Cepeda column: Trump can’t stop America from offering a safe harbor to huddled masses
CHICAGO — It won’t work.
President Trump can ask U.S.-born citizens to go “back home,” and he can insult immigrants who have lived here productively for years in the hopes that they, too, will disappear from his sight. He can send out his militarized immigration force to round up people who look like they could be deported.
But he cannot will our country to stop taking in the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, because that is America’s whole thing.
To put it in business terms that an executive might understand: It’s our brand promise.
It’s also the law.
“It violates the statutory right of any alien to seek protection in the United States,” said Keren Zwick, a litigator with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center during a July 15 telephone press briefing. “We can only make good on the humanitarian purpose of asylum if migrants actually have access to it.”
Anyone who likes to say that we are a nation of laws should, surely, agree that Trump’s latest base-rallying immigration announcement is illegal. The so-called Third-Country Asylum Rule, which targets refugees who travel through Mexico before reaching the U.S., prohibiting them from applying for asylum, is basically a mechanism to target refugees from Latin America and relegate them to fending for themselves in Mexico.
The interim rule is going into effect “immediately” according to the administration, but will be fought in court to be prohibited from truly going into practice.
“A lawsuit is imminent,” said Zwick. “We’re talking days, not weeks.”
And it’s likely to succeed. You see, the Trump administration already tried and lost its attempt at narrowing asylum claims by saying that Mexico is a safe “third country.”
Sadly, Mexico is not. According to experts a “safe” third country requires meaningful and robust protections for migrants, and reasonable and robust access to asylum protections in the country — and Mexico simply doesn’t offer those types of services.
Even by the inexact guidelines of the international protection standard, ratified in 1951 as the Refugee Convention, the promise is pretty simple: “A refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.”
Most of the refugees at the border are fleeing political, criminal and economic threats in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Eritrea and Honduras. They’ve made the perilous voyage to the border because “back home” means almost-certain death, imprisonment, rape, exploitation or other horrors.
“Trump is yet again attempting to rewrite or violate laws on asylum-seeking that are already set by Congress,” said Eleanor Acer, the director of refugee protection at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization Human Rights First. “This new rule is dangerous, disgraceful and blatantly illegal. It will create more chaos both on the border and in the courts. And it will throw more vulnerable people into situations where they can be raped, mistreated, etc.”
Every expert who spoke during the telephone press briefing on the president’s new attempt to ban asylum believed that the courts would prevent the administration from moving forward with his new plan.
But as with the threat of immigration raids in communities of color and the president’s fruitless tooth-and-nail fight to get a citizenship question included on the 2020 Census, all this activity is not truly about “fixing” our admittedly broken immigration system.
It is about President Trump asserting his anti-immigrant bona fides in advance of the upcoming presidential election, signaling to his base that he will put whites at the front and center of any plans he has to make this country more prosperous and safe. And it’s also about scaring immigrants.
More than 300,000 Hispanic students have already been displaced from K-12 schools in communities where local police have forged partnerships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, according to a new study from researchers at Stanford University.
In large Latino enclaves, merchants, restaurants and churches are seeing huge drops in their foot traffic due to threats of mass raids.
Immigrant parents are forgoing medical care, food stamps and other benefits that their U.S.-born children are entitled to, according to reports, for fear that interacting with any form of government will invite scrutiny from immigration officials.
In the end, it won’t matter.
We should have confidence that the courts will prevail so this country can fulfill its promise of being a safe harbor for those seeking freedom.
Fear and even persecution will not scare away America’s Latino population — President Trump can count on it.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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