During a speech in Falls Church, Virginia on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized U.S. immigration laws as overly “generous,” denounced “dirty immigration lawyers,” and called for a harsh overhaul of American asylum policies—remarks that were quickly denounced by Amnesty International USA and other refugee advocacy groups as xenophobic, dishonest, and “cruel.”
“People fleeing horrific violence should be met with compassion and the opportunity to rebuild their lives free from fear.”
—Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA”People fleeing horrific violence should be met with compassion and the opportunity to rebuild their lives free from fear,” Amnesty’s Naureen Shah said in a statement following Sessions’ speech. “Instead, Attorney General Sessions wants to put measures in place that may likely block some of the world’s most vulnerable people from gaining safety.”
“We cannot allow fearmongering and hateful rhetoric to become policy,” Shah concluded. “The U.S. has legal obligations to provide access to asylum and to protect people fleeing persecution.”
Sessions also used his speech to spotlight what he called “fraud and abuse” within the U.S. immigration system and alleged that the asylum system is “overloaded with fake claims.”
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Eleanor Acer, senior director of Human Rights First’s refugee protection program, slammed these comments as “disingenuous,” but nonetheless consistent with the Trump administration’s broader “efforts to falsely paint asylum seekers and refugees as threats and frauds.”
“These individuals are not criminals and frauds; they are mothers, teenagers, and children desperate to escape violence and persecution,” Acer said. “Sessions failed to even mention the refugee and displacement crises stemming from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela that are prompting so many to flee their homes. This omission makes clear just how disingenuous and false his assertions of rampant abuse of the system are.”
Sessions’ remarks came just days after the Trump administration unveiled its “warped, anti-immigrant policy wish list,” which included a complete overhaul of the asylum system and quicker deportations for minors who arrive at the border unaccompanied. The Trump administration also announced late last month that it is planning to lower the cap for refugee admissions to 45,000 for the coming fiscal year—the lowest number since 1980.
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“Instead of effectively and humanely addressing the challenges that come with escalating refugee situations, the administration is seeking to prevent refugees from accessing the U.S. asylum system and punishing those who do,” Acer concluded.