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HARTE: Trump policies unnecessarily cruel to asylum seekers

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HARTE: Trump policies unnecessarily cruel to asylum seekers

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A confrontation at the southern border between the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency and Central American migrants reached a breaking point last Sunday. Border patrol agents released tear gas on the crowd of migrants, which included women and children, after some migrants attempted to rush across the border. The images of children getting tear gassed are harmful to America’s reputation as a welcoming safe haven for asylum seekers.

Congress should investigate the border patrol agents involved to determine if the use of tear gas was necessary. They should also push for reform regarding asylum seekers to limit the likelihood of future violent clashes between migrants and border patrol agents. This would include raising the ceiling on refugee admissions and ensuring that requests for asylum are processed efficiently.

A majority of the migrants came to the border from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to The Atlantic. These countries are all in varying states of crisis because of high levels of gang activities, domestic violence, drug trafficking and extreme poverty. The World Economic Forum ranks El Salvador as the third most dangerous country in the world, with Guatemala and Honduras also in the top 20. Based on these dire circumstances, it is clear that many Central Americans are coming to the U.S. because they fear for their safety.

Tear gas is a distressing exercise of force against a group attempting to obtain the right of asylum, which is protected under international and domestic law. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the term asylum seekers refers to people who come to the United States because they have suffered persecution in their home country. People who apply for asylum must meet the international law definition of a “refugee,” which was determined by the United Nations in a 1967 protocol. This definition requires a person to have a well-founded fear of returning to their country “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

There’s a new debate over whether many of the migrants from Central America qualify for asylum protection under these laws. In June, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that asylum claims pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernment actors, as claimed by many Central American migrants, would no longer qualify for asylum. This policy is unnecessarily cruel to a group of people willing to travel thousands of miles because they fear for their safety.

The standoff between border patrol agents and asylum seekers also occurred because of growing frustration over a new Trump policy called metering, according to a New York Times report. Metering limits the number of people who can apply for asylum in a single day. This has led to a backed-up line of about 3,000 people who are currently being processed for asylum at the southern border. Newcomers are finding that they now have to wait months before they can begin the asylum process.

Immigrant rights experts believe the use of tear gas on children at the border is unprecedented, according to a piece by Roll Call. This use is especially concerning because of the negative health effects this weapon can have. Exposure to tear gas causes severe eye pain, leading to the secretion of tears and mucus. After the incident, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement arguing that children are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of chemical agents. They note that a child’s more frequent number of breaths per minute and limited cardiovascular stress response compared to adults magnifies the harm of agents such as tear gas.

The difficulties faced by Central American asylum seekers are detrimental to the U.S. reputation as a welcoming destination for oppressed people. The U.S. has historically led the world in refugee resettlement, with 84,994 refugees being resettled in 2016, according to the Migration Policy Institute. However, the number of admissions have dropped dramatically under President Donald Trump. For 2019, the administration has proposed a refugee admissions ceiling at 30,000, which would be the lowest number since 1980.

The tear gas incident was a self-inflicted image crisis for the Trump administration, created through unfairly harmful policies for Central American migrants. Increasing the number of refugee admissions and ensuring that asylum seekers no longer have to wait months for asylum request processing would be a step toward fixing problems at the border.

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