UK considering ‘extreme’ measures to deal with asylum seekers; pay attention — Biden may follow suit

On March 24, 2021, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Secretary of State, Priti Patel, proposed to the UK’s Parliament a new plan for handling asylum seekers.

Among other things, she said that asylum seekers who are making an illegal journey to the UK in the hands of smugglers are dying at sea, in lorries, and in shipping containers. She wants to stop giving asylum to migrants who come to the UK illegally.

Patel’s plan produced criticism from human rights organizations; British Red Cross called it “inhumane.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson supports her efforts to combat the smugglers, calling her policy a “humanitarian one.”

Highlights from Patel’s proposal:

Protect those with a genuine need for asylum

She would grant indefinite permission to remain in the UK to people coming through legal resettlement routes to escape persecution and provide them with the support they need to learn English, to find work, and to integrate into UK society.

Deter illegal entry

She would reduce the pull factors in the asylum system and disincentivize illegal entry.

Asylum seekers who arrive illegally instead of going through the government’s official resettlement program will not be granted asylum — even if their claims are successful. They will be removed if possible. If not, they will receive temporary protection only and will be removed when it is possible to do so.

She doesn’t say why it might not be possible to deport them. It probably is because the UK is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, and Article 33 of that Convention prohibits signatories from returning aliens to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened by persecution. Nevertheless, they can deport them to other countries where they won’t face persecution, but the other countries have to agree to accept them.

From Patel’s perspective, when a migrant enters the UK illegally from a safe country where he could have claimed asylum, he is not seeking refuge from persecution, which is the intended purpose of the asylum system. He instead is choosing the UK as his preferred destination, and he is doing it at the expense of people who have nowhere else to go.

She would increase punishment for smugglers and facilitators to a maximum of a life sentence.

I can see why people may think this is outrageous, but U.S. law is even harsher: It has a life sentence and a death penalty for smuggling if the offense results in someone’s death.

Patel would also establish procedures to prevent unscrupulous people from posing as children.


Patel would rapidly remove migrants who have no right to be in the UK.

She would make quicker decisions on asylum applications and establish a fast-track appeals process.

She says the UK justice system is being gamed: “We must deal with the meritless claims that clog up our courts… No more endless, meritless appeals to frustrate removal. No more stalling justice… Enough is enough.”

Patel’s challenge to the opposition

Patel said, “We know that opposition members would prefer a plan that embraces open borders. They were reluctant to end free movement with the departure from the European Union (EU).”

Apparently, she is referring to the EU’s Schengen agreement, which abolished checks at EU’s internal borders and provided a single set of rules for controls at the external borders.

She noted that “opposition members also are on record as saying that all immigration controls are racist or sexist.” This occurs in the United States too.

“Others say we lack compassion,” Patel said, “but while people are dying on illegal journeys to the UK we must act to deter the illegal journeys. If you don’t like our plan, where is yours?”

What about displaced persons?

According to Bridget Chapman, who heads the Kent Refugee Action Network charity, “There are people who have been displaced, through no fault of their own, who’ve ended up coming to Europe and they’re still in need of a safe place.”

Patel isn’t saying that the needs of displaced persons should be ignored, just that they shouldn’t be coming to UK illegally to seek asylum. In any case, being displaced and needing a safe place to live isn’t a legally acceptable basis for an asylum claim.

In common usage, the word “asylum” often refers to protection or safety. The term has a much narrower meaning in immigration laws.

The immigration laws in the UK and in the U.S., limit asylum to a person who is outside of his own country and unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Biden may follow Patel’s lead

According to a statement DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made on March 16, 2021, “We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”

A March 28, 2021, ABC poll indicates that most Americans (57 percent) disapprove of the way Biden is handling this situation; 54 percent think the situation is a crisis, and only 4 percent say it’s not a serious problem.

American immigration courts are not going to be able to handle all the asylum claims. As of the end of February 2021, they had a backlog of nearly 1.3 million cases; and the average wait for a hearing was two and a half years.

According to TRAC Immigration, even if the immigration courts did not get any new cases, it would take more than Biden’s entire first term in office to eliminate the backlog.

Don’t be surprised if Biden resorts to the kinds of restrictions that Patel is proposing. He has closed the border already. But that won’t accomplish much if illegal crossings can’t be stopped.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow his blog at

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Asylum seeker Boris Johnson England European migrant crisis Human migration Illegal immigration Joe Biden Modern immigration to the United Kingdom Priti Patel Refugee U.S.-Mexico border crisis United Kingdom

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