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What is asylum?

Asylum is a form of protection offered by the U.S. government. It is for people with a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country because of their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or social group. Asylum is a legal pathway migrants can pursue to remain in the United States without fear of deportation. The current definition of asylum in the U.S. is based on the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees. It was created when countries came together in the wake of the Holocaust. They committed that never again would they return people fleeing persecution to danger.

Prior to spring of 2018, when migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum, they could approach a port of entry and express their fear of returning to their country. They would immediately be given a fear assessment and paroled into the U.S. based on the merits of that assessment. From there, they would be given a court date. Generally, they would have three to four court hearings to establish evidence about their asylum claim, after which a judge would decide their case.

Attacks on asylum

In 2018, the Trump Administration claimed the ports lacked the infrastructure to process the number of people arriving to seek asylum. (This claim was later exposed as false by the Office of the Inspector General.) As such, they began to turn back asylum seekers (also known as metering). They only allowed a certain number of people to be processed at certain ports. This created wait lists all along the border which built up over time. This forced migrants to wait months to access the asylum process.

Metering is just one of many attacks on asylum over the past few years. Another was the Remain in Mexico policy, which returned migrants back to Mexico to await their court hearings. Yet another, third country agreements, sent flights of migrants to other countries to await their asylum process.

And then there is “Title 42.” “Title 42” is an executive authority the Trump Administration invoked to use the pandemic as a pretext to block asylum seekers from lawful protection in the U.S. This was enacted despite clear guidance from public health professionals that keeping out asylum seekers does not protect public health. “Title 42” was invoked in March of 2020. The Biden Administration has continued excluding asylum seekers through this order during the last six months. This has continued despite ongoing outcry from immigrant rights advocates, medical experts and a statement from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees calling for an end to “Title 42.”

Originally published in the fall 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan is a Sister of Providence in formation. She professed first vows in 2017. She is a former intern at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. She currently ministers as education coordinator at the Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera where she works with an education team to coordinate and host individuals and groups for immersions to the U.S./Mexico border in order to engage participants on the current reality of migration.

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