CGRS Responds to State of the Union Address, Condemns White House Immigration Framework

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) condemns the hardline immigration policies promoted in yesterday’s State of the Union address, including measures that target asylum seekers. Despite disingenuous calls for unity, President Trump has in fact doubled down on the divisive and nativist immigration framework released by the White House last week. In exchange for a path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)-eligible youth, the White House seeks to shut out refugees and asylum seekers, limit family-based immigration, erode due process rights, and gut protections for unaccompanied children. CGRS calls on Congress to reject the harmful policy proposals and rhetoric of the Trump Administration and to pass a clean Dream Act.

The White House immigration framework mischaracterizes the fair treatment of unaccompanied children and asylum seekers as dangerous “legal loopholes.” In his State of the Union address President Trump expounded on this idea, falsely claiming that “deadly loopholes” had allowed members of the gang MS-13 to enter the country as unaccompanied children. In fact, MS-13 is a transnational gang with roots in Los Angeles, and authorities report that its stateside chapters recruit many of their members here in the United States. Troublingly, the president’s words conflate perpetrators of gang violence with their victims; in recent years, many unaccompanied children from Central America have arrived at our southern border fleeing persecution by gangs like MS-13. The so-called loopholes that the White House is intent on closing are reasonable, limited protections that exist to prevent the unlawful return of such children and other vulnerable populations to persecution and trafficking.

The White House’s proposals also call for the “prompt removal of illegal border-crossers regardless of country of origin” and make no exception for children, seeming to target provisions for unaccompanied children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The TVPRA ensures care and custody of children from non-contiguous countries who arrive alone and allows them to present initial claims to an asylum officer. Eliminating these key protections would place countless refugee children at risk of return to perilous circumstances. In another provision, the White House framework proposes measures designed to target asylum seekers at our borders, presumably by increasing the use of expedited processes that allow the government to deport individuals without a hearing, or through “turn backs” that systematically deny asylum seekers access to any process at all. However, “turn backs” violate our obligations under domestic and international law, and expedited removal processes are riddled with due process problems. Such measures would have dire implications for asylum seeking children and families, undoubtedly resulting in refoulement of many refugees.

The White House’s immigration framework, if enacted, would severely undermine access to the U.S. asylum system and result in the unlawful deportation of refugees to life-threatening violence. It is cruel and unacceptable for the White House to use immigrant youth as political bargaining chips to advance a xenophobic, anti-refugee agenda. Congress must immediately pass a clean Dream Act that provides a path forward for our young people without jeopardizing the safety and well-being of other immigrant and refugee communities.