Human Rights Watch recently reported that Honduran adults seeking asylum in the U.S. are subject to “rapid – fire screening”: a process which involves deporting migrants without proper assessment. Migrants have mixed motives for leaving Honduras, but with the highest murder per capita rate in the world, many flee to the U.S. to escape the gang violence that plagues the country. Honduran gangs often extort civilians for money and retaliate if they fail to pay. The increasing gang violence has also led many children to flee Honduras. A majority of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border are boys aged 15-17 – trying to escape the pressures of joining gangs. With constant violence and a lack of opportunity, the U.S. is the only source of hope or basic survival for many Hondurans, but flawed U.S. border practices and policies only send migrants back to the danger they tried to flee.
Once a migrant is detained at the U.S.- Mexico border, they undergo a two-part assessment by the U.S. Border Patrol for either “expedited removal,” if they are crossing the border for the first time, or “reinstatement of removal,” if they have been previously deported. An agent from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will flag a person for a “credible fear” or “reasonable fear” in the first part of the assessment. Migrants then meet with an asylum officer who evaluates their claim to determine if the fear of return is either “credible” or “reasonable.” If the claim of fear is deemed legitimate, the migrant will continue in immigration court, presenting their case before a judge. Children are automatically referred to immigration court proceedings but evidence has shown that an increasing number of adults seeking asylum are being turned away in the first part of expedited removal. By failing to recognize asylum seekers the U.S. is violating international law and human rights obligations.
According to data collected by Human Rights Watch, in 2011 and 2012, of all the Honduran migrants detained at the border, seeking asylum, “at least 80 per cent, [were] placed in fast-track expedited removal” and only “1.9 per cent [were] flagged for credible fear assessments by CBP.” The most recent data shows a general trend towards stricter border policies. In July, 63 per cent of all migrants who claimed a “credible” or “reasonable” fear were found to have met the criteria whereas 83 per cent of all claims were deemed credible just six months earlier. This decline comes from stricter regulations from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Division. The goal of these new guidelines, according to an agency official, “is to ensure that immigrants with little to no chance of obtaining asylum in immigration court are quickly sent home.” But this problem of stricter regulations precedes the past six months; immigration reform is a predominant concern in American policy.
In 1996, U.S. Congress enacted a provision entitled “expedited removal” as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). “Expedited removal,” allows for the “summary expulsion of noncitizens who have not been admitted or paroled into the U.S., who have been in the U.S. for less than two years, and who present fraudulent documents or have no documents.” Unless the person makes a claim of “credible fear” then “they may be immediately deported and will be barred from returning to the U.S. for at least five years, and often much longer.” Originally the American government only applied expedited removal conditions to noncitizens arriving at “ports of entry.” After September 11, 2001 the Department of Homeland Security, which was created after the attacks, began enforcing expedited removal along the entire U.S. border. The IIRIRA also created another provision, the reinstatement of removal. If a person who was previously removed from the U.S. and subsequently re-enters the country illegally, they face the reinstatement of the previous order and are barred from applying for asylum.
The responsibility of the CBP is to determine “credible fear” and refer migrants to an asylum officer. Data shows that not only have CBP officers been improperly screening migrants but that a majority of asylum referrals come from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A migrant can be referred to asylum after they have left CBP but ICE does not have a duty to actively screen all migrants in custody for credible fear. “Approximately three-quarters of the credible fear referrals the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducted in 2012 came from agencies other than the CBP, even though that year CBP was responsible for approximately 57 per cent of all noncitizen apprehensions.” For migrants who are referred to asylum officers, the likelihood of being granted asylum has fallen significantly in the past few months with a decrease of 20 per cent since July. Tighter regulations not only hinders migrants from entering the U.S. but also reflects the influence of the political right on immigration.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has to the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” but current immigration policy in the U.S. is making the opportunity for asylum increasingly difficult. A majority of Honduran migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border are rarely given the opportunity to make their case for asylum. Trying to escape a life surrounding by gang violence, many Hondurans are sent back without due process of law and denied their basic human right of seeking asylum under international law. The U.S. should cease using fast-track deportation to ensure migrants have an adequate opportunity for asylum that is guaranteed to them under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so they will not have to face the torment of their home country.