A steep climb for asylum seekers

Under a recent agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, asylum seekers who do not sufficiently demonstrate that they fear persecution in Mexico will now be required to wait there until their cases can be processed in the U.S. Thousands of people are already waiting at ports of entry on the Mexico side of the border without shelter or access to clean water and food while U.S. officials process only a few dozen people each day. This new measure raises many concerns, not least because few details are known publicly.

To adequately address concerns at the U.S.-Mexico border, policymakers should first seek to reduce the extreme backlog in the asylum process and courts. Longer-term, the U.S. must address the many reasons people are fleeing home in fear. Trying to stop the flow of migrants seeking safety without addressing the root causes of insecurity, impunity and poverty that drive people to flee is insufficient.

For many years, anti-corruption efforts and judicial system reforms aimed at reducing high levels of impunity in Central America have enjoyed bipartisan support from the U.S. government. However, recent efforts by local politicians who fear prosecution have emboldened U.S. government officials who would rather take a more isolationist position toward foreign assistance. Without sustained, transparent and impartial support for anticorruption efforts in the region, weak government institutions will continue to perpetuate injustice and insecurity.

Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) long-term support to communities and partners in Central America has often focused on addressing the reasons people flee through programs such as education support, job skills, food security training and community peacebuilding. The diversity of programs in communities empowers people with agency, offering alternatives to migrating north.

As peacemakers dedicated to seeking justice, we should encourage our government to consider holistic ways to address the conditions that force people to flee. And at the same time, we can welcome people who are looking for refuge and safety. These two solutions go hand in hand, and until we address these issues in a sustainable way, we will not see a reduction of migrants seeking safety outside their own borders.

Charissa Zehr is legislative associate for the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on February 1, 2019. Reprinted with permission from Thirdway Cafe.  

Photo: Rhonda Dueck prays at the wall in Douglas, Arizona, on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, as part of a West Coast MCC learning tour designed to bring attention to faith-based responses to migration, militarization of the border, the effect of the border wall to communities on both sides of the border and the tragedy of migrant deaths. MCC Photo/James Bergen


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