Background and Rationale for Urge Congress to Protect Asylum-Seekers and the U.S. Asylum Process Action Alert
What’s happening? What’s the big deal?
The Trump Administration has continued its efforts to dismantle the U.S. asylum process and disturbing reports have come out regarding the conditions of immigrant detention along the U.S. southern border.
Abhorrent Detention Conditions
Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released a report documenting the inhumane and squalid conditions of Border Protection facilities along the U.S. southern border. The poor conditions include overcrowding, flu outbreaks, spoiled and/or insufficient food and water, limited access to toilets and showers, overbearing stench, and a lack of clean clothes.
These conditions are also present in migrant childrens’ facilities. Reporters and immigrant rights lawyers who had the opportunity to interview detained children shared accounts of tearful, malnourished children reeking of filth and jammed into frigid, overcrowded quarters. In early June, the Trump administration suspended educational, legal, and recreational programs for migrant children in federal custody.
Dismantling of Asylum
The Trump Administration has undertaken many efforts to turn away asylum-seekers, potentially returning those with legitimate claims for protection to situations of deadly violence, and denying them their internationally-recognized right to seek asylum.
Most recently, on July 22, the Trump administration announced it will begin fast-tracking the deportation of immigrants by expanding “expedited removal,” which allows the Department of Homeland Security to deport someone without any opportunity to be heard by a judge, effectively giving them no opportunity to petition for asylum. These plans will expand expedited removal nationwide and require individuals to demonstrate they have been in the U.S. for at least two years in order to not be deported.
On July 15, the administration announced changes to the U.S. asylum process that would deny protection to individuals who do not first apply for protection in at least one country through which they traveled en route to the U.S. This rule would effectively bar most Central American migrants, as well as migrants from dozens of other countries and continents, from seeking asylum in the U.S. As of July 24, this policy has temporarily been halted by a federal judge, pending further court proceedings.
According to this rule, an asylum claim can still be filed in the U.S. if a migrant’s asylum application was denied in another country en route to the U.S. Additionally, applications would be allowed for victims of “a severe form of trafficking” and those who travel to the U.S. through countries that aren’t party to an international treaty on refugees.
This is the latest of many previous administrative actions to take away asylum-seekers’ access to asylum, including:
Asylum claimants began being turned back to Mexico after their initial asylum screenings in the U.S. under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” or Remain in Mexico policy (December 2018), which was later expanded to all ports of entry (June 2019)
Homeland Security agents began significantly limiting the number of asylum claimants to be processed every day, according to a policy change called metering, which has created waiting lists of thousands in Mexican border cities (Fall 2018)
The first “asylum ban” was an attempt to deny asylum to anyone entering the country from outside of a legal port of entry (November 2018)
The grounds for asylum were narrowed for victims of “private criminal activity,” effectively disqualifying claims pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence (June 2018)
The standards for claiming “credible fear” of persecution or torture were heightened, effectively making it more difficult to prove the need for asylum (February 2017)
Why does the CRCNA care?
Asylum-seeking individuals and families are fleeing violence and persecution, and many have traveled together for safety on their dangerous journey. It is legal for these individuals to request asylum in the United States. Blocking vulnerable people who are fleeing violence and persecution from accessing protection is immoral, cruel, and unnecessary, as is detaining them for prolonged periods in crowded, unsanitary, and inhumane detention conditions.
CRCNA Positions and Mandates
Synod has affirmed that the Bible has instructed the church to engage on this issue, saying:
All people are created in the image of God and are to be treated as such regardless of circumstances under which the church encounters individuals or of a given person’s race, background, or legal status.
God’s Word consistently directs the people of God to be welcoming toward the strangers in their midst and to extend special care to those most vulnerable to social or economic conditions that threaten their ability to survive.
The church of Jesus Christ welcomes all who profess faith in him as their Lord and Savior and who desire to live for him. God has no favorites—true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition of membership in the church.
God’s Word calls upon believers to respect the governing authorities and the laws of the state. However, citizenship in the kingdom of God obligates believers to the highest law of love for God and neighbor above all, and the exercise of this love should lead believers to advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples.
An extended theological and Biblical treatment, which grounds the CRCNA’s position on immigration, can be found in Study on the Migration of People report of the 2010 Synod.
The 2010 synodical report goes into detail about Scripture’s teachings regarding immigrants, refugees, and “the stranger.” Among many themes the report highlights is this: following our scriptural calling to welcome the stranger, we demonstrate Christ’s love to the marginalized, offering assistance for needy immigrants and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.
The Contemporary Testimony, Our World Belongs to God, says this:
53. We call on all governments to do public justice
and to protect the rights and freedoms
of individuals, groups, and institutions
so that each may do their tasks.
We urge governments and pledge ourselves
to safeguard children and the elderly
from abuse and exploitation,
to bring justice to the poor and oppressed,
and to promote the freedom
to speak, work, worship, and associate.
That governments are called to justice generally and that how a government treats the poor and the weak is a key indicator of a society’s commitment to justice is taught in all the prophets and in psalms like Psalm 72.
John Calvin taught that the government authorities had a particularly important role: to ensure that the rights of the poor are protected and maintained. “God takes a more special care of the poor than of others, since they are most exposed to injuries and violence. . . a just and well-regulated government will be distinguished for maintaining the rights of the poor and afflicted.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 72)
Synod passed the following in 2010:
G. That synod instruct the Board of Trustees to encourage the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action and the Canadian Committee for Contact with the Government, in collaboration with their denominational and non-denominational partners, to engage in, as a priority, policy development and advocacy strategies that will lead to immigration reform and the enactment of fair, just, and equitable laws regarding those without status in Canada and the United States.
H. That synod encourage congregations and their individual members to speak out against, and seek to reform, laws and practices concerning the treatment of immigrants that appear to be unduly harsh or unjust.
I. That synod, mindful of the need for governments to create and enforce laws that protect the security and integrity of a given nation’s borders, nevertheless encourage congregations and church members to support the need for comprehensive immigration reform in ways that will reduce the number of people without status and/or non-status workers and provide increased opportunities for immigrants to gain legal status within the nation.
J. That synod encourage congregations to advocate on behalf of those suffering in prison on account of their lack of status to ensure a more just and dignified process in dealing with them while also advocating for more humane treatment of those who are unfortunate enough to be imprisoned.
Ground: The governments of both the United States and Canada have been struggling with comprehensive immigration reform for years, recognizing that current policies are insufficient to deal with contemporary aspects of immigration. The CRC can be of service to these governments by speaking up for the just treatment of all people as part of the larger process to reform current laws and policies.
K. That synod urge the Christian Reformed Church, through its assemblies and agencies, to affirm the need to reach out in hospitality and compassion to immigrant people and that synod further encourage churches to display this ministry concern through actions that include but are not limited to the following:
Prayerful study and discussion of issues related to the causes that motivate people to immigrate to other lands so as to deepen understanding of the circumstances under which many people live.
Mindful attention to the plight of both documented workers and people without status and to reach out in love to those who seek assistance for themselves and for their children in terms of financial assistance, food, clothing, and shelter.
Ground: Scripture calls us to be mindful of the plight of aliens and strangers, offering compassion and love in Christ’s name to those who find themselves marginalized and in need.