CGRS Director Testifies Before Canadian Parliament on State of U.S. Asylum System

Thursday, May 9, 2019

On Wednesday CGRS Director Professor Karen Musalo appeared as an expert witness before the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Professor Musalo was called to provide testimony on the current state of the U.S. asylum system in light of proposed amendments to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These amendments would deprive asylum seekers of their right to a full and independent hearing in Canada if they have previously applied for asylum in the United States. “The U.S. asylum system is plagued with serious deficiencies which have resulted in a failure of protection for bona fide refugees,” Professor Musalo said today. “The situation has worsened in recent years, with the Trump Administration introducing a slew of draconian policies that have significantly undermined access to a fair process.”

Professor Musalo testified specifically on recent rollbacks in protections for survivors of gender-based violence and gang brutality, including former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ June 2018 ruling in the asylum case known as Matter of A-B-. That decision overturned a landmark legal precedent that had affirmed domestic violence survivors’ right to seek asylum and included sweeping language stating that asylum claims based on domestic violence and gang brutality should “generally” no longer be approved. Many U.S. adjudicators have improperly interpreted the Matter of A-B- decision to impose a categorical ban on such claims. Since the ruling came down last summer, asylum grant rates for individuals fleeing crisis levels of gender-based violence in Central America have plummeted. This alarming retreat on refugee women’s rights stands in stark contrast to Canada’s longstanding recognition of gender-based persecution as a basis for refugee protection.

Professor Musalo also brought to the Committee’s attention other cruel and punitive U.S. policies that undermine the ability of asylum seekers to obtain protection. For example, asylum seekers in U.S. immigration proceedings are not ensured access to legal representation, meaning that many individuals, including children, are forced to appear in court alone. Those without representation are far less likely to prevail in their cases. Furthermore, the U.S. government has traumatized thousands of asylum-seeking children by separating them from their parents and has dramatically increased the detention of asylum seekers, including families, in remote immigration prisons isolated from legal services providers. And in its efforts to restrict access to protection even more drastically, this year the Trump Administration began forcibly returning asylum seekers to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration court dates on the other side of the border, completely cut off from vital legal and social support. Since January, over 3,000 asylum seekers have been subjected to this policy, which CGRS is challenging in court.

“The U.S. asylum system has become increasingly hostile to refugees,” Professor Musalo said today. “Every year our government wrongly denies protection to countless asylum seekers, ordering their return to life-threatening persecution. Although the United States has shamefully abdicated its commitments to refugees, we hope that Canada will continue to be a beacon of hope for those whom our system has sadly failed.”