Dear Editor of Amjambo Africa

The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights granted those fleeing persecution in their home country the right to seek asylum. This was later expanded into the Geneva Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocol. The U. S. then passed the Refugee Act of 1980, its own law, so that the right to seek asylum would be enshrined in both international and national law. Sadly, as we see today, that right is far from secure.  

If we were to take the right to seek asylum at face value, we would expect that someone arriving at the southern border of the U.S. would encounter respectful agents who are trained in overseeing the asylum process in an organized and humane way. But instead we witness thousands of people who are subjected to cruel treatment rather than the dignity that law requires.  

Many who enter at the border requesting asylum have their important personal possessions taken from them. Then they are put in cold cells, perhaps are sent back to dangerous Mexican border cities, are flown back to the country they fled, or are bused to detention centers or cities far from their desired destinations. I continue to hear about families that are separated. This treatment is not what those who wrote and signed the asylum conventions and protocols envisioned. In fact, these laws were written to prevent just this sort of treatment.  

Asylum laws say you must present yourself in the country where you are seeking asylum. Yet people from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua are now told to request asylum before arriving in the U.S. Officials expect them to have access to a phone, stable wifi, and a sponsor, and to successfully use the finicky Customs and Border Patrol’s app, CBP One which many people say struggles to recognize Black and Brown faces, and which is available only in a limited number of languages.  

Since 1783, more than 86 million people have immigrated to the United States. Over 200 years of policies have influenced today’s attitudes and actions regarding immigration. Many who look at the immigration history of the U.S. say that our policies have been piecemeal, unfocused, and reactionary. Some believe the policies dictating the lives of those seeking safety here are orchestrated to keep people out in order to maintain wealth and power in the hands of the white elite. From the very inception of this country, racist capitalism has led national policy decisions. The need to change these policies so protection of individuals who are at great risk of violence and persecution has never been greater.  

Mary Dunn, Maine