This bill — the Border and Refugee Assistance Act of 2019 — would allow families and minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to apply for protections within their home countries, rather than having to apply for asylum in the U.S. To this end, this bill would direct the Homeland Security Secretary and Secretary of State to expand in-country refugee processing centers in the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador).
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
Committee on the JudiciaryIntroducedApril 18th, 2019
- house Committees
What is House Bill H.R. 2347?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 2347
In-Depth: Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX) introduced this bill to mitigate the flow of migrants at the border and expand the processing of refugees within their country of origin:
“This proposal aims to provide a safe and orderly process for assessing refugee claims while ensuring humanitarian protection for individuals fleeing violence. By allowing claims to be effectively processed within an individual’s country of origin, less people will be forced to make the dangerous journey to the border to present their claims. This proposal is just one piece of what needs to be a multifaceted response to the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle, including investments in improving security and governance in the region and investments in the United States’ own asylum, refugee, and immigration systems.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) adds:
“By allowing migrants to safely claim asylum in their home countries, fewer asylum seekers will be forced to make perilous journeys to the southern border, decreasing the probability of being victimized and exploited by human traffickers. It will also diminish the backlog of cases pending in immigration courts by reducing the number of new cases and deter fraudulent asylum claims that prevent the timely protection for legitimate refugees fleeing dire and dangerous circumstances. Border communities like my hometown of Laredo are feeling the burden of housing migrants that come to our country to claim asylum. I thank Congressmen Vela and Gonzalez for working with me on this this legislation, which is a necessary step to address long-term 'push' factors such as widespread insecurity, fragile political and judicial systems, and high levels of poverty and unemployment that incentivize irregular migration to the U.S.”
The trio of Texas Democratic Congressmen — Reps. Vela, Cuellar, and Vicente Gonzalez — who are cosponsoring this bill argue that it addresses of the key “push factors” bringing migrants north, and will help address family unit migration north to apply for asylum in person.
In an April 2019 report, the Homeland Security Advisory Council suggested establishing regional processing centers as a different model for processing families seeking asylum in the U.S. In its report, The Homeland Security Advisory Committee proposed establishing three to four Regional Processing Centers (RPCs) along the U.S.-Mexico border, along with a secure shelter to process asylum claims from Central America in Guatemala, along the Guatemala-Mexico border.
On April 29, 2019, the White House ordered new restrictions on asylum seekers from Central America, including charging them to file their claims and barring them from working in the U.S. In a presidential memorandum, President Trump called for regulations to this effect to be drafted within weeks to accelerate the process of adjudicating asylum claims, setting a fee for asylum-seekers “not to exceed the costs of adjudicating the application” and effectively barring asylum-seekers from working while their claims are being adjudicated. Trump has often mocked the asylum system, calling it a “loophole” that attracts immigrant to the U.S. The new memo is the administration’s latest effort to make it harder for migrants to stay in the U.S., and it comes amid a spike in border crossings, including a large number of families seeking asylum.
In its memo, the White House included a sheet of statistics and arguments to make its case for restricting asylum claims:
"Our immigration system has reached a breaking point as we continue to see an overwhelming surge of migrants, with more than 100,000 arriving at our border in March alone. As a result of loopholes in United States immigration law, migrants claiming fear are often released into communities across the United States, where they often remain indefinitely."
Democrats and immigration advocates have already criticized the White House’s plan to charge asylum-seekers an application fee. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) tweeted:
“Seeking asylum is a right under U.S. and international law--not a privilege to pay for. The Trump Administration's baseless attacks on families leaving everything behind and fleeing unimaginable violence has reached a new, shameful low.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted, “[T]he idea that we will charge asylum seekers a fee to seek refuge from persecution, torture, or death is offensive and counter to our values.”
This bill has two Democratic cosponsors, both from Texas.
Of Note: On November 9, 2017, the State Dept. stopped accepting new applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program. This program, established in 2014, had provided certain minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the opportunity to be considered for refugee resettlement in the U.S. while still in their home country.
In about 2013, many children and families seeking refuge from violence and poverty in their home countries in Central America began arriving in the U.S. USCIS reports that more individuals from the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) sought sought affirmative asylum in the U.S. from 2013-2015 than in the previous 15 years combined.
Although the Trump administration has sought to characterize asylum-seekers’ claims as “baseless,” the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) points out the Northern Triangle countries are experiencing record levels of violence. WOLA also notes that under U.S. asylum law, applicants fleeing from gang violence and other threats qualify for protection.
- Cosponsor Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) Press Release
- Homeland Security Advisory Council Report (Context)
- MarketWatch (Context)
- Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / vichinterlang)