High Speed Prosecutions Put Asylum Seekers at Risk

By Britanny Vanderhoof, Policy Counsel

It is not a crime to seek protection from persecution.

The United States has a duty to protect, not prosecute, those who come here seeking asylum. Yet according to a recent report by the Department of Homeland Security, the government may be putting its need for speed ahead of the protections asylum seekers are supposed to be guaranteed – protections they desperately need.

The report, released by DHS last month, focuses on Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline is an initiative of Customs and Border Protection that allows for quicker prosecution of migrants caught entering the United States illegally.

The report reveals that CBP often refers people asserting an asylum claim to the Department of Justice for prosecution before a determination is made on that claim. This allows for a criminal case against an asylum seeker to proceed at the same time as the administrative process for obtaining asylum. Thus, asylum seekers are being prosecuted as the result of seeking refuge in the United States in clear violation of the U.S.’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, the treaty that outlines protections for refugees, countries are not to punish refugees seeking asylum. Thus, when a person arrives in the United States, regardless of whether or not he or she had permission to enter the country, that person must have a determination made about their asylum claim without fear of being prosecuted. As the report on Operation Streamline makes clear, however, the United States is failing to uphold this commitment.

It is unclear how the agencies involved in Operation Streamline, namely DHS and DOJ, will respond to the OIG report. The Administration must not be allowed to ignore the protections the United States promised to provide when it signed the Refugee Convention. HIAS has joined with other NGOs on a letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson of DHS and Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressing our concern with the prosecution of asylum seekers under Operation Streamline.

Unfortunately, the practices of CBP under Operation Streamline are another example of the unfair treatment many asylum seekers receive in the United States. Asylum seekers, including families, may be held in detention while they seek asylum and Congress has tried to roll back protections in the law for children seeking asylum. HIAS will continue to work to make sure that asylum seekers are protected and afforded the opportunity to seek refuge in the U.S.

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