On July 9, the US Government published a proposed rule that would prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the US if they traveled from, or through, a country with widespread contagious disease, including COVID-19. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA opposes this latest effort to restrict access to asylum in the name of public health.
In March, the US closed its borders in response to COVID-19 and announced plans to quickly deport asylum seekers who present themselves at the U.S. border without due process. Public health experts point out that these restrictions do little to prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet the US government maintains that the policy will remain in place until it is “no longer necessary to protect the public health,” extending it indefinitely.
The US government could re-instate access to asylum at its borders while putting in place measures that manage risks to public health. Countries do not need to deny persons seeking international protection from lawfully petitioning for asylum, for fear of spreading the coronavirus. A combination of screening, testing, quarantine, and other safety measures would allow for asylum procedures to continue.
Given that a long-term plan for treating COVID-19 is not yet in place, we must ensure that access to asylum does not become another casualty of this pandemic.