Friday, July 6, 2018

What is Actually "Asylum"?

It is Friday, and I've taken to doing something different on the Friday columns, so I suppose today either is or is not an exception, depending on how it comes out.  It may be a bit stream-of-consciousness today.

The other day I heard a short clip about a woman who had left Guatemala, went through Mexico and crossed the border illegally at a place other than a port of entry.  During the piece, she mentioned that she had left, with her children, to escape an abusive husband, and was seeking asylum in the USA.

That got me thinking.

Iran has a corrupt, Islamist government from which people would want to leave to seek asylum.  North Korea is a dictatorial disaster that is systematically starving its citizens.  There are several countries where there is governmental persecution of sects because they do not allow the free exercise of religion.

But asylum from those places is from government persecution.

Assuming this lady's story was true, she was not seeking asylum from persecution but from domestic violence.  And given that we have a finite amount of resources to accommodate legal immigration (and, oh, by the way, we also have laws), dare we at least raise the question as to whether her case is even a legitimate one of asylum-seeking?

There is an argument, although I am not actually trying to make it, that what was going on in her home was domestic violence and, therefore, a Guatemalan police action rather than an impetus to seek asylum.

Now to me, I would tell you that if she had entered at a legitimate port of entry, as opposed to illegally sneaking across the border, it seems reasonable that her request for asylum would have been given reasonable hearing, and I would have been fine with that happening.

But with her having committed the crime of entering illegally at an unauthorized crossing, I start getting a bit chipmunky about her situation and have to ask the question -- what, in fact, is asylum-seeking, and at what point is an unpleasant situation in one's home country grounds, or not grounds, for seeking asylum?

I'd like to stimulate a little discussion here, either in the Comments or, at least, for you to think about and maybe get back to me.  Is any unpleasant situation grounds to seek asylum here, or should we rule out police actions?  Suppose she had robbed a bank in Guatemala City and was being pursued by the cops there?  Does she get asylum here?  I don't think so, but what is the definition that we use to say this appeal is good and that one is not?

Suppose that after being beaten, or claiming to have been beaten by her husband, she killed him and is fleeing the cops?  How about that one?  What do the asylum judges do about that?

I hope you get the line of thought.  There is, to me, a difference between leaving a country because of the country itself, its government, persecution and the like, and leaving a country because of some personal situation with another, non-governmental citizen.  I think it is a big difference; this lady is asking the people of the USA to take care of her domestic issue.  Why is she not asking the police in her home country to do their job?  Was it easier just to pack up the kids and cross the border, illegally?

Why did she not cross at a legal entry point and ask for asylum?  What was she told about our laws and, more importantly, by whom?

Lots to think about, if only we can allow cooler heads to have the discussion.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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  1. Clearly, governmental oppression, or a paramilitary group such as ISIS is required. An interesting question is when economic depravation would be sufficient? Venezuela comes to mind. Starvation is a powerful motivator, but I don't think we can accommodate their entire population.

    1. That's why this was a challenging piece to write and I wanted to get the discussion flowing about the difference between one's plight caused by an individual vs. caused by a government. The UN should be noticing if other countries are having to offer asylum to Venezuelans, but they do not, of course, care.