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The Cost of Outsourcing Refugees - Jeffrey S. Chase

September 17, 2019 (4 min read)

Jeffrey S. Chase, Sept. 16, 2019

"It seems perversely appropriate that it was on 9/11 that the Supreme Court removed the legal barrier to the Trump Administration’s most recent deadly attack on the right to asylum in this country.  I continue to believe that eventually, justice will prevail through the courts or, more likely, through a change in administration. But in the meantime, what we are witnessing is an all-out assault by the Trump Administration on the law of asylum.  The tactics include gaming the system through regulations and binding decisions making it more difficult for asylum seekers to prevail on their claims. But far uglier is the tactic of degrading those fleeing persecution and seeking safety here. Such refugees, many of whom are women and children, are repeatedly and falsely portrayed by this administration and its enablers as criminals and terrorists.  Upon arrival, mothers are separated from their spouses and children from their parents; all are detained under dehumanizing, soul-crushing conditions certain to inflict permanent psychological damage on its victims. In response to those protesting such policies, Trump tweeted on July 3: “If illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centers, just tell them not to come.  All problems solved!”

How innocent women and children resigning themselves to being severely beaten, raped, and killed in their home countries constitutes all problems being solved is beyond comprehension.  

Those in Trump’s administration who have given more thought to the matter don’t seek to solve the problem, but rather to make it someone else’s problem to solve.  By disqualifying from asylum refugees who passed through any other country on their way to our southern border or who entered the country without inspection; by forcing thousands to remain exposed to abuse in Mexico while their asylum claims are adjudicated, and by falsely designating countries with serious gang and domestic violence problems as “safe third countries” to which asylum seekers can be sent, this administration is simply outsourcing refugee processing to countries that are not fit for the job in any measurable way.  Based on my thirty-plus years of experience in this field, I submit that contrary to Trump’s claim, such policies create very large, long-term problems.

I began my career in immigration law in the late 1980s representing asylum seekers from Afghanistan, many of whom were detained by our government upon their arrival.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Afghans constituted the largest group of refugees in the world. At one point, there were more than 6 million refugees from Afghanistan alone, most of whom were living in camps in Pakistan.  Afghan children there received education focused on fundamentalist religious indoctrination that was vehemently anti-western. The Taliban (which literally means “students”) emerged from these schools. The Taliban, of course, brought a reign of terror to Afghanistan, and further provided a haven for Al-Qaeda to launch the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The outsourcing of Afghan refugees to Pakistan was the exact opposite of “all problems solved,” with the Taliban continuing to thwart peace in Afghanistan up to the present.

Contrast this experience with the following: shortly before I left the government, I went to dinner with a lawyer who had mentioned my name to a colleague of his earlier that day.  The colleague had been an Afghan refugee in Pakistan who managed to reach this country as a teen in the early 1990s, and was placed into deportation proceedings by the U.S. government.  By chance, I had been his lawyer, and had succeeded in obtaining a grant of asylum for him. Although I hadn’t heard from him in some 25 years, I learned from his friend that evening that I had apparently influenced my young client when I emphasized to him all those years ago the importance of pursuing higher education in this country, as he credited me with his becoming a lawyer.  Between the experiences of my former client and that which led to the formation to the Taliban, there is no question as to which achieved the better outcome, and it wasn’t the one in which refugees remained abroad.

In 1938, at a conference held in Evian, France, 31 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, stated their refusal to accept Jewish refugees trapped in Nazi Germany.  The conference sent the message to the *** on the eve of the Holocaust that no country of concern cared at all about the fate of Germany’s Jewish population. The Trump administration is sending the same message today to MS-13 and other brutal crime syndicates in Central America.  Our government is closing the escape route to thousands of youths (some as young as 7 years old) being targeted for recruitment, extortion, and rape by groups such as MS-13, while simultaneously stoking anti-American hatred among those same youths through its shockingly cruel treatment of arriving refugees.  This is a dangerous combination, and this time, it is occurring much closer to home than Pakistan. Based on historic examples, it seems virtually assured that no one will look back on Trump’s refugee policies as having solved any problems; to the contrary, we will likely be paying the price for his cruel and short-sighted actions for decades to come."

Copyright 2019 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City.  Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge, senior legal advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals, and volunteer staff attorney at Human Rights First.  He is a past recipient of AILA's annual Pro Bono Award, and previously chaired AILA's Asylum Reform Task Force.