An ACLU attorney said the Trump administration is playing a “deadly game of musical chairs” with asylum-seekers fleeing gang violence in Central America.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is joining other activist groups in a challenge to the Trump administration’s “safe third country” rule.
According to NBC News, the lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The ACLU and its allies are hoping to prevent the federal government from enforcing asylum agreements it’s reached with three Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The agreement, somewhat paradoxically, designates certain Central American nations as “safe third countries.” Asylum-seekers who pass through any of the three countries en route to the United States are obliged to seek refuge before their applications will be entertained in the U.S. Immigration officers have been instructed to refuse asylum-seekers who’ve passed through “safe third countries” and are unable to prove that it’s “more likely than not” they’d be persecuted or tortured if they had to stay in one.
However, most asylum-seekers from the region are fleeing organized crime—and El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras lie at the epicenter of Central America’s gang crisis.
“The Rule’s bare bones procedures […] are woefully inadequate to ensure that those who risk persecution, torture, or death in receiving countries will not be erroneously removed to danger there,” the lawsuit states.
“The policies block asylum seekers from ever receiving a chance at asylum in the U.S. They are instead being sent to Guatemala—and soon to El Salvador and Honduras,” the ACLU wrote in its lawsuit. These countries are plagued by epidemic violence, instability, and ill-equipped asylum m systems.”
NBC notes that, while only Guatemala currently received the “safe third country” designation, the Trump administration is seeking similar arrangements with other Central American governments.
The ACLU alleges that such new agreements “unlawfully slam our nation’s doors on people fleeing horrific violence and other forms of persecution by denying them the right to apply for asylum in the United States and shipping them to dangerous countries where there is virtually no chance they will find refuge.”
BuzzFeed recounts the story of “U.T.”, a gay Salvadoran man represented in the lawsuit. When U.T. applied for asylum in the United States, he had to explain to immigration officials that Guatemala is not a safe country for gay men.
In fact, U.T. had been encouraged to leave Guatemala by Guatemalan officials themselves.
“U.T. decided to apply for asylum in Guatemala, but because that county is also unsafe for gay people, Guatemalan officials advised him to go to Mexico, where they said he could apply for asylum,” the ACLU noted. “U.T. is in Mexico for no, but he remains uncertain how or where to find safety.”
Katrina Eiland, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NBC that Trump is forcing asylum-seekers to play a “deadly game of musical chairs”—being shuffled from one country to the next, none of which should conceivably be called “safe.”
“The Trump administration has created a deadly game of musical chairs that leaves desperate refugees without a safe haven, in violation of U.S. and international law,” Eiland said in a statement. “The administration is illegally trying to turn away asylum seekers and pass the buck to other countries that can’t protect them.”