Immigration and refugee protection have faced many new challenges in this country since last year’s presidential election. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries was first introduced in January and it quickly lost momentum following court challenges.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parts of the ban could be implemented. The refugee ban went into effect soon after the June 26 ruling and its impact began affecting refugees this week. In response to the Supreme Court decision, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the travel ban “will have human consequences.”
“We are deeply concerned about the welfare of the many other vulnerable populations who will now not be allowed to arrive and seek protection,” said Bishop Vasquez, “most notably certain individuals fleeing religious persecution and unaccompanied refugee children.”
The administration’s clampdown on immigrants and refugees has had other unintended consequences.
An agreement between the United States and Canada on the treatment of refugees, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, is now facing a legal challenge in Canadian courts. Under the agreement, part of what is called the U.S.-Canada Smart Border Action Plan, refugees are required to request protection in the first safe country they arrive in.
Refugees from Mexico or Central and South America, who travel by foot or vehicle, must apply for refugee status in the United States. However, since Trump’s executive order was announced in January, refugees are seeking protection from Canada, but are turned away if they make it north of the U.S. border.
Among the groups challenging the Safe Third Country Agreement is the Canadian Council of Churches, which includes the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Other groups include Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees.
According to news reports, the Canadian case focuses on a Salvadoran woman, identified as “ABC,” who fled her country through the United States with her young daughters. She claimed that she was targeted by a drug gang that threatened her life.
After the woman was denied entry into Canada on July 5, attorneys filed a Federal Court challenge to the agreement. They argue that the U.S. is not a safe country for refugees.
“(The agreement) is predicated on the idea that the United States is a safe country for refugees and asylum-seekers, and I think the last few months should tell us that is definitely not the case,” Louise Simbandumwe, co-chairwoman of Amnesty International Winnipeg told the Winnipeg Free Press June 20. “The ability (for someone) to come to Canada and make a refugee claim, even though they went through the U.S., is fundamental and important.”
This is the second time in 12 years that the Safe Third Country Agreement has been challenged in court. This time, however, momentum against a U.S. policy that puts refugees at risk of harm may lead to changes in the Safe Third Country Agreement.
In his message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, observed June 20, Pope Francis focused on migrant children, like the two Salvadoran children accompanying their mother, “ABC,” into Canada. He asks all of us: “Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”
The unintended consequences of Trump’s travel ban, as can be seen with the Safe Third Country Agreement, should give all of us pause and the desire to look for more humane ways to address the plight of refugees.