09.15.20

Leahy And Other Leading Democratic Senators Decry Trump Administration On Expulsion Of Asylum Seekers From Venezuela, Cuba, And Nicaragua

WASHINGTON (MONDAY, Sept. 14, 2020)  — Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today was joined by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in calling on the Trump administration to end its anti-immigrant policies denying access to asylum for Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, and others forced to flee their countries.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans Chad Wolf, the Senators decried the Trump administration’s policy of forcing legal asylum seekers into dangerous cities in Mexico and its record of deporting them back to the dictatorships they fled.

“The administration’s policies to expel and endanger refugees and asylum seekers from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries send a message of callousness, cruelty, and disregard for human rights that feeds our adversaries’ agenda to cast doubt on the United States’ exceptional role as a beacon of freedom and democracy,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators expressed concern that the Trump administration is forcing these vulnerable migrants back to some of Mexico’s most violent cities, where they are reportedly subjected to extortion and kidnapping by organized criminal groups.   Added the Senators, “We fail to see how denying protection and inflicting further suffering on Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans and others fleeing brutal regimes serves U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian interests.”

The Senators also condemned the administration’s record of deporting individuals and families back to the dictatorships they were forced to flee, what would amount to a violation of U.S. law prohibiting refoulement.  

A copy of the letter may be found HERE and below:

 

Secretary Pompeo and Under Secretary Wolf:

Given the Trump administration’s efforts to deny access to asylum in the United States, we write to express our profound concern for the safety of Venezuelan, Cuban, Nicaraguan and other refugees and asylum seekers. This Administration’s policies – including metering, the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and Title 42 expulsions - are forcing thousands of individuals fleeing persecution, torture, and oppression into dangerous conditions that threaten their lives and freedom and undermine U.S. foreign policy goals.

Through these policies, the Trump administration is routinely forcing Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, and others seeking asylum back to Mexico’s most violent cities, where they are reportedly preyed upon by organized criminal groups who extort and kidnap them for ransom. For example, during just half of last year, U.S. officials forced more than 7,300 Cubans back to Mexico.[1] In fiscal year 2020, the Trump administration already has expelled over 147,000 asylum seekers and migrants from our southern border,[2] including untold numbers of Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans. This is deeply troubling given reports that more than 1,110 asylum seekers and migrants returned to Mexico have been murdered, raped, tortured, kidnapped, or violently assaulted.[3] Many Mexican migration officials have been charged with corruption, and Mexico apparently is unable to adequately protect migrants from such crimes.[4],[5]

We are troubled by reports that Venezuelan women and girls arriving at the U.S. border—who had the courage to flee dictatorship and to escape criminal violence and human trafficking by illegal armed groups—are now being pushed back by the Trump administration to face similar threats of organized crime and violence in Mexico.[6],[7] With evidence of cooperation between transnational criminal organizations operating in Venezuela and Mexico’s border regions, delivering these women and girls back into territory controlled by such perpetrators is simply unconscionable.

At the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, several health clinic volunteers are Cuban asylum seekers who were sent to Venezuela by the Cuban government to serve as doctors and nurses, and subsequently fled authoritarianism in both countries.[8] These medical professionals are the very victims of human trafficking that you have purportedly sought to defend, yet the Trump administration forced them back to dangerous conditions in Mexico.

Moreover, the Trump administration has taken the egregious step of sending Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, and others directly back into the hands of the persecutors and torturers they fled. Already this fiscal year, the United States has deported over 100 Venezuelans, over 1,300 Cubans, and nearly 1,000 Nicaraguans –the vast majority of whom had no criminal convictions[9] yet many now may face retaliation at home. A recent U.S. deportation flight contained more than 100 Nicaraguan dissidents who had fled to the U.S. border following detention, beatings, and – in some cases - torture by President Ortega’s regime.[10] Their return to Nicaragua means these refugees may be more likely than not to be persecuted and tortured again.

We fail to see how denying protection and inflicting further suffering on Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans serves U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian interests. The Administration’s actions appear to violate U.S. law prohibiting refoulement—the forcible return of refugees to a place where their lives or freedom would be threatened. And they undermine the United States’ longstanding bipartisan tradition of standing in solidarity with individuals fleeing repression.

The Administration’s policies to expel and endanger refugees and asylum seekers from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries send a message of callousness, cruelty, and disregard for human rights that feeds our adversaries’ agenda to cast doubt on the United States’ exceptional role as a beacon of freedom and democracy. We urge you to end these policies immediately and to uphold the right to seek asylum in the United States.

Sincerely,

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[1] Gamez Torres, Nora. “After drastic policy changes, more than 20,000 Cuban asylum seekers are fighting deportation,” Miami Herald, January 16, 2020.

[2] U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: Title 8 Enforcement Actions and Title 42 Expulsions.” Accessed on September 11, 2020 at https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/cbp-enforcement-statistics/title-8-and-title-42-statistics

[3] Human Rights First, “Delivered to Danger,” May 13, 2020.  Accessed on September 9, 2020 at https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/remain-mexico

[4] Maureen Meyer and Gina Hinojosa, Mexico’s Human Rights Landscape During López Obrador’s First Year in Office, WOLA, November 26, 2019.  

[5] Associated Press, “Mexico sanctions 1,400 immigration officers for corruption,” August 14, 2020. Accessed on September 10,2020 at https://apnews.com/aab24cd5b5e88661f8595f92a994d8d5

[6] Insight Crime. “The Ongoing Trafficking and Killing of Venezuelan Women in Mexico,” June 16, 2020. Accessed on August 19, 2020 at https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/trafficking-venezuelan-women-mexico/

[7] U.S. Department of State, “2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico.” Accessed on September 11, 2020 at https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-trafficking-in-persons-report/mexico/

[8] Hennessy-Fiske, Molly. “Cuban doctors and nurses seeking asylum keep border clinic running during pandemic,” Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2020.

[9] “Latest Data: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Removals,” TRAC database accessed on September 3, 2020 at https://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/remove/

[10] Sieff, Kevin. “She fled torture in Nicaragua, only to be sent back,” Washington Post, August 30, 2020, p. 1.