By Elket Rodríguez
Who can forget the Holocaust? In just five years, nearly 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and their supporting governments.
We also must remember the Third Reich planted the seeds of genocide long before it carried out the Holocaust.
Much earlier, the German government implemented multiple policies to compel Jewish people to flee. These policies, known as judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”), sought to make the Jews so miserable they would emigrate to more hospitable countries.
Historians estimate 340,000 Jews fled Germany, seeking safety. Many of them did not survive the Third Reich’s expansion across Europe.
Thousands of Jews were not permitted to enter the United States, due to the limited number of visas authorized by the U.S. government. At the same time, the world entered the Great Depression, and many Americans believed refugees would take their jobs or become public charges.
The Allies eventually defeated Germany in World War II, but millions of Europeans were displaced. World leaders resolved to avoid another judenrein and Holocaust at all costs. The international community recognized it failed to protect the persecuted Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and physically impaired people who sought a safe haven away from Germany.
Consciences seared by the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II, Western nations established the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees in 1967.
The most important feature of these treaties is the non-refoulement principle. It forbids returning refugees to countries where they may suffer persecution. It reflects a lesson learned from World War II and the Holocaust.
In 1986, adoption of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment—known as CAT—expanded the non-refoulement principle.
The United States is a signatory to all of these treaties.
In spite of the values recognized in these documents, the U.S. government has disassociated itself from the lessons of World War II. It has returned many asylum seekers back to their countries, where they face persecution.
In the last three years, the U.S. government has implemented several policies aimed at gutting the asylum process as we know it.
Unfortunately, a recent action by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice is the most draconian of them all. On June 15, both government agencies proposed a rule that effectively abolishes asylum.
The proposed rule denies all asylum claims based on gender, as well as asylum applications filed by refugees who fled their homelands because they were recruited or coerced by gangs or terrorists. The rule permits immigration judges to deny asylum claims without court hearings. It also expands the definition of a frivolous claim, simplifying and speeding immigration judges’ rejection of some petitions.
The new provision would deny the protections of the Convention Against Torture to most asylum seekers and thwart most applications based upon credible fear of persecution. The most cruel clause denies Convention Against Torture protections to refugees who already have been tortured by “rogue” public officials.
I cannot think of a single scenario in which a refugee seeking asylum would prevail if this rule is implemented.
The rule will invade churches, too. The majority of immigrant pastors fleeing persecution will not be able to meet the new high burdens of proof and restrictive definitions.
What can you do?
First, read the proposed rule or watch these webinars by CLINIC Legal and the Immigration Justice Campaign. Watch another webinar July 9 at 1 p.m. Central Time by the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.
The comment phase for the proposed rule still is open. You can submit your own comments until July 15.
Submit your personal comment directly here. The form limits comments to 5,000 characters. If your comment is longer, you may attach it as a PDF.
If you would like guidance in the process, here are several helpful resources:
- CLINIC’s comment template for organizations
- Immigrant Justice Campaign’s personal comment template
- CLINIC’s click-to comment campaign allows you to submit your unique comment by 12 noon Central Time July 15
- CLINIC’s Interfaith Toolkit
If you want to use a template to help guide you and give you an idea, remember to edit it to reflect your own words and your own perspective. The federal agencies will bundle comments that are similar and consider them as one comment.
Here are some tips to personalize your comment:
First, begin by stating your opposition to the proposed rule: “I write to express my strong opposition to this proposed rule change.”
Second, in your own words, customize your comment by including stories, examples and experiences. Say something like …
- “I am a concerned member of society …”
- “As an immigrant from ___ who has lived in the U.S. for ___ years, I am deeply concerned …”
- “As a former asylum seeker …”
- “As title at organization, I work with immigrant community members daily, and am concerned …”
Next, explain the values on which you base your opposition. Say something like:
“I am a Christian who believes strongly that our nation should welcome the stranger and love our neighbors. I am convinced the proposed rule would eviscerate the ability of countless men, women and children to obtain asylum in the United States.
“The United States has a long history of protecting those escaping danger. Yet the rule targets the most vulnerable individuals fleeing to the United States in search of safety by imposing new barriers at every stage of the process. Many men, women and children will be returned to their countries to face persecution or death.”
Finally, conclude by stating your opposition: “For these reasons, I call the United States government to withdraw these proposed rules in its entirety.”
Comment on this proposed rule as soon as possible here. Let’s not fall into the same temptations of the past. Let’s save our asylum system.
Elket Rodríguez is the immigrant and refugee advocacy and missions specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest.