Groups Urge Trump Administration to Stop Turning Back Asylum Seekers

Groups Urge Trump Administration to Stop Turning Back Asylum Seekers
182 organizations called on the Trump administration to immediately rescind its policy of turning back asylum seekers at the border. Pictured: “Refugees Welcome” rally at the Capitol, October 2019. (Victoria Pickering)

In a letter sent to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf yesterday, 182 organizations called on the Trump administration to immediately rescind its policy of turning back asylum seekers at the border.

To date, this policy has resulted in the expulsions of upwards of 7,000 asylum seekers, with no legal process whatsoever.

The 182 groups who signed the letter all advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, asylum seekers, immigrants and stateless people—including the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, ADL (Anti-Defamation League), the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, the Tahirih Justice Center and more.

The groups’ letter points out that this practice places survivors of domestic and sexual violence at particularly high risk of harm, and argues that “closing our borders to asylum seekers flies in the face of public health principles, as well as our non-derogable treaty obligations”—putting asylum seekers at great risk.

“The current COVID-19 crisis only compounds the barriers that survivors of gender-based violence face seeking asylum in the United States,” the groups write—noting that shelter at home orders have led to a worldwide surge in domestic violence in recent weeks.


Here at Ms., our team is continuing to report through this global health crisis—doing what we can to keep you informed and up-to-date on some of the most underreported issues of this pandemic. We ask that you consider supporting our work to bring you substantive, unique reporting—we can’t do it without you. Support our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


The letter reads:

“Within the last few years, the U.S. Department of Justice has all but closed the door on women seeking asylum from their abusive partners … The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have now cited the pandemic as justification to close our borders to asylum seekers entirely.

“If we do not implement reasonable precautions at our border to ensure both public health and the protection of refugees, and instead continue to shut the door to the most vulnerable, we will fail those who turn to us for protection, as well as U.S. domestic and international law obligations, and our own best traditions.

“We urge [DHS] to rescind this flawed policy and replace it with targeted, reasonable, and proportionate measures to protect public health and ensure that women and children fleeing domestic violence and other refugees are not returned to persecution.”

Read the full letter here, in both English and Spanish.

Groups Urge Trump Administration to Stop Turning Back Asylum Seekers
“Refugees Welcome” rally at the Capitol, October 2019. (Victoria Pickering)

This is not the first time the Trump administration has received criticism from foreign policy experts regarding its mishandling of refugee and immigration policy in the midst of the pandemic—and beyond.

As Mary Giovagnoli, former executive director of Refugee Council USA, wrote on March 23 for Ms.:

“Allowing people to enter the United States now would actually reduce the risks for everyone, according to experts, who argue that new transmissions in the U.S are occurring within the country—not as a result of foreign travel.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the Trump administration knew, but chose to ignore, the ramifications of coronavirus, and made little preparation to keep America safe. It is hardly surprising then, that the administration’s immigration agencies have done too littletoo late in attempting to slow the spread of the virus, ranging from failing to close immigration courts to refusing to release people in immigration detention.

“We may soon see the unforeseen consequences of such policies when they interact with the relentless nature of a pandemic. Before it is too late, we should take care of those we have abandoned.”


The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

About and

Brianna Krong serves as Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, where she develops public education and advocacy strategies to advance the rights of women, children, and LGBTQ asylum seekers in the United States.
Roxy Szal is the associate digital editor at Ms.