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US risks human rights abuses by funding border wall

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The spectacle of President Trump ransoming an operational government in exchange for billions of dollars to fulfill his campaign promise of a border wall in the continuing budget fight has been nothing short of grotesque. Don’t let it obscure the profound human suffering at the heart of this controversy. Make no mistake, the funds President Trump is seeking will do nothing more than perpetuate a crisis of his administration’s own making that defies international law and discriminates against desperate families and individuals fleeing violence. Not only should the wall not be given one more cent, but funds should be withheld from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until rigorous congressional oversight ensures an end to human rights violations designed to keep asylum-seekers out of the U.S. altogether.

Even Trump’s claims of being willing to allow people in who “come legally” are patently false. Amnesty International’s research shows that applicants are unlawfully and incorrectly told by U.S. agents that they can’t apply for asylum even before they reach an official port of entry. Even those who do present themselves at ports of entry face yet another obstacle. The administration is only processing a few dozen applications a day, deliberately creating a backlog so people are forced to choose between enduring unsanitary and unsafe conditions for a prolonged period of time in Mexico or returning to danger in their home countries.

{mosads}While some may yield to despair and leave, perhaps putting them at great risk, many who remain in the hope of having their asylum-claim heard are villainized, harassed, targeted by criminals and left to languish in unsanitary conditions. This makes a rumored deal with Mexico to force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed in the U.S. all the more alarming. This could be disastrous for the thousands who could face immediate danger in Mexico if forced to stay, until their applications are considered.

Our researchers recently visited the Benito Juarez sports complex in Tijuana where, at the time, the municipal government had accommodated 3,000 people arriving in a caravan from Central America. Mexican federal, state, and municipal sources separately confirmed that the temporary shelter did not have sufficient food, water or health services, with people living in unsanitary conditions. Respiratory illnesses are spreading among people staying at the shelter.

Equally concerning, our researchers confirmed that Mexican immigration authorities routinely take possession of an unofficial asylum “waitlist” each night and coordinate with U.S. border authorities on how many asylum seekers from the waitlist will be received each day. Officials speaking anonymously raised doubts about U.S. authorities’ assertion that they’re not prepared to receive more people and brought up the pressure they face from the U.S. government to restrict entry to asylum seekers.

Simply put, Mexico is not a safe country for all asylum seekers. More often than not it is instead a willing partner with the USA in violating the human rights of these asylum seekers. Both governments are enacting policies to cause harm to people already criminalized and demonized for doing what any one of us would do in their situation.

It’s all part of a plan that seems designed to make the process of coming to the United States as dehumanizing and unbearable as possible. A generation of children will suffer the traumatic consequences of being separated from their families in what will remain a permanent stain on the USA’s human rights record. While that “zero tolerance” policy was officially ended, some families are still being separated while unaccompanied children are being warehoused as they seek asylum. I toured the tent city where 2,300 children are being detained in Tornillo, Texas, and I saw firsthand what happens when people seeking protection from violence and persecution are criminalized. They arrived in the U.S. hoping to find safety in a country where each of them has family waiting to host them. Instead, they have essentially been jailed under the supervision of staff who haven’t been thoroughly vetted, a violation of U.S. policy that puts them at even greater risk. The heartbreaking situation faced by these kids held in limbo is a stark example of the relentless cruelty of the president’s agenda.

The Trump administration is not just shirking its international duty to consider asylum for people fleeing danger and persecution. It is willfully committing human rights violations by creating dangerous conditions that are designed to keep people away entirely. These inhumane actions must not be allowed to stand.

{mossecondads}Amnesty International recognizes that governments have a right to control their borders. However, such initiatives must be lawful and respect human rights, including the right to seek asylum. Our research over decades has shown that attempts by governments to implement hardline border controls to prevent irregular arrivals of migrants and refugees does not stem the number of people leaving their countries. Instead, it forces people to use more clandestine – and far more dangerous – routes, putting the lives of more people at risk.

Not one more cent should be allocated for Trump’s hateful border wall, but that shouldn’t be the end of it. There should be no funding for CBP or ICE unless rigorous congressional oversight ensures an end to human rights violations. Congress must also immediately support policies banning the unlawful pushbacks of asylum seekers and the detention of families. We must treat people seeking a better life with fairness and compassion, just as we would want to be treated in their place.

Margaret Huang is executive director of Amnesty International USA. 

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