What Protections Exist for Refugees Worldwide?

This is the second of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

Headlines around the world have recently drawn attention to refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom seek to avoid the spotlight rather than garner press attention. However, in order to understand the roots of what has been labeled a ‘refugee crisis’, it is important to understand who refugees and asylum seekers are, and how they are protected worldwide.

Refugees are individuals who are fleeing their countries because of war, violence, or persecution. They may face persecution because of their race, nationality, religion, political affiliation, or social identity. While many refugees long to return home, they cannot or are afraid of what will happen if they do.

When refugees flee their countries and seek to find sanctuary, they must apply for asylum. Asylum seekers are those who have applied to have their status recognized by another country, and receive material assistance or legal protections. In order to receive asylum and refugee recognition, people must show that their fear of persecution at home is well-founded.

Photograph courtesy of UNHCR

While the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol lay out the framework for refugee protections, not all asylum-giving countries provide the same support. The treaty has been ratified by 145 different countries and commits those countries to its principles. One of the central principles of the Convention is non-refoulement, meaning that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face threats to their lives or liberties. The treaty was initially drafted in response to the massive numbers of European refugees caused by destruction from World War II, and was then limited to refugees created due to events in Europe prior to 1951. The 1967 amendment to the treaty universalized the rights and principles of the document, making them applicable to all refugees worldwide.

While the principle of non-refoulement is central to the treaty, there are a number of other significant rights recognized for refugees. These include the right to work, and access to housing, education, public relief, and assistance. It also includes freedom from punishment due to entering a country illegally to seek asylum.

Over the years, the U.S. has contributed significantly to resettling and receiving refugees. Generally, every year it has offered more refugees asylum than all other nations combined. However, policies advanced by the Trump administration are useating the U.S. from its role as a leader in refugee resettlement and protection.

The U.S. 1980 Refugee Act integrated the international definition of a refugee into domestic law. That same definition forms the basis for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Each year, the President in conjunction with Congress determines a ceiling for refugee admissions. In 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, that ceiling was set at 85,000. The Trump administration has set a ceiling of 45,000 for 2018.

In 2017, American refugee policy went through an abrupt overhaul. The Obama administration had set a ceiling of 110,000 refugee admissions for the fiscal year prior to the change of administrations. The Trump administration promptly sliced it to 50,000 amid pledges of a security overhaul, despite the fact that there was no indication of a security problem with the U.S. refugee admission system.

Photograph courtesy of Jeff J Mitchell for the Irish Times

Family reunification has been a cornerstone of American immigration policy. However, the Trump administration has, in addition to overall pledges to reduce immigration, supported a system more heavily weighted toward highly skilled or employable workers. Some other countries – such as Canada and Australia – already have such a system; however, Canada has also increased its refugee intake in recent years.

Other policies of the Trump administration have also showcased a harsh approach to refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants. The separation of parents from children in detention centers spawned widespread criticism, especially from those who see this policy at odds with a traditional U.S. approach to migration.

In Europe, children are rarely separated from their families and migrant detention is a less frequent policy overall. On the other hand, poorer nations like Bangladesh and Thailand have imposed extremely harsh conditions on refugees (Thailand is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention). Of course, the geographic proximity to war, as well as the economic realities of these countries vary greatly from that of the U.S.

Policies like Trump’s travel ban – often colloquially called the “Muslim ban” for its disproportionate effect on people from Muslim-majority countries – and the loudly promoted border wall illustrate the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States. This comes in parallel with a similar rise of far-right parties in Europe with migration policy at the center of their advocacy. The promise of the United States for refugees and asylum seekers remains alive despite these changing laws and regulations, even as migrant justice advocates push back against further restrictions. This country has been deeply enriched by those refugees seeking freedom. With a bit of help, it can keep that vision of America relevant in today’s new era.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about refugees, I invite you to view Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis and Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”. I also strongly encourage that you ready the first part of Manji Law’s refugee and immigration series, the Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer. The third part will be published in the following weeks.

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The Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer

This is the first of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.

The United States has long been a nation of immigrants. However, recent changes to immigration policies may signal a new trend for the country.

In the 1600s, Europeans traveled to North America. Soon after, they began importing African people as slaves. During the 1800s and 1900s, the United States experienced immigration from China, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Poland. Although racial, religious, and cultural tensions accompanied these waves, the U.S. nevertheless attained its status as a melting pot where everyone could follow their dreams. In fact, in 2005, the mission statement for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) specifically recognized this heritage by including the phrase “a nation of immigrants.”

However, under the administration of President Trump, the federal government has eliminated that sentiment.

In February 2018, USCIS removed the reference to an immigrant nation. Instead, its updated mission statement focused on protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and administering immigration laws. L. Francis Cissna, the agency’s director, defended the change and emphasized the focus on serving the American people. This shift in language arose directly from the Trump Administration’s restrictive views on immigration.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign delivered a strong anti-immigrant message. Since taking office, his policies (which focused primarily on Latin America and Muslim countries) increased procedural barriers for immigrants, people seeking asylum, and international travelers. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the terms of his travel ban, which denies visas to people from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Photograph by Marian Carrasqeuro for The New York Times

Trump’s next major shift, in April 2018, created the now infamous family separation policy at the Mexican border. This policy directed border agents to detain or deport all adult immigrants crossing the border, and seize any children, including infants. Within months, nearly 3,000 children had been separated from their caregivers. An intense public outcry forced the president to rescind the policy, but hundreds remain in detention.

These aggressive policies stem from Trump’s desire to build a Mexican border wall, which he claims will protect Americans from drugs and violence. Starting in 2015, Trump made this a primary focus of his presidential campaign. His ongoing verbal attacks depicting immigrants as criminals have translated to concrete changes.

Between 2016 and 2017, the drop in refugee admissions from 84,995 people to 53,716 illustrates the immediate results of his policies. In 2018, the federal government capped annual refugee admissions at 45,000, which is the lowest since the program began in 1980. As for foreign workers, a bill in the U.S. Senate would alter eligibility criteria and apply a points system to evaluate candidates for employment-based green cards. Furthermore, Trump has stated his desire to end the diversity visa program. Since 1995, it has provided a chance for over one million people to enter the country. The current administration has also placed the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program on the chopping block. TPS allowed over 320,000 people from 10 countries to live in the United States to escape wars or natural disasters occuring in their homelands. The majority came from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. These individuals can expect to lose their residency and work privileges in 2018 and 2019.

Due to the sudden changes, many lives have been thrown into turmoil, as the harsh rhetoric has stirred up political passions among Americans on both sides of the debate. Ultimately, much of the hostility lacks a basis in facts, and immigration supporters decry this open hostility. They have gone so far as to demand the disbandment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Current legal actions by the American Civil Liberties Union strive to uphold domestic and international laws for vulnerable people.

Photograph by Joe Raedle for Getty Images (as seen on Vox.com)

With the American public divided on the issues, the future is uncertain. There are a few predictions that seem unavoidable, at least in the immediate future. As long as President Trump is in office, immigration from local neighbors like Mexico will continue to be more difficult and contentious. Additionally, there could be further restrictions on travel from Muslim-majority countries with an enhanced ‘travel ban.’ If the administration’s actions hold true, we can almost certainly guarantee that the reduction of asylum and political refugee grantees will continue. There are even whispers that the Trump Administration will pursue further action on legal immigrants.

These actions will likely have a negative impact on the world’s view of what was traditionally considered an inviting country, one willing to welcome the tired, poor, and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.” In fact, as the U.S. under the Trump administration continues to isolate itself, the rest of the world may acquiesce. The U.S. may find it increasingly difficult to find other nations willing to work with.

Long-term predictions are less certain, and are dependant on future administrations. Harsh policies might become entrenched and even expanded. Perhaps, however, immigration law will revert to its former, more accepting positions. Only time will tell.

Author’s Bio

 

Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about refugees, I invite you to view Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis and Thoughts on the Guardian’s “Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome”. The second and third parts of Manji Law’s refugee and immigration series will be published soon.

Let’s Get Social!

Facebook ● Twitter ● YouTube

And don’t forget to subscribe to our behind-the-scenes email newsletter and sign up to our pen pal network!

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