Donald Trump tweeted today that people caught sneaking into the U.S. from Mexico should be sent back immediately, with no judges or court cases. He says that’s the way to stop ‘these people’ from invading our country and uphold law and order. You can read news coverage of his statement here.
This matter gets to the core of what human rights are about. What Trump suggested would make sense- but only when dealing with something other than humans.
For example, let’s say it’s a windy day and a whole bunch of garbage blows across the border- empty potato chip bags, candy bar wrappers, soda cans, and so forth. Well, Mexico has to take care of its own trash and secure it in a way that it doesn’t become a nuisance to others. So it would be perfectly reasonable for U.S. authorities to take all the wind swept junk, put in a garbage bag, and toss it back where it came from for Mexico to deal with.
But Trump isn’t tweeting about trash, he’s tweeting about people. The core principle of the human rights movement is that no human, even a human who has broken the law, can be treated just like an object.
Asylum seekers who cross into the U.S. illegally have rights because they are people. We can’t just sweep them up and toss them wherever we feel like. We have to talk to them, listen to them, and give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story. That means a hearing in court.
A simple thing the U.S. government can do to make things go smoother for itself is to speed up these hearings. Trump’s biggest complaint seems to be the policy that he calls ‘catch and release.’ Asylum seekers are arrested, then released into the United States for years as they await their court hearing. They are released into the United States because the government has nowhere near enough detention center space to house them (let alone house them along with their children.) So the asylum seekers wind up getting to live in the U.S. for a significant period of time pre- trial even if their case is rejected, and sometimes they don’t return for their court appearance and wind up remaining in the U.S. illegally long term.
But there is no legal requirement that asylum hearings be years in the future- the only requirement is that the hearing be fair. The wait is just because the court system is overwhelmed. The government could hire more judges and expedite things so asylum hearings take place promptly, even within a few weeks of being apprehended at the border.
Some civil rights groups maintain speedy asylum hearings might be unfair to the applicant, since the applicant may need significant time in the U.S. to gather evidence. The answer is that in such situations the applicant is free to make that argument to the judge. If the judge believes that a request for more time is legitimately necessary and not just stalling, then the judge should grant a continuance. But most of the time that will likely not be the case.
Due process of law is everyone’s right, including asylum seekers and accused criminals. The U.S. government doesn’t have to grant asylum to everyone who seeks it, but it can’t treat asylum seekers like wind blown trash that’s crossed over the border.