This week, President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE erupted in a serious of tweets that erroneously and dangerously assumed no one traveling from Central America or elsewhere is fleeing deadly violence.
This assumption is contradicted by the many personal stories our team at the Migrant Center hears weekly from Central American asylum seekers detained in Texas, as well as the country reports published by the U.S. Department of State.
On Tuesday, in an attempt to stop a migrant caravan from coming to the U.S., Trump threatened to cut off millions of dollars in aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador unless these countries meet his demand to stop all migration to the U.S. Then two days later, on Thursday, Trump threatened to end his trade deal with Mexico and Canada, as well as to send the U.S. military to the border.
The Migrant Center has called on the governments of Central America to stand up for the international human rights of all migrants, including the right to seek asylum, regardless of what the U.S. government threatens.
We called on Central American countries to not give any credence to the U.S. government’s suggestion that they can and should turn away asylum seekers without having their claims for protection heard. This would constitute a violation of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention against Torture, the American Convention and American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other international law. It may also constitute a violation of domestic legislation.
Trump also suggests that countries can and should prevent their citizens from leaving — effectively locking people inside their country. This would not only violate the right to freedom of movement enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other widely accepted international treaties, but may also make governments complicit in any continuing harm asylum seekers would experience in their home country.
Such policies would push more people into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, who will take people on more dangerous routes. Additionally, it would also unnecessarily threaten the health and well being of migrants to process people individually. People travel together for safety, legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of association and assembly. We call on the governments of Central America to ensure that migrant caravans are allowed to remain together.
Fortunately Trump cannot unilaterally do much of what he threatens, not without the assistance of Congress. For example, the foreign aid budget is proposed by the president but must be approved by Congress. In fiscal 2017 the U.S. gave around $248 million in aid to Guatemala, $175 million to Honduras and $115 million to El Salvador.
Eliminating foreign aid to Central America would have the perverse effect of making these countries poorer and more violent, likely causing a rise in migration to the U.S., not a decrease. Additionally, cutting off aid could push Central American countries into the arms of countries like China that don’t include respect for human rights in many of their economic investment and development programs. An additional danger is that foreign aid, if not done correctly, will increase corruption, undermine the rule of law and have a widespread effect on the well being of the societies impacted.
Cutting humanitarian assistance and development aid would both be of severe detriment to the people of Central American and would be damaging to the U.S. from a geopolitical perspective.
For similar reasons, ending our free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada would be potentially disastrous. Additionally, ending free trade with our largest trading partners would have a severe impact on U.S. businesses, our economy overall, and the average American citizen.
Trump’s bluster highlights his desire to close down our border to asylum seekers, despite their legitimate right to seek protection in the U.S., our country’s long history of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution, and this nation’s fundamental values of freedom and democracy.
Many asylum seekers have already been victims of the administration’s attempts to deny entry to the U.S., including one of the Migrant Center’s former clients who provided a statement to the federal court in the case Al Otro Lado v. Nielsen (previously Kelly). This case challenges the practice of Customs and Border Patrol that denies entry to asylum seekers who present themselves that the Port of Entry and request protection.
America must stand strong in our tradition of being a beacon of light on the hill for those fleeing danger. Frustrated tweets and election politics should not be allowed to derail the important values of our great nation, nor those of our southern neighbors, in standing up for the human rights of the less fortunate.
Sara Ramey is an immigration attorney and the executive director at the Migrant Center for Human Rights in San Antonio, Texas. The views in this article are not intended to reflect the official position of the organization.