security, including $5.7 million to fund a border wall. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls on the president to use this trip as an opportunity to meet with asylum seekers and to visit detention centers to witness firsthand what he has acknowledged is a humanitarian crisis.

“Instead of revving up fear and sowing hatred, President Trump should use his visit to see and understand the humanity of asylum seekers who every day experience the detrimental humanitarian impacts of his U.S. border policies. The Trump administration’s alarmist policies continue to exaggerate the security risks posed by migrants at the border. His dehumanizing rhetoric, which seeks to justify stripping vulnerable people of their legal right to seek asylum protection, must stop,” said Kathryn Hampton, PHR’s Asylum Network program officer.

“Many migrants arriving at the southern border are fleeing life-threatening violence and persecution. The real border crisis is the unnecessary suffering imposed on these vulnerable asylum seekers. Most are denied entry and are stranded on the Mexico side of the U.S. border, and those who get in are held in inhumane conditions in detention within the United States.

“This situation is a direct result of Trump administration policies that flout U.S. obligations under domestic and international law. Resources at the border are willfully misdirected and conditions are leading to grave trauma, and, in some cases, death. Today, when President Trump travels to the border, he should take the opportunity to visit detention facilities and ports of entry to find out why migrant children recently died in U.S. custody and to better understand how the agencies under his authority can begin to fulfill their legal responsibility to process asylum seekers in safety and dignity,” Hampton added.

On November 8, 2018, the U.S. administration announced it would stop allowing asylum applications from migrants who enter the United States between official ports of entry. But both government and civil society investigations have found that thousands of people are prevented from entering at official crossings as well. Through a system of “metering,” the daily number of people who can apply for asylum is limited. Border crossing points routinely lack capacity to process asylum applications in a timely and predictable manner and there is no defined waiting period or consideration to prioritize applications by vulnerable groups and individuals.

Of further concern are reports by asylum officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which say that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers often use deceit to turn back asylum seekers, telling them that the United States is no longer accepting asylum seekers. Reports also cite acts of intimidation, including threatening to permanently remove asylum seekers’children.

“PHR urges President Trump to see these serious issues for himself and to use a facts-based lens while viewing the situation at the border. Making determinations and developing and implementing policies based on a misguided campaign promise is dangerous and flies in the face of the United States’obligations to asylum seekers under both domestic and international law,” said Hampton.

PHR calls on President Trump to use his trip as an opportunity to recognize that border protection resources must go toward developing mechanisms which respect the human rights and dignity of asylum seekers, including, but not limited to:

  • Increasing the number of personnel tasked with processing asylum applications at border crossings to ensure that asylum seekers are not turned away or subjected to onerously long waits to access their right to apply for asylum;
  • Increasing the number of medical and child welfare professionals deployed at CBP short-term holding facilities and all other Department of Homeland Security facilities, especially those which house children, and providing food, water, beds, blankets, and sanitation facilities in order to mitigate health risks in detention;
  • Allocating financial support to scale up community-based alternatives to detention;
  • Legislating legally-binding standards related to medical screening and medical care for all asylum seekers who enter the United States, which includes the participation of qualified health professionals and adequate provisions for language interpretation.

Read PHR’s latest policy brief, released today: “Zero Protection: How U.S. Border Enforcement Harms Migrant Safety and Health

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.