On Feb. 15 President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to build a physical barrier on the southern border—distorting the record on people seeking asylum in the United States as a “national security crisis.”

At the same time vulnerable families are reportedly being returned across the border to wait for their asylum claims to be processed, under a new administration policy called “Remain in Mexico.” Rather than make America safer, these policies will expose Central American children and families who have fled persecution, torture and violence to even more danger and uncertainty. Here’s what you need to know:

Latest: The IRC responds to President Trump’s veto on Congress’ ‘Resolution of Disapproval.'  The Resolution was passed to terminate the national emergency declared by President Trump on Feb.15, which sought to secure funding to build a physical barrier on the southern border. 

There is no national emergency at the border.

The number of irregular border crossings is actually at historic lows, according to Customs and Border Patrol figures. “This is clearly a manufactured ‘emergency,’” says Jennifer Sime, senior vice president, U.S. Programs for the International Rescue Committee.

The crisis is elsewhere.

The real crisis is the instability in Central America, which is forcing people to flee for their lives. People living in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are enduring some of the worst violence outside an active war zone. Many of those fleeing to the U.S. border have traveled together in caravans for safety.

A Central American girl holds a book as others traveling in a caravan climb the Mexico-U.S. border fence in an attempt to cross to San Diego County.
Every nation has the right to control its border. Both U.S. and international law also provide for the safe and legal movement of vulnerable people and the right to seek asylum.
Photo: ​​GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images

But rather than offering safe haven, the U.S. administration continues to block people from claiming asylum, separate families as part of its ‘zero tolerance’ effort, and forcibly return asylum seekers to Mexico as part of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.

Seeking asylum is legal. Turning away asylum seekers is not.

Every nation has the right to control its border. Both U.S. and international law also provide for the safe and legal movement of vulnerable people—including Central American refugees and asylum seekers—and the right to seek asylum.

The administration’s policies violate these laws, and rob asylum seekers of their due process rights, including access to legal counsel. They will also expose thousands of families and children to unsafe conditions. 

IRC staff who have been in Tijuana say people awaiting asylum claims, and those helping them, are fearful as they face a credible risk of being targeted by violence. “They have called the idea of sending people back appalling, and sending children in particular, unthinkable,” says Jennifer Sime.

The emergency declaration harms America

The emergency declaration and systematic attacks on asylum seekers by the U.S. administration place some of the most vulnerable people on earth in harm’s way. Alongside reports of forcibly returned children, they fatally undermine the United States’ strategic leadership and moral clarity on humanitarian issues.

Read our full statement:  IRC responds to U.S. Emergency Declaration, reports of forcible return of children to Mexico (Feb. 15, 2019)

How the IRC helps

The International Rescue Committee is calling on the U.S. administration to rescind this cruel and irresponsible policy, follow domestic and international law, and uphold America’s humanitarian commitments.

In addition to speaking out, the IRC provides emergency assistance to help those in El Salvador who are most at risk to find shelter and safety, as well as cash assistance to help people rebuild their lives.

In the U.S., the IRC will continue to help meet asylum seekers’ basic needs, facilitate family reunifications, connect people to critical legal services and help them access psychosocial support.