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U.S. border "crisis"

Asylum seekers are not criminals: what you need to know

Desperate people who fled violence in a caravan from Central America are now stranded at the southern border of the United States by Trump administration policies. "While the administration is saying people should come here legally and follow a legal process, it's making it impossible to do so," says Olga Byrne, director of immigration with the International Rescue Committee. "The members of the Central American caravan have been trying to follow a legal process ... they've been denied access to any U.S. official."

Read the full video transcript

Video Transcript

Olga Byrne, International Rescue Committee director of immigration, US Programs:

While the administration is saying people should come here legally and follow a legal process, it's making it impossible to do so. The members of the Central American caravan have been trying to follow a legal process. Many of them have arrived in Tijuana, but they have been denied access to any U.S. official. 

It’s legal to seek asylum. Under U.S. immigration law, to seek asylum and follow the legal process, you have to show up at the border or be in the United States. It doesn’t matter how you enter the country: If you’re in the U.S. or you arrive at a port of entry you can seek asylum. There’s no way to ask for a visa or any type of authorization in advance, you just have to show up. 

Central America is one of the most dangerous regions in the world right now. El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates outside of an active war zone. And to many people living there it feels like a war zone. And many of them see the U.S. as a beacon of safety, as a place where they can seek protection, and they want to follow the legal process to do so. 

If you’re living in a place where your child is being threatened by gangs, maybe you own a business and you’re being extorted and told that since you can’t pay that amount they’re going to take your daughter away from you. You would take your child with you. For many of these families it’s simply too dangerous to leave their child behind and go on their own.

So currently the majority of families and individuals who arrived in the caravan are stranded in Mexico. They haven’t been given access to U.S. ports of entry or U.S. officials and they’re just waiting. That means they’re living in squalid conditions, sometimes in stadiums like in Tijuana. In other parts along the border they’re sleeping on the streets. So they’re exposed to the elements, their kids are getting sick, or in some cases they’re exposed to xenophobic attacks or even assault by criminal gangs in Mexico.

Well, the Mexican government has been making efforts to strengthen and expand its asylum system. But they’re not there yet. And in the meantime the U.S. has a robust protection system that’s existed since World War II. The U.S. has to provide protection to asylum seekers and to follow U.S. immigration laws. Sending people back to where they’ll be harmed is just going to add to the insecurity there.