NEW YORK — A number of U.S. Jewish organizations have expressed concern over the Trump administration’s new asylum rule, which bans individuals at the southern border from seeking asylum if they haven't tried to apply for it in another country on their way to the United States.
“The United States government is further down the road toward full abdication of our role as the world’s humanitarian leader in refugee protection — a role it has held since World War II,” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit protecting refugees. She added that the new policy “reflects a complete lack of concern or interest in the safety of desperate people who are asking for help.”
The organization once helped Jewish refugees exclusively, but has expanded its activity in recent decades to all refugees.
The rule, which took effect on Tuesday, reverses decades of U.S. policy and affects countless would-be asylum seekers, many of them fleeing violence and poverty in Central America — including children who have crossed the border alone. Under the new rules, victims of human trafficking as well as asylum seekers who were denied protection in another country are allowed to apply for asylum.
Should the country the migrants pass through not be a signatory to one of the major international treaties on refugees (though most Western countries are), they could still apply for asylum in the United States.
“U.S. and international law do not require people to apply for asylum on the road to safety; they are allowed to apply for asylum in the country where they feel they will be safe,” Nezer said. “For many fleeing Central America and elsewhere, that place is the United States.”
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According to Nezer, this means the government “can take steps to stem the flow of asylum seekers coming to the U.S. that comply with international law, while also remaining pragmatic and humane.”
Sophie Ellman-Golan, an organizer for the newly established Never Again Action group, which has been protesting in front of ICE facilities across America, said that denying people asylum at the southern border is “a death sentence for people fleeing violence.
“This isn’t an immigration policy,” she told Haaretz, while protesting outside the headquarters of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington with hundreds of other Jews who gathered there on Tuesday. “This is a dehumanization policy.”
The organization T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which has been active in protesting Trump’s handling of immigrants, was also critical of the new rules. Deputy Director Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster said that by changing long-standing asylum policies, the United States will “violate its moral and legal responsibilities toward those seeking refuge.
“International refugee law was formulated in response to what happened to the Jewish community during the Holocaust, when no country would let us in,” she told Haaretz, adding, “The U.S. must not repeat this historic and deadly mistake."
In its first day in effect, the new asylum rule is already facing legal challenge with a swift lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.