AILA proudly welcomes this blog post from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Law Student Scholarship recipient Woorod Atiyat, part of a series intended to highlight the important ways in which diversity, equity, and inclusion inform immigration law and policy. More information about AILA’s DEI Committee and its important work is available on AILA’s website 

The U.S. legal system broadly can be characterized as flawed, and advancements are long overdue. Immigration law in the United States, for instance, criminalizes immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a series of unjust laws and increasingly harsh penalties imposed on both those entering the country in search of a better life, and those who have faced mistreatment and racial profiling in the criminal legal system. With the high volume of ethical violations targeted at these marginalized communities, there is an urgent need to protect the civil, human, and labor rights of all immigrants and ensure their dignity is affirmed in places of work. With the recent series of policies that were implemented under the Trump Administration, Congress now carries the burden of using its delegated powers to salvage the remaining rights immigrant communities have while also bearing the responsibility to oppose bills that hinder the rights of immigrants.

Sadly, some recent legislative efforts clearly do not have the rights of immigrants in mind. For instance, in November 2022, Rep. Charles Eugene “Chip” Roy, joined by 16 Republican colleagues, introduced the “Border Safety and Security Act of 2022“. In response, a group of over 250 local, state and national refugee, human rights and immigration organizations wrote a letter to House members opposing the bill, stating it requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to defer the entry of any non-U.S. nationals who do not have valid entry documents during any period in which DHS cannot detain or return such an individual to a foreign country contiguous to the United States. If passed, a state would hold authority to sue DHS for further enforcement of the bill. The legislation would seal off all borders and ports of entry, severing access to protection for vulnerable people seeking a better life, such as asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, torture victims, and human trafficking victims fleeing life-threatening situations. The bill is contrary to our nation’s moral principles, violates U.S. refugee law, and would trigger the U.S. to violate its international obligations. Moreover, the bill would give DHS broad discretion to ban all asylum access even if this inhumane and impossible condition were somehow achieved.

This bill represents an attempt to circumvent our country’s international asylum obligations. If passed, such a bill would negatively impact the global perception of the Unitec States as a nation that protects those seeking refuge. Deporting arriving migrants without conducting individual screening for asylum or trafficking violates long-standing treaty obligations to protect people fleeing political, religious, ethnic, racial, and other forms of egregious persecution. These pledges are embodied in decades of bipartisan legislation that codifies the right to nondiscriminatory asylum access at U.S. borders. The Border Safety and Security Act would clearly put the United States in violation of its international legal obligations.

Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.” Although the UDHR is expressly nonbinding, the right to seek asylum that it articulated has become the cornerstone of international refugee law; other aspects of refugee law, such as non-refoulement and guarantees of proper treatment, stem from this fundamental right. Further, the Border Safety and Security Act would violate the Refugee Convention. The Refugee Convention builds on Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. Under this convention through Article 5, a refugee may enjoy rights and benefits in a state as well as to those provided for in the Convention. This bill would not only effectively repeal the Refugee Act’s asylum provisions, but also the Trafficking and Victims Protection Reauthorization Act’s unaccompanied child provisions and DHS’s statutory parole authority.

As the 118th Congress is now taking shape after the election, I urge Congressional members to turn away from this malpractice and refuse to move forward on a bill like H.R. 7772. Instead of harming immigrants and the most vulnerable, Congress must rise to its responsibility and serve as protectors of the immigrant community and our country’s values of fairness and justice.