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Position Statement: Migrants and Refugee Seekers Deserve Asylum Claim Process, Not Tear Gas

migrants stopped at border

(photo by Karl Hoffman)

Yesterday, Customs and Border Protection agents fired tear gas into a crowd of migrants near the Tijuana-San Diego port of entry, after some, participating in a protest, reportedly threw projectiles at CBP agents.  Many young children reportedly choked on the gas and began running from the clouds of gas.

As clinicians, we at Migrant Clinicians Network are gravely concerned for the health and well-being of migrants and refugees who are waiting at the border to ask for asylum. This violent aggression escalates our concern.

“It is a travesty to physically harm refugees, many of whom are already suffering from trauma from experiences in their homelands,” said Laszlo Madaras, MD, MPH, SFHM, Co-Chief Medical Officer of Migrant Clinicians Network. “This action betrays our American values. It is a failure of our immigration system.”

Many of the refugees waiting at the border are unable to safely return to their homes as a result of drug wars, corruption, and violence. Many also have experienced both pre- and peri-migration trauma, as they walked thousands of miles to the border. Many are in an extreme state of vulnerability, sleeping outside at the border entry while waiting for the few asylum applications accepted each day, with limited access to food, water, sanitation, or health care.

This most recent confrontation builds on months of policy changes that put migrant and refugee health at risk.  This year, Migrant Clinicians Network has expressed dire concern again and again as official policy and government actions and statements have moved away from clear and fair procedures to process and assess migrants claiming asylum or seeking safe haven, and toward aggressive tactics to discourage refugees from approaching the border and to greatly slow down the official routes of entry.

We call on the US government to address this growing humanitarian crisis. While we recognize that it is difficult to process hundreds of asylum claims each day, the reported slow-down of claims processing -- where some CBP officers are turning back asylum seekers, saying the ports of entry are at capacity -- is irresponsible. Instead, we should confront this concern head-on by providing timely and humane systems of review, process asylum applications in accordance with international law, and assure systems are available to address asylum seekers’ health needs -- because health care is a human right, including for those fleeing violence and war and arriving at our borders for help.


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