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How the Current Immigration System Violates International Law

As a member of the international community, our nation is also bound by other fundamental humanitarian rules that should guide our policies. As more citizens and international observers have begun to notice, however, the way we run our refugee and asylum systems conflicts with many of the agreements we’ve pledged to uphold. Here are a few examples.

The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

This United Nations treaty defines who counts as a refugee and guarantees such individuals certain rights. One of its key tenets is that it allows people to seek asylum, and with 146 nations on board, it’s generally accepted as a global legal standard. Furthermore, the treaty directs party states to cooperate with United Nations inspectors to ensure that refugees and displaced persons are treated humanely.

The Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

In addition to preventing torture within their own borders, this treaty’s signatory states must work to stop it in certain other high-risk situations. In the context of refugees, this means that countries can’t simply deport asylum seekers without considering the consequences and working to prevent adverse outcomes. For instance, a refugee can’t be sent back to their home nation when there are reasonable grounds to assume they might be tortured, harmed or otherwise treated inhumanely.

The Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

This integral component of the Geneva Convention demands that civilian detainees be treated humanely. Since 1949, it has protected all noncombatant individuals and groups, including ex-combatants who laid down their arms, during times of armed conflict.

Modern U.S. Policy

The United States ratified all of these laws. Also, the U.S. was never forced to sign asylum-seeker protection treaties as a result of losing an armed conflict. In other words, we consented to these frameworks voluntarily, so it’s up to us to live up to the commitment.

These laws are particularly relevant in the context of today’s Trumpian immigration debacle. Even though anti-refugee parties within the U.S. purport that maintaining secure borders is a matter of national sovereignty, the way we enforce border security is hugely problematic. For instance, holding someone in detention for seeking asylum, even if they technically didn’t follow the proper procedures, violates their rights. Since these agreements are specifically designed to work regardless of geographic limitations, forcing refugees to go through specific entry points is a clear example of reneging on a treaty.

Finally, it’s worth remarking that the conditions many asylum-seeking detainees are kept in may constitute torture. For instance, being held in crowded holding facilities, exposed to extreme temperatures and restricted from moving freely are all regarded as inhumane treatments under most forms of international law. What’s more, the fact that the authorities can detain people without having to prove they committed crimes violates their civil right to the due process of law, something our courts have uniformly confirmed applies to everyone, not just U.S. citizens.